The National Broadcasting Commission, or NBC, has shut down more than 50 broadcast stations for reportedly failing to pay their renewal licence payments, which has alarmed the Nigeria Guild of Editors, or NGE.
NGE stated that the decision, if not reversed, will result in the loss of thousands of employment in a nation where jobs are in short supply. The statement was released by its President, Mustapha Isah, and General Secretary, Iyobosa Uwugiaren.
The professional organisation for all Nigerian editors stated in the statement: “The NGE is worried because media houses, which played and continue to pay a key role in the nurturing and development of democracy can’t just be off air no matter the reasons.
“While the Guild is not against broadcast stations fulfilling their financial obligations to the NBC, we note that the current harsh operating environment that has crippled every sector in our nation was not taken into account by the NBC before its action.
“Currently, it is difficult for private stations to import broadcast equipment due to the high exchange rate. We are all aware of the high operational cost, including the cost of diesel to power their generating sets”, the NGE stated.
Following the licencing of hundreds of additional stations by the NBC, the Guild continued that some broadcast stations are barely making it through the intense competition in the business.
The NGE demanded that the NBC Act be reviewed in order to extend the validity of a broadcast licence from five to at least 10 years.
Since there are currently several broadcast stations operating in the nation—for instance, the Lagos zone alone has close to 50 radio stations—the body of editors also argued for a reduction in licence payments.
The cancellation of the operating licences of Silverbird TV, AIT, Raypower FM, and Rhythm FM, among others, on Friday was deemed hasty by the Nigerian Union of Journalists, or NUJ.
NUJ National President, Mr. Chris Isiguzo in a statement of Friday, said: “The decision today by Industry Regulator, the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, to revoke the licenses of 52 broadcast stations nationwide over indebtedness to the commission was ill advised”. The affected stations, according to NBC are said to owe arrears of licence fees amounting to N2.6 billion since 2015.
Also reacting, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), in a statement by Ms Obioma Okonkwo, Head of its Legal Department, MRA said by the revocation of the broadcast licenses of so many stations for alleged non-payment of their licence fees, the NBC was prioritizing its desire to make money off the broadcasters over the interest of citizens as the ultimate effect of its action was to deprive millions of Nigerians access to information as well as their rights and ability to freely express themselves through these stations.
According to MRA, “We are shocked by this naked display by the NBC of a lack of appreciation of its principal role which is to contribute to the emergence of a knowledge society. Rather, it has chosen to create an environment in which millions of Nigerians will wallow in ignorance, deprived of access to crucial information that they need to make critical decisions in their lives or to enhance their livelihoods.
“The action of the NBC has only worsened the prevailing lopsidedness in the broadcasting landscape in Nigeria which was already dominated by government-owned broadcasting stations but is now under the monopolistic control of Federal Government-owned stations, which will be almost unchallenged, with the result that citizens will now be fed unmitigated propaganda by these remaining stations.”
MRA accused the NBC of being insensitive to the harsh economic environment under which the broadcast stations have operated over the last two and a half years as the national economy has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic itself and the measures taken by the government in response to the pandemic.
It noted that the broadcasting stations are also negatively impacted by the inability of the government to create a conducive environment for them to operate, such as providing appropriate infrastructure like electricity supply, adding that with the stations having to find alternative sources of power supply even as the price of diesel continues to skyrocket daily, they are simply struggling to survive.
“The fact that so many broadcasting stations have been unable to pay the license fees raises serious questions about the fairness and appropriateness of the fees being imposed on broadcasters by the NBC in such a challenging economic environment. As the NBC, which imposes the fees and collects them for its own use, there needs to be an independent inquiry into this apparent conflict of interest where the motivation of the commission is apparently to make as much money for itself as possible,” the group said.
It then called on the NBC to reverse its decision in the public interest to avoid creating a society of predominantly ignorant citizens, advising that the need to ensure that Nigerians are adequately informed through the media should supersede any other consideration by the NBC.