Bursts of reactions yesterday trailed the decision by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to revoke the licenses of 52 broadcast stations across the country over indebtedness to the regulatory commission.
Director-general of the NBC, Malam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, who made the announcement while briefing journalists in Abuja yesterday, said the stations owe the commission N2.6 billion from 2015 to 2021.
Ilelah directed commission’s state offices to liaise with security agencies to commence the enforcement of the operation within the next 24 hours.
He noted there were no political motives in revoking the license of the debtor-broadcast stations.
But professional media bodies sought understanding from the NBC, asking it to rescind its decision on the 52 stations listed for shutdown and license revocation.
The stakeholders noted that it would lead to proliferation of fake news and the loss of thousands of jobs in a country where jobs are scarce.
They said it is a known fact that media income has seriously nosedived as a result of the global impact of COVID-19 on the general economy which had negative consequences on the income of television and radio stations.
Those who expressed their views on the issue include the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria (BON), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Media Rights Agenda (MRA).
The executive secretary, BON, Dr Yemisi Bamgbose, reminded the NBC of its intervention on the matter in the recent past which facilitated debt reconciliation and payment of backlog of some stations, and agreed staggered payments for others.
On the premise of hostile economic situation, he said that media income nosedived as a result of the global impact of COVID-19, adding that the broadcast media remains one of the very few sectors that did not shut down their operations to keep information flow during the pandemic, with the attendant health risks and economic situation.
“The efforts of the media in overcoming the pandemic cannot be overemphasised,” he said, adding that most stations have not recovered till date from economic woes occasioned by Covid-19 as stations were running at loss occasioned by shutdown of other sectors, including advertising”, he noted.
Within the last one year, he said broadcast media houses had been groaning under the heavy burden created by the high cost of running the stations, specifically the cost of diesel which has gone up beyond reach.
“While many sectors have closed operations as a result of the current economic problems, radio and television stations remained on air at a loss recognising the essence of prompt information in a precarious situation like ours,” he said.
On escalation of social media impact, Bamgbose argued that state stations provide verified information to the rural areas and closing the 54 stations will negate the efforts of the government in fighting insurgency, which may lead to regrettable consequences.
“This will give room to the thriving of the social media with its attendance consequence,” he said.
Bamgbose also said the closure of the 54 stations will throw thousands of workers into the already over saturated labour market, thereby taking food out of the tables of millions of people.
“Stations shutdown will lead to the non-transmission of the already booked commercial/adverts thereby compounding their economic problems as advertisers will not pay for commercials not transmitted.
“We are appealing to NBC to allow further intervention of BON on this
matter. NBC should allow the implementation of the debt recovery template already submitted by BON. NBC should kindly withdraw the shutdown and revocation order. We assure you of our support at all times,” he added.
Also, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) expressed concern over the shutting down of the broadcast stations by NBC.
In a statement signed by its president, Mustapha Isah and the general secretary, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, the professional body of all the editors in Nigeria warned that the action, if not reversed, will lead to the loss of thousands of jobs in a country where jobs are scarce.
The statement noted: “The NGE is worried because media houses, which played and continue to play a key role in the nurturing and development of democracy can’t just be off air no matter the reasons.
“While the Guild is not against broadcast stations fulfilling their financial obligations to the NBC, we note that the current harsh operating environment that has crippled every sector in our nation was not taken into account by NBC before its action.
“Currently, it is difficult for private stations to import broadcast equipment due to the high exchange rate. We are all aware of the high operational cost, including the cost of diesel to power their generating sets,” the NGE stated.
The Guild added that several broadcast stations are just managing to survive in the midst of the high competition in the industry following the licencing of hundreds of more stations by NBC.
The NGE called for a review of the NBC Act to increase the lifespan of a broadcast licence from five to at least 10 years.
The body of editors also advocated a reduction of the licence fees considering the fact that several broadcast stations now operate in the country, saying, for instance, the Lagos zone alone now has close to 50 radio stations.
The NGE tasked the NBC to enter into dialogue with the affected stations to restructure the debts owed and work out convenient payment period to ensure their survival.
The statement continued: “A caring government should be concerned about the possibility of job losses than revenue generation. After all, one of the functions of NBC is working for the survival and the development of the broadcast industry.”
“A critical stakeholder in the nation’s democratic space cannot be shut out at this critical moment of our democracy, especially when the country is preparing for the 2023 general election.”
The NGE urged the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria and the Independent Broadcasting Organisation to enter into a dialogue with the NBC to find a lasting solution to the recurring issue of licence renewal fees, which often leads to threats of shutdown.
On its part, SERAP vowed to sue the Buhari administration for the revocation of the licences.
SERAP said, “We’re suing the Buhari administration over its arbitrary decision to revoke the licences of 52 broadcast stations, and to deprive the public access to information about critical developments in Nigeria they have a right to know.”
The group stated that the decision by the government to revoke the licences of over 50 television and radio stations is a deliberate ploy to stifle media freedom, free expression, and access to information in Nigeria.
Also, MRA described the development as ill-advised, insensitive, and antithetical to the interests of the Nigerian public.
In a statement by its head of Legal Department, Ms Obioma Okonkwo, MRA said by the revocation of the broadcast licenses of so many stations for alleged non-payment of their licence fees, NBC was prioritizing its desire to make money off the broadcasters over the interest of citizens of the country.
Okonkwo claimed that the ultimate effect of NBC’s action is to deprive millions of Nigerians access to information as well as their rights and ability to freely express themselves through these stations.
