The National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) has issued a directive to broadcasting platforms, to desist from reporting details of criminal attacks by bandits and insurgents across the country. NBC Director of Broadcast Monitoring, Fransica Aiyetam, in a letter to broadcast stations dated 7th July 2021, stated that there is need to exercise caution in the delivery of security reports, “as too many details may have an adverse implication on the efforts of our security officials who are duty-bound to deal with the insurgency.” Therefore, broadcast stations were enjoined to be guided by provisions of the NBC Code that prohibit the transmission of divisive materials capable of undermining the indissolubility of the Nigerian State. Further, NBC urged broadcasters to advise guests and analysts on media programmes not to polarise the citizenry with divisive rhetoric in the course of presenting their points.
It is important to note that Nigeria is experiencing heightened insecurity with attacks reported on a daily basis across the country. The government appears to appropriate more funds for security agencies on a continuous basis. However, commensurate efforts in the fight against insecurity are yet to be seen.
Concerns have mounted over this directive, which appears to be part of the government’s relentless efforts to stifle free speech and press freedom. It will be recalled that in June 2021, at the public hearing organised by the House of Representatives on five media bills, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed made submissions, asking that NBC be given powers to regulate internet broadcasting and all online media. This was criticised by media stakeholders, as well as a proposed amendment to empower the NBC to regulate tariffs for satellite television. Also, in June 2021, the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Media Foundation for West Africa launched a report titled, ‘The State of Media Freedom in Nigeria,’ which documents the harassment of journalists by state actors, the mysterious deaths of some journalists, raid of media houses and the general hostility of the Nigerian environment for media operators.
The administration of the President Buhari-led government has been replete with attacks on the media and attempts to introduce more stringent regulation for the sector. Observers worry that in addition to these measures by the executive, legislation is also being forged as a tool to curb press freedom. Time and again, Nigerians have cried out against government actions directed at individuals and broadcasters alike, apparently aimed at muzzling the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression.