The Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Balarabe Ilelah has perfected plans to clamp down on broadcasting organisations perceived as being anti-government, using the cover of their failure to pay license fees, SaharaReporters has gathered
Inside sources said Ilelah has ordered a clandestine task team to compile a list of media organisations whose contents and coverage are critical of Muhammadu Buhari's administration.
They added that an in-house team has equally been tasked with compiling the outstanding financial obligations of NBC’s licensees.
NBC had in November given a December 20, 2021 deadline to its licensees to pay up their debts or risk sanctions that include shutdown.
“We have been directed to identify radio and television stations that are owing license and operation fees, this is almost routine since these organisations, as part of the conditions for their licenses, are meant to pay these monies. That is not something harmful,” one of the sources in the agency said.
“But we have learnt that there is an outside list that the DG has ordered for. It is a list of those stations that attack the government, carry negative content, or invite anti-government panellists to their programmes.
“We don’t know the identities of those compiling this list, but we know it was outsourced. It is something that could have been done internally from our monitoring but there must be a reason why the DG outsourced it.”
Another employee of the organisation expressed concerns at the implication of the plan on its integrity, saying that if implemented it could jeopardise the commission’s ability to collect fees owed by media houses in the future.
He said, “There is every likelihood that shutting down broadcasting houses on account of unpaid licence and operation fees would be interpreted as a clampdown on these companies. You can then imagine how outraged Nigerians and the global community would be when it is found out that these radio and television stations to be shut down are the ones that have been critical of the government.
“In future, any organisation that does not want to pay its fees would simply start attacking the government of the day and it will automatically be immune from paying. If only the DG will look inwards and towards the cadre of staff members that have the institutional memory, then he can save the Commission from this impending embarrassment.”
Human rights groups and non-governmental organisations have criticised the planned use of unpaid fees as the basis for shutting down media organisations that are perceived as being anti-government, saying it is a reflection of an escalation of attacks on free press in Nigeria.
Veteran media practitioner and publisher of Premium Times, Dapo Olorunyomi, last month called for the withdrawal of the 6th NBC Code Amendments, a basis that Ilelah is reportedly hinging the impending clampdown on the media.
Olorunyomi declared that the tirades against the media from the sitting government of President Buhari are incredibly worse than what was endured in the days of the brutal military government which, again, featured Buhari prominently, especially with the notoriety of the Decree 4 of 1984 which impacted a most distasteful experience on the psyche of the media as well as the rest of the citizens till date.