She stated: “We are shocked by this naked display by the NBC of a lack of appreciation of its principal role which is to contribute to the emergence of a knowledge society. Rather, it has chosen to create an environment in which millions of Nigerians will wallow in ignorance, deprived of access to crucial information that they need to make critical decisions in their lives or to enhance their livelihoods.
“The action of the NBC has only worsened the prevailing lopsidedness in the broadcasting landscape in Nigeria which was already dominated by government-owned broadcasting stations but is now under the monopolistic control of Federal Government-owned stations, which will be almost unchallenged, with the result that citizens will now be fed unmitigated propaganda by these remaining stations”.
Okonkwo also accused NBC of being insensitive to the harsh economic environment under which the broadcast stations have operated over the last two and a half years, pointing out that the national economy has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic itself and the measures taken by the government in response to the pandemic.
She called on NBC to reverse its decision in the public interest to avoid creating a society of predominantly ignorant citizens, even as she advised that the need to ensure that Nigerians are adequately informed through the media should supersede any other consideration by NBC.
She also advised the commission to liaise with the broadcasting stations to identify the challenges facing the industry and come up with realistic solutions to the identified challenges.
Also, the NUJ described the decision of the NBC to revoke the licenses of the broadcast stations nationwide over-indebtedness as a hasty decision, noting that it was ill advised.
National president of the NUJ, Chris Isiguzo, argued that NBC’s action was ill-timed and reckless.
“Although the director general of NBC, Malam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah claimed that this had no political motives, yet we insist that the action was ill timed and reckless,” he said.
He noted that the wholesale revocation of licences at this critical time of insecurity in the country appears to be a decision taken without careful prior deliberation, consultation or counsel.
He stated: “While we regret the inability of these broadcast stations to fulfill their obligations to NBC, in-view of dwindling resources, we caution against such large scale clampdown of broadcast stations in disregard to security issues and the attendant consequence. We cannot afford the unpleasant outcome of such media blackout at this time.
“We call on NBC to exercise more restraint on this issue in consideration of national security and allow for more dialogue and consultation to find a better way of dealing with the situation,” he added.
The NBC boss urged the stations to pay their fees before 24 hours to avert total disconnection.
Earlier in May 2022, he had said NBC published in the national dailies the list of licensees that are indebted to the commission, and granted them two weeks to renew their licenses and pay their debts or consider their licenses revoked, frequencies withdrawn and the withdrawn frequencies reassigned to others who are ready to abide by the necessary requirements.
Ilelah said three months after the publication, some licensees were yet to pay their outstanding debts, in contravention of the National Broadcasting Commission Act CAP N11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, particularly Section 10(a) of the third schedule of the Act.
In view of this development, he said the continued operation of the debtor stations is illegal and constitutes a threat to national security.
“Therefore, after due consideration, the NBC hereby announces the revocation of the licenses of the under-listed stations and gives them 24 hours to shut down their operations. Our offices nationwide are hereby directed to collaborate with security agencies to ensure immediate compliance,” the NBC DG stated.
The stations whose licenses were revoked include Africa Independent Television (AIT) and its sister radio station, Raypower FM and Silverbird Television.
Other affected stations are Rhythm FM (Silverbird Communications Ltd), Greetings FM (Greetings Media Ltd), Tao FM (Ovidi Communications Ltd), Zuma FM (Zuma FM Ltd), Crowther FM (Crowther Communications Ltd), WE FM (Kings Broadcasting Ltd), Linksman International ltd, Bomay Broadcasting Services Ltd, MITV (Murhi International Group Ltd), Classic FM (Pinkt Nigeria Ltd), Classic FM (Pinkt Nigeria Ltd), Classic TV (Pinkt Nigeria Ltd), Beat FM (Megalectrics LTD), Cooper Communications Ltd, Splash FM (West Midlands Ltd), Rock City FM (Boot Communications Ltd), Family FM (Kalaks Investments Nig. Ltd), Space FM (Creazioni Nig. Ltd), Radio Jeremi (Radio Jeremi ltd), Wave FM (South Atlantic Media Ltd), Kogi State Broadcasting Corporation, Kwara State Broadcasting Corporation, Niger State Broadcasting Corporation, Breeze FM (Bays Water ltd), Vibes FM (Vibes Communication ltd) and Family Love FM (Multimesh Broadcasting Co. ltd).
The rest are Gombe State Broadcasting Corporation, Lagos State Broadcasting Corporation, Osun State Broadcasting Corporation, Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation, Ondo State Broadcasting Corporation, Rivers State Broadcasting Corporation, Bayelsa State Broadcasting Corporation, Cross River State Broadcasting Corporation, Imo State Broadcasting Corporation, Anambra State Broadcasting Corporation, Borno State Broadcasting Corporation, Yobe State Broadcasting Corporation, Sokoto State Broadcasting Corporation, Zamfara State Broadcasting Corporation, Kebbi State Broadcasting Corporation, Jigawa State Broadcasting Corporation, Kaduna State Broadcasting Corporation, and Katsina State Broadcasting Corporation.
Speaking further, the NBC DG said all broadcast stations who have not renewed their licenses for the current duration are advised to do so within the next 30 days to avoid sanctions.
“The Commission also calls on all IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) and all other broadcast stations that are streaming online to register with the Commission to avoid disconnection.
“Broadcasters should note that having a DTT or FM license does not warrant a broadcaster to stream online; they are two different licenses,” he noted.
He added that they’ve been in talks with the media houses for more than a year, but they refused to revert.