By Okoh Aihe
Today, a new political journey into the future begins for this country. But let’s do a recall. It may not be total. My friend once told me a story, long ago, which still makes my heart bleed.
In one of those satanic periods after the elections in Nigeria, there was conflagration up North, and lots of killings, provoked by the utterances of a former leader of the nation, a contestant, who thought he had lost everything and would never have the opportunity again. This former leader cried for power. The rest as they say is not good history.
In those dark moments, a father so concerned about the safety of the daughter on National Youth Service – serving the nation – was calling her phone consistently. Now you never knew that a phone call could be answered from hell. That day hell was in Kaduna. Some demonic entity simply picked up the phone and asked: “Is this your daughter? I just killed her now.”
News of the daughter’s death has been broken to him. Just like that!
Welcome to elections in Nigeria. The story has hardly changed. Desperadoes send their agents to kill and destroy while they wait to enjoy the spoils of office they hardly deserve. They swim through the blood of the innocent to get to power and they imagine that blood will depart from their lineage, forever.
Ever since some stakeholders have been concerned about election safety in the country. Those whose regulatory activities and demeanour could affect the conduct of elections, even on ancillary scale, have had to dust up their regulatory documents to stay on top of the dangerous game that is politics in Nigeria.
The National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, is one of those organisations, and this is not a time of the year I envy those who work in that establishment. Originally designed to regulate broadcasting, it has found out that regulation includes a lot of things, including managing the strange expectations of government.
Fortunately, this agency has tried so hard. There are some rites of passage that must lead to election – a time with broadcasters, to appeal to them about the contents of broadcasting, including advertising; the need to be fair to all political parties – although NTA, Radio Nigeria and state broadcast stations don’t understand the meaning of that fairness, fake news, the dangers of hate speech, and why really the operators must play by the Code.
Yes. There is the Nigeria Broadcasting Code which agglomerates all those things and has a comprehensive compilation of dos and don’ts.
For it’s tradition and also by way of pouring libation on those electoral rites, the NBC has appealed to broadcasters not to use their stations to promote hate, violence and chaos as this electoral phase unfolds.
Speaking at a sensitisation programme in Lagos, titled: “Towards a fair and responsible broadcast coverage of the 2023 general elections: a multi-stakeholder dialogue”, Mallam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, the Director General, threatened to invoke the contents of the Code to deal with broadcasters who go on the wrong side of the law.
He urged broadcasters to provide equal distribution of airwaves for jingles and programmes throughout their peak period while appealing that they must act responsibly
“Things won’t go on as usual. The dissemination of false information, hate speech, and disparaging remarks must stop on broadcast media. We must advocate for nonviolence rather than violence, educate rather than misinform, and defend rather than dismantle society,” Ilelah called out.
On this wise, we agree with NBC. This nation is on a tinderbox or right at the edge of a precipice, with the fuel supplied by a government with absolute disdain for fairness or balance. Just a little spark of fire or a little shove, the nation will either be on a massive fire that cannot be controlled or simply keel over. Either way the nation is nearing the very end because of one government’s failure. The broadcasters need not exacerbate this by their actions. The issue of fine doesn’t excite us here because it is better for it not to happen than for sanctions to be pursued.
The sixth edition of the Nigeria Broadcast Code is very clear on this, depending upon the version you have. Sections 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11 under Professional Guideliness deal with this very lucidly but let’s stay with 18.104.22.168, which says: “Hate speech is prohibited; therefore, a Broadcaster shall not transmit any programme, programme promotion, community service announcement or station identity, which is likely, in any circumstance, to provoke or perpetuate in a reasonable person, intense dislike, serious contempt or severe ridicule against a person or groups of people because of age, colour, gender, national or ethnic origin, disability, race, religion or political leanings.”
This is articulately expressed but I wish to appeal that in the matter of a breach which should be very clear, the NBC should follow the stipulated process of meting out discipline to the erring station instead of being coerced into knee-jerk punitive action by personalities in government.
The regulator should earn believability. What happened when the list of broadcasters owing license fees was released, shouldn’t happen again. Quite a few people believe that the names of Federal Government stations were deracinated with attention focussed on a few private stations the regulator wanted to embarrass. So truth was carefully laced in deceit and programmed obscurantism.
I am however more concerned with equal treatment to the various stakeholders, the political parties, in terms of equal opportunity to the broadcast space. There have been complaints in the past where government stations – federal and state – did not accept news materials or even adverts from opposition parties. Revenues that should accrue to the government and, by extension the people, were rejected because some people in government wouldn’t bear to see some faces, especially if they were labelled as enemies.
Yet the Code says in Section 9.3.1. The Public Service Broadcasters (PSB) shall: (a) ensure that programmes and news broadcasts reflect the divergent view points and plural nature of the Nigerian society; (b) give all sides equitable time to air their views; and (c) not accept political adverts but may cover campaign rallies of all registered political parties and give equal airtime for broadcast of same.
With particular reference to the beauty of the Code, there are no small parties and no big parties. All the political parties are equal before the Code. This is why I believe the NBC has a lot of responsibility on its shoulders in the days and months ahead. The organisation should empower the Monitoring Department to play its role.
Apart from encouraging good broadcasting that can promote peace, awareness and the health of the society in the days ahead, the Department should be equipped well enough to perform at such an elevated level, to enable the NBC confront broadcasters with wrong judgement of facts or plain mischief.
In the next few months, I appeal, there should be no sleep for the NBC.
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