NBC suspends Channels licence

  • Thursday, September 18, 2008 - From Martins Oloja, Terhemba Daka and Kelechi Okoronkwo (Abuja), Ibe Uwaleke and Bertram Nwanekamma (Lagos)
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* PDP alleges plot against govt.

* AC, NBA condemn action

THE controversy over the false report of President Umaru Yar'Adua's planned resignation continued yesterday with the government's anger at the hoax evidently on display. The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) suspended the operations of Channels Television in all locations in the country for running the unconfirmed report on Tuesday of plans by the President to resign his position. The suspension was with immediate effect.

However, chairman of the station, Mr. John Momoh who cut short his vacation in the United Kingdom and returned to Nigeria yesterday said the problem would be amicably resolved, promising to reach Abuja to get more facts on the case.

The station carried a news flash which read "News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) is reporting that President Yar'Adua could resign on health grounds after his proposed cabinet reshuffle".

Yesterday, Channels issued a statement showing remorse. "The news was attributed to News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), a government-owned agency, to which we subscribe and it was also sent to us by the Agency France Press (AFP), another international wire service, to which we also subscribe. Channels Television while monitoring the Reuters News Agency saw the refutal of the resignation story by the President's spokesman, Mr. Segun Adeniyi which the station aired properly and this was about ten (10) minutes after the unfortunate earlier report."

It said further: "We later learnt about NAN's claim that hackers might have broken into their e-mail account to send the erroneous report to targeted news organisations. We deeply regret any embarrassment this might have caused the Presidency as it was not our intention to do so. We are a responsible news organisation and reiterate our commitment to ensuring a lasting democracy in Africa and Nigeria in particular, for the pursuant of law and order, which we believe will catapult the continent to becoming the next economic power block on the global arena."

Channels' suspension came amidst a barrage of criticisms that trailed the invasion and subsequent closure of the station's officers in Abuja and Lagos on Tuesday by State Security personnel.

Justifying the suspension in a statement yesterday, the Director-General of the Commission, Yomi Bolarinwa, stated that the decision was in consonance with the provisions of paragraph 8 (d) of the Third Schedule of the NBC Act No. 38 of 1992 (as amended) and paragraph 13.3.3.1 (g) of the National Broadcasting Commission Code.

According to Bolarinwa, a station's licence may be revoked by the commission in a number of circumstances including " where in the opinion of the Commission, the station has been used in a manner detrimental to national interest."

The Director-General explained further in the statement that the NBC could also "revoke a licence where a broadcast station commits any of the under-listed offences: where the licensee broadcasts information immediately leading, or likely to lead, to a breakdown of law and order in the country."

"Following the News Broadcast of 2.00pm on the16th of September 2008 by Channels Television, the National Broadcasting Commission hereby invokes the law and suspends with immediate effect the operations of Channels Television in all locations in the Nigeria," the DG stated yesterday.

"This action is without prejudice to any further action that may be taken by the National Broadcasting Commission as investigation is on-going," the statement added.

Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) last night accused the opposition parties of master-minding the rumour, describing the action as treasonable.

Addressing a press conference in Abuja, the national chairman of the party, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, said the leadership of the party was aware that the opposition had been holding nocturnal meetings with a view to pulling down the government of President Yar'Adua.

"We know them. Just about two or three weeks ago, the national publicity secretary issued a statement and called on Nigerians to be patriotic and ignore the antics of the opposition. We know that they have been holding meetings and I suppose you know those who hold nocturnal meetings," he said.

Ogbulafor said the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party was already working out ways of tackling the opposition tooth for tooth and words for words. His words: "The NWC is at work. We are deliberating over it. We are going to give them tooth for tooth and words for words. We are not going to sit down and watch them running down the president who is doing very well. They should give him a chance. He is strong and doing well. We feel it is time to face them word for word. We don't have guns, but we will face them word for word."

Reiterating that the president is well, the national chairman said: "For the avoidance of doubt, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is capable of discharging his responsibilities within the mandate given to him by Nigerians. At no time has the idea of his resigning been

contemplated. Therefore, let all those engaging in subversive activities be put on notice that their negative attempts will be resisted by Nigerians."

However, a barrage of condemnations has trailed the shutting down of the Abuja and Lagos offices of Channels Television, the arrest of nine of the station's members of staff by the State Security personnel (SSS) and the subsequent suspension of its operations yesterday.

