The Nigerian government is taking steps to further stifle the country’s civic space with its Minister of information and Culture, Lai Mohammed asking members of parliament to include internet broadcasting under the control of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC).
Mr Mohammed made the position of the federal government known in his submission during a public hearing on a bill to amend the NBC Act. The public hearing was organised by the House of Representatives.
Should the Nigerian parliament pass the bill with the recommendations of the minister, online broadcasting organisations in the country will have to get approval from the NBC before operating. They will also be mandated to act within the control of the Nigerian State.
According to the minister, all online and internet broadcasting entities should be included in section two (c) of the bill.
Section two (b) of the NBC act states: “(1) The Commission shall have [the] responsibility of: Receiving, processing and considering applications for the establishment, ownership or operation of radio and television stations including (i) cable television services, direct satellite broadcast and any other medium of broadcasting.”
The minister said, “I want to add here specifically that internet broadcasting and all online media should be included in this because we have a responsibility to monitor contents, including Twitter.”
Also at the public hearing were media stakeholders who kicked against the move. They were of the view that the minister’s submissions will be injurious to the civics space, freedom of expression and media freedom in Nigeria.
“The inclusion of the following among categories of broadcasting services licences will be injurious to the civics space, freedom of expression and media freedom in Nigeria,” Akin Akingbulu, the Executive Director of the Institute for Media and Society, said at the public hearing.
“The power to give directives to the commission, vested in the minister of information in section six should be removed and replaced with powers which include policy formulation for the broadcasting sector, the negotiation of international agreements, notification of the policy direction of government and ensuring that the independence of the commission is protected at all times,” he added.
The International Press Centre (IPC) and the Centre for Media Law and Advocacy in a joint statement said the NBC should be truly independent and not be seen as an offshoot of the information ministry.
“The conduct of the NBC has over time presented it as an extension of the minister of information and culture which rarely acts independently,” Executive Director of IPC, Lanre Arogundade said while presenting the statement on behalf of the groups.
This move by the Nigerian government comes barely two weeks after it announced the ban of Twitter, a few days after the microblogging site removed a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari for breaching its rules.
President Buhari’s administration has since then been exploring several avenues to regulate the media and especially social media.
The federal government has also announced that all social media companies must also be registered with the government to operate in Nigeria.
By Abel Ejikeme