SERAP gives FG 24 hour deadline to reverse shutdown of radio, TV stations

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged Presi­dent Muhammadu Buhari to urgently instruct Lai Mo­hammed, Minister of Infor­mation and Culture, and the National Broadcasting Com­mission (NBC) to urgently withdraw the threat to revoke the licences and shut down the operations of 53 broad­cast stations in the country over alleged failure to renew their licences.

The NBC had last week revoked the licences of the 53 broadcast stations and threatened to shut down their operations within 24 hours over alleged N2.6 bil­lion debt. The NBC has now asked the stations to pay all outstanding licence fees on or before August 23, 2022 or shut down by 12a.m on August 24.

In a letter dated August 20, 2022, and signed by SERAP deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisa­tion said, “The threat to shut down 53 broadcast stations is neither necessary nor pro­portionate. If carried out, it would offend the legal prin­ciples of equity and equality of access to mass communi­cation.”

SERAP said, “Under the Nigerian constitution 1999 (as amended) and interna­tional human rights law, freedom and diversity must be guiding principles in the regulation and licensing of broadcasting. The threat to shut down 53 broadcast sta­tions is entirely inconsistent and incompatible with these principles.

“Revoking the licences of 53 broadcast stations and shutting down their opera­tions because they have not renewed their licences would undermine the rights of mil­lions of Nigerians to express their thoughts.

“It would also violate Nige­rians’ right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, in any me­dium they choose.

“We would be grateful if the requested action is taken within 24 hours of the receipt and/or publi­cation of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel your government to comply with our request in the public interest.

“The NBC Act and Broad­casting Code cannot and should not be used in a man­ner that is inconsistent and incompatible with plurality of voices, diversity of voic­es, non-discrimination, and just demands of a democratic society, as well as the public interest.

“When money or econom­ic considerations are the ma­jor criteria for renewing li­cences for broadcast stations, the fundamental principles of equal access to the media, pluralism and diversity are compromised.

“Broadcasting is a means of exercising freedom of ex­pression. Any restrictions on freedom of expression must meet the requirements of legality, necessity, and pro­portionality. Any regulation of broadcasting must respect these three requirements.

“With just months to go before the general elections, scheduled for February 2023, your government ought to do more to create conditions for a free and fair vote. This includes demonstrated com­mitment to freedom of ex­pression.

“Shutting down 53 broad­cast stations on the pretext of non-renewal of their li­cences is neither necessary in a democratic society nor proportionate to meet the constitutional and interna­tional guarantees of freedom of expression.

“The right to freedom of expression is based on the right to establish or use a media outlet to exercise free­dom of expression and on society’s right to have access to a free, independent, and pluralistic media that allows for the most and most diverse information.

“Rather than using the NBC Act and Broadcast­ing Code to shut down 53 broadcast stations, your gov­ernment ought to use these frameworks to promote the broadest, freest, and most independent exercise of freedom of expression for the widest variety of groups and individuals possible.

“The right to freedom of expression is a central pil­lar of a democratic society and a guarantor of free and fair electoral processes, and meaningful and representa­tive public and political dis­course.

“It is during times of po­litical change that the right to freedom of expression is most essential, ensuring that a well-informed and empow­ered public is free to exercise its civil and political rights.

“Section 39(1) of the Ni­gerian constitution provides that, enshrines the right to freedom of expression and indicates that this right can be exercised through any medium.

“Effectively, section 39 of the constitution establishes that the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds can be ex­ercised orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one’s choice.

“Article 19 of the Interna­tional Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights contain similar provisions.”


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