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Hate Speech or Freedom of Speech?

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The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), on Thursday, suspended the operating license of DAAR Communications, the operator of AIT and Raypower. The NBC said that AIT has continually violated the 2004 broadcasting code, even after persistent warnings to the Television station, to tow the line of caution. The decisIon to suspend the license was in compliance with the provisions of section 10 of the Third Schedule of the NBC Act Cap N11 laws of the federation, 2004. The most offensive of the AIT infractions as stated by the commission was the use of unedited social media comments, which were inciting and unfair; in one of its programme segments called Kakaaki. The NBC said that AIT had embarked on a campaign of propaganda against the government, through inflammatory, divisive and inciting broadcasts.

The DG of the NBC had chronicled how the commission had been monitoring the activities of the station, and relayed the various correspondence  between the commission and AIT. In 2017, AIT had been warned over the manner in which hate speech and inciting as well as divisive comments were used in the discussion of matters centred on national Interest. AIT was invited twice in 2017 and also in February of 2018, each time, being censored on the manner in which they were broadcasting programmes, in breach of the provisions of the broadcasting code. The representatives promised to comply and correct the breaches. Volatile and misleading social media reporting and commentary is disturbingly becoming part of the mainstream media reporting, thus becoming inciting and divisive; yet unverified. This has made Facebook, the owners of the Whatsapp application, to differentiate between original messages, or forwarded ones, with a view to defining the origins and creators of fake news and hate speech, so that the owners of such can be traced. NBC had also generated a generic letter, sending out censorship and warnings to all media outlets to exercise caution in the use of social media generated content.

Some of the contents on Kakaaki include, “Miyetti Allah that is contributing only nama to the nations economy is on the verge of pocketing 100 billion……” which is thoroughly denigrating and untrue. There was another picture of PMB seated with a large label at the bottom of the screen reading, “Next level poverty”. CNN did sack one of its famous hosts, Kathy Griffin, for posting a gruesome photo of President Donald Trump. Even though CNN can be referred to as anti – rightist, but yet, they just wouldn’t deliberately violate broadcast acts of the US. Another post displayed on Kakaaki read, “As soon as Abike Dabiri posted that some next level Buhari people were going to watch the fight, I knew they would bring their bad luck and emptiness into it.” This is not only demeaning, but ascribing that PMB and all next level persons were cursed. Who goes to press with such nuisance?

AIT was also on record to have gone to press with some of the letters of warnings sent to them by NBC, which is unprofessional and unnecessary. Afterall, when the representatives of the station were invited by the NBC, they agreed to make the necessary corrections, thus accepting the breaches they are accused of committing.

It is understood that AIT owes workers salaries for several months, some say 3 years, some even 4. However, it is certain that AIT has financial problems as it has not been paying its dues, owed the NBC; which constitutes in part, the reasons why their license was revoked or suspended. Recently, the FCDA had to pull down a structure within the premises of the AIT which was meant to house its security, but was never authorised by the development authority. After several warnings, the FCDA had to pull down the building.

Some argue that the matter should have been settled in court. But what then is the use of the NBC and the provisions of its act, which empowers it to sanction the erring broadcaster? We have seen the NCC sanctioning MTN, so has CBN sanctioned the likes of Skye Bank etc. SEC recently sanctioned Oando, so did the NCAA sanction First Nation Airline. Just recently, the Australian police raided the Australian broadcasting Corp. in an effort to curb the broadcasting of sensitive material to the general public. So world over, media is scrutinised and guided. These statutory corporations are in place for exactly these functions of regulating, guiding, censoring and sanctioning. Were the matter to be determined solely by the courts, NBC as a regulator would then have to watch and standby as a company it licensed, dare it, and impune it, while causing all the damage and havoc out there?

Another brewing matter over the license suspension is the airing of a documentary on the Presidential Election Tribunal, covering the pending election petition matter. It was a breach, and they were cautioned, but they did not take heed. They went ahead to post and broadcast the warning letters. The broadcast would certainly seek to influence the tribunal and the general public, and since the matter was in court, the most they could do was to cover proceedings. If the case was to be discussed, then a panel consisting of persons from both sides ought to be presented to its audience.  Certainly not a one sided documentary; that is wholly partisan.

A blogger wrote a story, appreciating the efforts of our armed forces, celebrating them, and the efforts and sacrifices they make; ensuring that we are safe. He described how he went to Damaturu, Yobe for an official assignment and the ordeal he encountered when a Boko Haram attack was reported imminent, not far from where he was. Fortunately for him, the military was up to it and the Bokos backed down and never attacked out of fear that the military were ready to annihilate them. A popular news site and blogger carried the story and titled it, “A Yoruba man shares his near death experience with Boko Haram”; tailoring a Yoruba man being attacked or molested by Boko Haram. What is the Yoruba doing in the caption? Simple: it’s the usual divisive practice.

We cannot over emphasize the need to censor and control the negativity and inciting effects of social media and fake news in our society. AIT is suffering from its leanings towards social media and its support for the bile and diabolical spew from undesirable elements on social media platforms. Every day there are posts that killings are on-going on the road to Plateau or its environs, which are totally untrue. 6 or 7 of every 10 posts are laced with religious and ethnic comments that are incendiary and can readily cause mayhem. You cannot as a broadcaster simply stoke the flames of ethnic and religious scorn by broadcasting comments from these ethnicists and bigots. It is highly irresponsible to broadcast political vituperations of unpatriotic persons that are bent on destroying our budding democracy. As social as it is, social media is rich with evil and has become a weapon of massive destruction. It is fast, easy and very lethal.  Broadcasting its ills is not journalism but utter bunkum.

– Tahir is the Talban Bauchi

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