Channels TV fined by NBC 

24th April 2023
Civil society groups sue Nigerian broadcast regulator following Channels TV fine.
Lagos, Nigeria. Image: OpenUpEd/Creative Commons

Nigeria’s broadcast regulator, the National Broadcasting Code (NBC), has fined Channels Television N5 million for comments made by Labour Party vice-presidential candidate, Datti Baba-Ahmed. Following the fine, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) have filed a lawsuit against President Buhari and others.  

The regulator claims that the interview – aired Wednesday, 22 March,2023 – broke the broadcasting code as it contained offensive references to people and organisations that could encourage public disorder. The SERAP and CJID are now suing NBC referring to the fine issued to Channel TV as, “arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional.” 

Read more: Nigeria Election: Threats, sanctions, and disinformation

According to the Premium Times, during an interview on Channel Television’s Politics Today, LP vice-presidential candidate, Datti Baba-Ahmed said, “I am telling you that on the 29th of May 2023, swear in Tinubu as this result is, you have ended democracy whoever you are. You cannot swear in people who have not met constitutional requirements.”  

These comments were made in reference to Nigeria’s recent presidential elections. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Atiku Abubakar and the Labour Party’s presidential candidate Peter Obi had accused The All Progressives Congress (APC) – the ruling and incoming party – and the Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec) of electoral misconduct. Accusations included breaching the electoral act and rigging the election via a website masquerading as Inec as well as Inec’s delays in uploading the election results. Apart from glitchy systems, this was an election marred by threats to journalists, mis- and dis-information and later on, sanctions from NBC on 25 broadcast stations over their coverage of the 2023 Presidential and National Assembly elections. 

The Guardian (Nigeria) accused NBC of playing the role of “the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge,” as no investigations were carried out prior to the fine being issued and because NBC did not give Channel TV the opportunity to defend itself. According to the Guardian this lack of transparency from NBC compromises their credibility and independence by leaving NBC susceptible to accusations of partisanship and being used as a tool by the government to limit press freedoms. 

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Media stakeholders have accused NBC of “high handedness and suffocating the broadcast media.” Nobel Prize winner, Professor Wole Soyinka referred to Mr Ahmed’s comments as “unbecoming” but praised the anchor’s attempts on air to keep Mr Ahmed in check and condemned the fines. “I fail to understand just where the station could be faulted, except from a disposition for injustice.” 

SERAP and CJID are arguing that the Channel TV fine issued by NBC was neither in line nor compatible with access to information and media freedom, and was incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties.  

Nigeria’s Constitution and human right principles hail freedom and diversity as the bedrock of regulation in broadcasting. SERAP and CJID believe that the NBC Act and broadcasting code should not be used in a way that limits freedom of expression or minimises the plurality and diversity of voices represented by broadcasters. They fear such use could have devastating effects on the continued work of journalists and broadcast media in Nigeria. 

SERAP and CJID said, “the media has the task of distributing all varieties of information and opinion on matters of general interest and public interest.”

In the lead up to the 2019 elections, the NBC sanctioned 86 television and radio stations for hate speech, vulgar language and unverified claims. During the #EndSARS protest in 2020, the NBC issued fines to Channels Television, Arise News and AIT to the tune of N9 million for engaging in “unprofessional” #EndSARS Broadcast. With the most recent fine issued to Channel TV, it is important to note the sensitive role the media plays in the democratic life of a country like Nigeria.

The director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan told PMA, “Every part of the Nigerian elections seem to have improved over the years, but the conduct of politicians seeking power. The onus lies on all of us – media, CSOs, government, and the electoral commission – to incentivise good conduct by politicians.” 

Effective democracies exist where independent news media are able to report without fear or favour and interview a plurality of voices to provide context to their audiences. Any arbitrary issuance of fines or sanctions, especially at these times, poses the risk of limiting the public’s access to information and inspire self-censorship among journalists and editors.