In a statement yesterday, signed by its publicity secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed The Action Congress (AC) faulted the shutting down of any media organisation for whatever reason especially by a government that prides itself on rule of law and due process.

Describing the invasion of the station as "Gestapo-style," the statement read:

"We had hoped and prayed that we will never see this type of action again, especially under a democratic system that we are running now. But here we are, witnessing another throwback to the better forgotten days of incessant media harassment and intimidation under military rule," the party said.

AC therefore called for an immediate lifting of the siege on the TV station, release of all those arrested and an unreserved apology tendered to the station by the government for the behaviour of the security agents who invaded its premises.

The party however said Channel was not without blame, noting that the station could have double-checked the story with the Presidency or even the News Agency of Nigeria, to which it was credited, before airing it.

"Even that did not warrant the kind of treatment meted out to the station. The best thing would have been for the regulatory National Broadcasting Commission to determine if the station had breached any of its codes and to sanction it accordingly," it said.

AC added: "We must also not forget this: Against the background of our leaders' penchant for giving preference to foreign news organisations over the local ones, it is also possible that the fact that the French news agency, AFP, carried the story helped convince Channels news managers of its authenticity."

The party said instead of harassing journalists and shutting media organisations, the state should investigate the source of the story, which the News Agency of Nigeria has disclaimed even though it was attributed to the agency.

"The presidency has denied that the President plans to resign, and NAN has denied ever carrying such a story. We believe them. Now, the next step is for security and intelligence agencies to get to the root of the matter by investigating the source.

"This is important to prevent a recurrence. After all, we learnt that this is not the first time such a hoax on President Yar'Adua has been credited to NAN. If the security and intelligence agencies had done their jobs the first time around, this would not have happened.

"Also, it might be necessary to strengthen NAN's technological base so that hackers and mischief makers will not find it easy to carry out their nefarious activities in the name of the agency. News agencies are too powerful to be left to run on outdated technology,'' AC said

The party recalled that when the late President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia was first reported to have died in a Paris hospital - even when he was still alive - no media organisation was closed for that reason.

"Nigeria should emulate the way such issues are handled in other countries. Jackboot approach, harassment of journalists and shutting of media outlets can only point to one thing: security and intelligence agencies that are inept and will do anything to cover up their own inadequacies," AC said.

Coalition of Ethnic Nationalities of the Niger Delta, the United Niger Delta Energy Development Security Strategy (UNDEDSS), yesterday sent goodwill message to President Yar'Adua describing his rumoured resignation, as the handiwork of uncompassionate and unpatriotic elements that are wishing the President ill.

Speaking to journalists in Lagos yesterday, UNDEDSS Executive Secretary, Mr. Tony Uranta, urged such unpatriotic elements to desist from such acts.

According to him, since allegedly offending media houses also ran the rebuttal by the Presidency, they could not be accused of unpatriotic or seditious acts in this respect

The National Chairman of Hope Democratic Party, Chief Ambrose Owuru while not justifying the false report of President Yar'Adua's resignation, said it was callous of the security operatives to clamp down on the news media.

The Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria (HURIWA), has also condemned the closure.

Speaking through its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, the organisation yesterday condemned the use of the story by the television station without comprehensive confirmation from both the News Agency of Nigeria and from government officials.

The Rights body however was quick to criticize what it described as "the military and commando fashion" in which the television stations in Abuja and Lagos were attacked by officials of the state and subsequently closed down without valid and subsisting court process or injunction.

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has also asked the Presidency to explain why the security operatives invaded the premises of Channels Television Station offices in Abuja and Lagos and sealed them up after arresting managers of the company.

In a statement yesterday, NBA president, Rotimi Akeredolu said: "NBA condemns in the strongest terms the closure of Channels Television by operatives of the SSS. Their action not only contravenes but contradicts the provision of the constitution and the rule of law mantra of the Yar'Adua administration."

He continued: "The Federal government under the leadership of President Yar'Adua has made observance of the rule of law its mantra, therefore it is wrong to have closed down Channels TV and arrest journalist for exercising their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999."

"Such closure and unlawful arrest takes us back to kakistocracy. This is antithetical to the concept of democracy and rule of law. President Yar' Adua should condemn this gangsterism and resort to self help. His administration should not take Nigeria back to the dark ages in which is always right," he added.

He therefore called on Yar'Adua to reopen the TV station immediately and release the arrested managers of the station without further delay.

In an interview with The Guardian he said " If the government delays in reopening the station then the company should seek legal redress by filing action in court against the government."

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