The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) on Thursday announced the indefinite suspension of the broadcast licence of DAAR Communications PLC, parent company of Africa Independent Television (AIT), and Ray Power 100.5 FM (in Abuja and Lagos).
With the shutdown generating reactions from different quarters, a section of Nigerians on social media are describing the development as a deliberate attempt by government to suppress press freedom in the country (especially those opposed to its policies and actions.)
Similarly, while the management of the media group through its founder, Raymond Aleogho Dokpesi accused the NBC of acting under the directive of the President and Commander-in-Chief in a bid to use the agency to stifle press freedom in the country, it also lamented the imposition of N500m in licensing fees to private broadcasting organisations while government-owned broadcasters paid N10m, describing the licensing fees in Nigeria as one of the highest in the world.
“I have it on strict authority and very assured information that the highest echelons of government, the Presidency, queried and challenged the NBC that they were not doing their jobs: ‘How on earth could they be hearing and seeing on AIT what they termed hate speech?, If this was not protected by the President at the top, is it possible that his body language is being interpreted?” Dokpesi said.
“There is no country in the world where you have this type of exploitative fee,” he added.
The commission in announcing the decision at a news briefing in Abuja, adduced inability to pay the license renewal fees, hate speeches, as well as using and allowing the station to be used for selfish political ends as part of the reasons for the disciplinary action.
As contained in the statement issued at the press briefing on the suspension order, Director General of the commission, Is’haq Modibbo Kawu disclosed that its action was premised upon reports and complaints from concerned Nigerians about the broadcast contents of Daar Communications Plc’s AIT/Raypower broadcast stations, stressing that the NBC have over the last 2 years summoned on several occasions management of the company to address issues regarding the operations of AIT/Raypower with the company, particularly, Political Platform and Kakaaki aired on AIT.
Reeling out a timeline of the various devlopments leading to Thursday’s shutdown order, the regulatory agency listed the following:
2nd June, 2017
“In one of our meetings, the Commission expressed its disappointment with the way and manner Hate Speech, divisive and inciting comments are applied in discussion of national issues in breach of the provisions of the NBC Act and Broadcast Code.”
15th August, 2017
“It became imperative to invite the company for yet another meeting on almost same issues.”
7th February, 2018
“While addressing another meeting, we highlighted issues of concern to the Commission which indicated that the company had been breaching the provisions of Sections 3.1.2 and 3.1.3 of the broadcast Code. The company’s delegates in their response promised to abate the breaches and comply with the law.”
October 18, 2018
“The Commission was disturbed with the manner in which social media issues became part of the mainstream media unedited on AIT/Raypower, and was constrained to issue a generic letter to all broadcast stations on the need to exercise caution in the use of user generated content from the social media knowing how volatile and misleading the social media has become. The management of Daar Communication Plc thereafter took to the social media to display our official correspondences.”
May 27th, 2019
“The Commission’s monitoring reports on AIT/Raypower indicate the use of divisive comments accredited to the segment of “Kakaaki”, tagged, “Kakaaki Social”, where inciting comments like, “Nigeria is cursed, we declare independent state of Niger Delta”, “Nigeria irritates me”, “this country is gradually Islamizing” and other similar slogans are used without editorial control in breach of the broadcast Code. We were therefore constrained to issue Daar Communication letters of warning.
We also observed from monitoring reports that a documentary on the Presidential Election Tribunal, a pending election petition matter aired on AIT on Wednesday and Thursday, 22nd and 23rd May, 2019 without regard to the provisions of the Broadcast Code. The Commission, in line with its regulatory powers again cautioned AIT in another letter also dated 27th May, 2019.
6th of June, 2019
“AIT/Rapower embarked on use of inflammatory, divisive, inciting broadcasts, and media propaganda against the government and, the NBC for performing its statutory functions of regulating the broadcast industry in Nigeria.”
The NBC is also alleging that the management of Daar Communications Plc resorted to the use of media propaganda against the regulator, adding that its letters to the company were posted on social media platforms and has accused the media company of acting as if it is beyond the regulatory direction of the Commission listing other alleged breaches of the commision to include:
Failure to pay their licence fees as and when due
Deliberately inciting and heating the polity by being patently partisan and one sided in its broadcast added to the habit by the company’s management of using the channel to fight its personal battles contrary to the statutory requirements of the law.
According to the NBC, the decision to suspend the said licence is backed by theprovisions of Section 10 of the Third Schedule of the NBC Act Cap N11 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, which states as follows:
(d) where in the opinion of the Commission the station has been used in a manner detrimental to national interest.
(g) where there is wilful or repeated failure to operate
substantially as set forth in the licence
(h), where there is wilful or repeated violation or wilful or repeated failure to observe any provision of this Act or any rule or regulation of the Commission authorised by this Act or by a treaty ratified by the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
(i), where there is violation of or failure to observe any cease and desist order issued by the Commission;
(k), where a provision of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code has been seriously breached.