The content of the broadcast media -radio, television or the Internet- are sent from a source, to receiver, by air. So, if you said that the content of the broadcast media is air-borne, no one would think you were talking about a disease.
Sometimes, broadcast engineers and communication scholars choose to describe the pathway of the broadcast media as airwaves, channel for broadcasting; electromagnetic waves, or electric and magnetic fields moving in the same direction; or microwave, a very short wavelenght in radio communication.
That probably explains Minister for Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed’s quest for the National Broadcast Commission to regulate every business that uses the airwaves. But asking the NBC fix tariffs is an outright overkill.
The minister may have an argument in asking that social media platforms, like Twitter; international television networks, like the CNN; and their carriers, like DSTV, that operate almost as ungovernable out-of-country pirate stations, must have identifiable Nigerian street addresses.
They must register with the Corporate Affairs Commission, obtain Tax Identification Number and pay Company Income Tax to Nigeria’s Federal Inland Revenue Service, just like the telcos that also use Nigeria’s airwaves asset for their business.
But the minister is not handling the matter quite right. It looks like he, and the government he serves, are smarting from the use to which the social media were put during the explosive #EndSARS protest that resulted in violence, arson, destruction of private and government properties, maiming and death of many in October 2020.
The Executive Director of Institute of Media and Society, Dr. Akin Akingbulu, is of the opinion that including online platforms, the habitat of “citizen journalists, ”will be injurious to the public space, freedom of expression and media freedom in Nigeria.”
Experience shows that whenever any Nigerian government strays into the space of private citizens or corporations, the government behaves like a bull in a china shop, and it will require massive dexterity to steer it out, away from causing much damage.
Gnawing at Mohammed’s credibility is his growing reputation as a cross between Josef Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s Minister for Propaganda, and “The Thought Police” of Oceania, the dystopic society chronicled in ‘NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR,’ by English author, George Orwell.
No one trusts him, as his sly Jacob is using Olusegun Odebunmi and Unyine Idem of the House of Representatives as the hands of Esau to achieve what appears to be the totalitarian purpose of the regime he serves.
At the public hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Information, Culture, Ethics and Values, he practically ordered, “I want to add that the Internet broadcasting and all online media should be included” under the law that will expand the scope of the NBC, the airwaves gestapo.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, sensing the coming ferocity of the braying dogs of the media, threw Alhaji Lai under the bus, and deftly washed the hands of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), off the controversial bills.
Adesina says: “That is not strictly a Presidency thing, because the President has nothing to do with that. It’s the Minister (for Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who is unilaterally initiating the bill without the knowledge and approval of the President) that can talk about it.”
But then there is absolute confirmation that the President, a former military Head of State, betrayed such tendencies in the past. He once told the late Dele Giwa and Ray Ekpu, editors of Newswatch newsmagazine, that he would tamper with the press. And he did.
He rolled out Decree 4, whose Draconian Section 1 reads, “Any person who publishes in any form, whether written or otherwise, any message, rumour, report or statement…which is false in any material particular or which brings or is calculated to bring the Federal Military Government or the Government of a state or public officer to ridicule or disrepute, shall be guilty of an offence under this Decree.”
The Decree added that offending journalists and publishers would be tried by what it described as an open military tribunal, (as if that was a big relief), and its ruling would be final and unappealable in any court, and those found guilty would be eligible for a fine not less than 10,000 naira and a jail sentence of up to two years.
To prove that he meant business, he put Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, two journalists with The Guardian newspaper, in the slammer at Kirikiri Prisons in Lagos, for two years. Nigerians, most of whom have long memories, have not forgotten this misadventure and are therefore wary of the intent of this new onslaught on the media.
Some discerning Nigerians say no one, who knows the danger, would tolerate another person, no matter how benign, to rattle a sharp sabre above their heads. Such a proposition, everyone would agree, is enough ground for apprehension.
President Buhari, who answered some questions and parried others, during the watershed interview he granted the team from Arise News TV ahead of June 12, 2021 Democracy Day celebration, cannot be the goofy shyster that Adesina is inferring. Buhari has a mind of his own, and Minister Mohammed would have unilaterally taken the course he is taking now at his own peril.
To be fair, placing the media under the ambit of the Nigeria Press Council is not quite a problem. After all, the medical, pharmaceutical, engineering, legal and other professions have councils that set standards for them under relevant ministries of the government.
But unlike other professions, the media is mentioned in, and assigned a role by Nigeria’s Constitution under Section 22. Also, unlike other professions, whose membership and practice can be easily regulated by government statutes, the media is better regulated by ethics or Code of Conduct administered by its members, not by a Minister of Information.
Ethics, which is not law, cannot be enforced by an external body, though you can ask a court of law to interpret and enforce its letters. It has to be done from within the profession. Also, membership of the media profession cannot be too restricted.
Indeed, the media, being essentially an omnibus creative space, must actively seek to accommodate content from all manner of professionals. No content must be excluded from the media, as long as it is not injurious to public interest.
That is why it is easy to agree with those who argue that the Minister for Information and a Nigeria Press Council, run by the government, is not competent to determine who should practise journalism, or license a newspaper, that is already registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission that statutorily registers all businesses in Nigeria.
Anyone who is worried about a journalism profession that is not going to be directly led by government, obviously forgot that the statute books are replete with sanctions for any journalist that breaches the laws of slander, libel, sedition and national security.
Also, they forgot Section 45 of Nigeria’s Constitution, which provides that even fundamental human rights can be suspended “in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or… protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.”
Anyway, those who oppose the Minister for Information’s direct control of the media should more properly articulate their concerns, as government too loosens its noose.
Source: Nigerian Newspapers Online