The Federal Government has directed the National Broadcasting Commission to wield its big stick on television and radio stations airing “inciting broadcasts” as politicking for the 2023 general election gets intense.
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, gave the directive on Thursday at the inauguration of the Governing Board of the Commission in Abuja.
Mohammed, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress and one of the members of the Federal Executive Council, also tasked the Board to fast-track the implementation of the government’s Digital Switch Over.
Addressing the reconstituted Board, the minister said, “The most important task facing NBC today is to successfully transition the broadcast industry from analogue to digital broadcasting, through the Digital Switch Over (DSO) project. While the NBC is the implementing agency for this all-important project, a Ministerial Task Force on DSO, under my chairmanship, is driving the project.
“As a quick background information, we launched the pilot phase of the project in Jos, Plateau State, on 30 April 2016 and, since then, we have launched the DSO here in the Federal Capital Territory, as well as in Kwara, Kaduna, Enugu, Osun, Lagos and Kano states.
“We have an ambitious plan to fast-track the DSO this year by launching it in at least two states every month. Unfortunately, we have not been able to meet this target. But we are working hard to resume the DSO launch as soon as possible. I urge you all to buy into this project to ensure that NBC is able to deliver on what we perceive as a legacy project – because it will change the face of broadcasting in Nigeria.
“Also, please note that as we move closer to the 2023 general elections, the NBC will come under increasing pressure to step up its regulatory role to prevent a repeat of what transpired before, during and after the 2019 general elections, when some broadcast stations threw caution to the wind and engaged in inciting, incendiary and unprofessional broadcasts. It is important for the Commission to ensure that its licensees adhere strictly to the tenets of the Broadcasting Code.”
The NBC had at various times sanctioned television and radio stations including Arise TV, Channels TV, AIT, and Nigeria Info over what the Commission termed “unprofessional broadcasts” and “hate speech”.
The government had suspended the operations of microblogging site Twitter in Nigeria last June before lifting the ban this January after overwhelming international and national outrage.
The government is also pushing for an anti-social media bill in the National Assembly and seeking to amend the Nigerian Press Council Act and the National Broadcasting Commission Act that are currently before the legislative arm to have more control over the press but the bills have expressed pushbacks from many civil society organisations and media veterans who accused the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) of suppressing freedom of expression and clandestinely using Mohammed to bring back the infamous Decree 4 of 1984, enacted during his days as Nigeria’s military ruler.