THE Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, urging him to “urgently instruct the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to withdraw the apparently illegal broadcasting code and memo threatening to sanction any broadcast that denigrates, disrespects or insults the president, governors, lawmakers and other elders and leaders in authority.”
SERAP also asked President Buhari to “instruct Mr Mohammed and the NBC to immediately rescind a fine of N5 million imposed on Nigeria Info 99.3 FM radio station, following reported comments by a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Obadiah Malafia, during an interview with the station.”
The NBC, last week, reportedly issued a warning to journalists and broadcast stations, stating: “To denigrate our governors, lawmakers, elders and leaders in abusive terms is not our culture. We respect our leaders as a positive cultural value. The commission may be compelled to impose sanctions where stations fail to curb this practice.”
In the letter dated August 15 and signed by SERAP’s deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “Rather than pushing to enforce a culture to respect president, governors, lawmakers, elders and other leaders, Mr Muhammed and the NBC should use their entrusted public office and mandate to promote a culture of public debate, access to information, transparency and accountability according to SERAP, nothing can be more destructive to people’s exercise of basic human rights and to democratic politics than the suppression of the media and media freedom.
It said the alleged ‘cultural codes’ which Mr Muhammed and the NBC are now using to punish journalists, broadcast stations and other Nigerians are patently contrary to public interests.
SERAP stated: “The implementation of the broadcasting code and the memo would further deter meaningful citizens’ engagement and have a chilling effect on Nigerians’ human rights, particularly the rights to freedom of expression and access to information; undermine the idea of representative democracy as well as make public officials less responsive to the people.”
The letter, a copy of which was sent to the minister, read in part: “We would be grateful if the requested action and measures are taken within seven days of the receipt and/ or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then that the measures have been taken, the registered trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel you to do so in the public interest.
“Our requests are entirely consistent and compatible with the Nigerian constitution of 1999 (as amended) and the country’s international legal obligations, including under the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which the country is a state party.
“SERAP is seriously concerned that the implementation of the broadcasting code and the memo would lead to unjust punishment and self-censorship among journalists and the media, and exacerbate the growing level of impunity for attacks on media freedom.
“SERAP is concerned that rather than addressing these matters of public interest and revelation of massive allegations of corruption and mismanagement in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), your government is devoting time and energy to stop the media and journalists from reporting on the issues.
“In a truly representative democracy that Nigeria is striving to become, those who venture into public life, whether in the capacity of president, governor or lawmakers, must expect to have their constitutional and public functions subjected to scrutiny and public discussion.
“By allowing journalists and the media to freely and independently perform their roles of informing the public, Nigerians will be able to monitor and keep politicians on a tighter leash, which will contribute to good government. “The broadcasting code and the memo are illegal, unconstitutional and amount to a misuse of public office insofar as they blatantly fail to follow due process of law, meet basic constitutional and international fair trial standards, and a strict three-part test of legality, necessity and proportionality.
“According to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens, candidates and elected representatives is essential. This implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues without censorship or restraint and to inform public opinion.”