A former Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Tonnie Iredia, has accused the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, of hijacking the duties of the Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), hence the hasty review of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
Iredia, a veteran journalist, Professor of Broadcast Management and Media Law, said this on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily programme on Wednesday.
Reacting to the controversy generated by the new fine for hate speech which was increased from N500,000 to N5m, Iredia said, “there is a real problem. Everybody expects a broadcasting commission to be an autonomous body that has no place in politics. If you listen to the news, who has been speaking? The Minister of Information. Is he the Director-General of the NBC?
“When the minister is speaking, there is no way broadcasters can see that the regulator is speaking. He is not a regulator. He should leave the broadcasters in the NBC to do their professional duty. The law gives him the right to supervise but not to take over the job.
“The moment the minister is speaking, no matter how well-intentioned he may be, the people become suspicious because he belongs to a political divide and whatever he says is likely to be used against the opposition and I think this is a natural thing.”
The professor said the issue of fake news and hate speech were subjective and controversial matters.
He argued that criticism could also be tagged hate speech and thus the broadcasting code could be subject to abuse.
Iredia said, “Now take the issue of fake news that has been overplayed in the last couple of weeks. We were all in this country a few days ago when a minister told the nation that contracts in the NDDC were being grabbed by legislators. The legislators now challenged him to bring a list. The next thing the minister said was that he didn’t say so.
“We heard him say so, and we heard him say he didn’t say so. Now between the time he said so and the time he said he didn’t say so, broadcasters had gone ahead to broadcast it which is now fake news. Who is guilty now? Is it the media, the minister, or the politics of broadcasting?
“The point I’m trying to make is fake news, hate speech are very subjective terminologies and one has to be very careful because some will take criticism as hate speech but criticism is not hate speech.”
Iredia, who served as a consultant to the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria when the code was being revised, said broadcasters were not carried along during the process as was the norm.
He added, “Now, the problem is that for the first time in the history of broadcasting in this country, the code was not done the way it used to be done. This time around, the NBC just rolled out a number of things that it felt should be in the code and did not hold consultations with the stakeholders like the previous managers of the system did where you first of all hold consultation, everybody will look at it, there will be a document, you will bring it out at the tail end, there will still be another kind of peer review and all kinds of things.
“Just as I said at the beginning, the code was supposed to be a professional guide. It was supposed to be a masterpiece that promotes professional excellence in broadcasting but now it is filled with sanctions and what you will do and not do.
“And the bodies that should have been consulted were not consulted the same way. Rather, they were being told that it is subject to review and all their objections now will be taken into consideration in the next review.”