The Upper Crust

For AIT, it isn’t just about press freedom


With Uche Nnadozie

As a media practitioner, it is not easy standing in the middle where it appears government or its agent attempts to stifle media freedom. In a democracy, it is unthinkable that the government will attempt to censor the media knowing that the media just like the judiciary is a major headstone upon which democracy rests. Whenever there is a semblance of some form of censorship, it raises a red flag of despotism and rings a bell so loud that “down under” can hear. So it was not different last week when matters relating to Daar Communications Plc operators of AIT, Raypower FM and Faaji FM stations across the country became of national interest.
To be fair, the organisation has had many instances of brushes with the law or government. In some cases, it was about particular programs, anchor person or producer. At other times it was the whole gamut of what they do there. Even recently, the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission, NBC had weighed in. their grouse stems from their content in different ways and from different programs. From the content of letters said to have originated from NBC to Daar, it is obvious they have been on the issues of infraction for a long time. There have been infractions and the company was called in to address the issues, but it appears the more they are informed the worse they get according to NBC.
I’m not here to bore you with all the legalese that has been flying about. I am more interested in the profession of journalism, the company called Daar and the hypocrisy of those who should know. Journalism is anchored on truth. A free press is a major ingredient in the soup called democracy. When journalism is soiled in lies, it will be difficult for it to call government to respect democratic ethos. As they say he who come to equity must first come with clean hands. The Nigerian media as exemplified by Daar cannot be said to have come to equity with clean hands. Allegations and evidence of engagement by NBC with Daar leaves much to be desired. On the other hand, AIT and her sisters have not come up with contrary evidence instead they revel in blackmail against their regulator. Emotionalism has been used to obfuscate the real issues.
Daar is accused of wide use of “user-generated” content for broadcast. It is true. They were accused of promoting insurgent and faceless organisations to the detriment of Nigeria, it is true; or in fact inciting hatred towards the country or the government among many other allegations. These allegations carry penalties. The regulator is there to ensure that operators play according to the rules. They are not there to empower brigandage. Truth is the broadcast media everywhere in the world is regulated and it is for a reason. The influence of radio and television is such that they can move society so quickly into taking actions that may bring about complete breakdown of law and order. The newspapers and magazines have not such luxury.
Therefore, broadcast stations are regulated in a way to make them responsible. It is therefore unfair for them to turn around to breach virtually all the codes they signed up for when they sought for and got the license. Newspapers don’t require license to operate.
Having some practitioners ignoring Daar’s serial infractions including inability to pay their licensing fees for five years and the fact that they know these things carry penalties baffles me. I would have thought that self regulation is the best in the circumstance. That is, practitioners should not allow itself to be held by the hand by a government agency. Because when you fail to adhere to your own operational codes, what you simply have done is to invite government into your case. There is no need therefore to come to the public to shout intimidation by government. You should be sincere enough to tell what happened, own up where necessary and seek ways to make amends.
The resort to blackmail and such like does not bode well for our profession. In the end, Daar is a company quoted at the stock exchange. Best practices are expected of it at all times.
Good a thing the matter is in court. I maintain that if we want institutions to work we should not always seek for ways to obstruct their work. We can’t be complaining about weak institutions as the media quite often does yet turn around to obstruct lawful regulation.
We are killing both the institution and the media. The talk about the DG of NBC being a partisan being that he is a member of APC does not hold any water. The DGs before this one were members of PDP too. And the chairman “emeritus” of Daar is a member of PDP. So the charge about partisanship is simply a way to muddle the water. It does not in any way address the legitimate concerns raised in the many queries of the NBC.
I do not support withdrawal of license of the operator. However, what do you do to an operator that is simply troublesome, recalcitrant and obstinate? This idea of closing our eyes to infractions by popular people and organizations is bad. When lawyers or judges are found wanting, they raise hell in the country to get government to back off.
Journalists have joined the fray. I then wonder why we arrest armed robbers, kidnappers and the likes. Is it because they don’t have loud voices or associations that can cry and blackmail? Every infraction should be punished. We can avoid it, if we do the right thing.  We must learn another thing: we do not have any legal authority called “press freedom”. What we have is freedom of expression. They are not the same thing. Even so, freedom of expression ends where another’s begins.

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