President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR

Press Freedom: SERAP petitions Buhari for NBC to void order on terrorism reportage

*The organisation expresses ‘grave concern’ that the contents of the recent directive by the National Broadcasting Commission ‘would impermissibly restrict the rights to freedom of expression’, and urges the Federal Government to withdraw the order within 24 hours of the receipt and/or publication of its letter

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

Citing Nigeria’s obligations under article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari to use his leadership position in reversing the recent directive to the country’s media outfits on reporting terrorist attacks.

ConsumerConnect reports SERAP, in the open letter to President Buhari dated July 17, 2021, and issued by Kolawole Oluwadare, Deputy Director of the organisation, urged Buhari “to urgently instruct Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to withdraw the directive containing a gag order banning journalists and broadcast stations from reporting details of terrorist attacks and victims across the country.”

Recall the NBC earlier in a letter dated and issued July 7, 2021, had directed journalists, television and radio stations in Nigeria to stop “glamourising and giving too many details on the nefarious activities of terrorists and kidnappers” during their daily newspaper reviews in the country.

Oluwadare stated that the contents of the NBC directive to journalists and broadcast stations in the country are entirely inconsistent and incompatible with Nigeria’s obligations under article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“We would be grateful if the repressive directive is withdrawn within 24 hours of the receipt and/or publication of this letter.

“If we have not heard from you by then, the SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions in the public interest.”

SERAP also expressed “grave concern that the contents of the NBC directive would impermissibly restrict the rights to freedom of expression, information, and victims’ right to justice and effective remedies that are central to public debate and accountability in a democratic society.”

According to the group, reporting the growing violence and killings in many parts of the country is a matter of public interest.

It further noted that the NBC directive to journalists and broadcast stations to stop reporting these cases, coupled with the possibility of fines and other punishment, would have a disproportionate chilling effect on the work of those seeking to hold the government accountable to the public.

“The broad definitions of what may constitute ‘too many details’, ‘glamourizing’, ‘divisive rhetoric’, and ‘security issues’ heighten concerns of overreach, confer far-reaching discretion on the government, and suggest that the NBC directive is more intrusive than necessary.

These words and phrases do not indicate precisely what kind of individual conduct would fall within their ambit.

“The vague and overbroad definitions of ‘too many details’, ‘glamourising’, ‘divisive rhetoric’, and ‘security issues’ also raise concern that the NBC directive unduly interferes with the rights to freedom of expression and information, and is disproportionate to any purported legitimate governmental aim.

“Ill-defined and/or overly broad directives are open to arbitrary application and abuse,” SERAP stated.

The organisation contended the use of these words and phrases by the NBC, given their opaque and ambiguous meanings, leaves open the possibility for application beyond unequivocal incitement to hatred, hostility, or violence.

“Such words and phrases may function to interpret legitimate reporting by broadcast stations, journalists, and other Nigerians as unlawful,” it said.

SERAP cited international conventions and instruments to back up its position, as it referenced “Article 19(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights establishes the right to freedom of opinion without interference.

“Article 19(2) establishes Nigeria’s obligations to respect and ensure this right, which includes the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, and through any media of one’s choice.

“Under Article 19(3), restrictions on the right to freedom of expression must be ‘provided by law’, and necessary ‘for respect of the rights or reputations of others or ‘for the protection of national security or of public order, or public health and morals.”

It also stated: “Although article 19(3) recognises ‘national security as a legitimate aim, the Human Rights Council, the body charged with monitoring implementation of the “Covenant, has stressed ‘the need to ensure that invocation of national security is not used unjustifiably or arbitrarily to restrict the right to freedom of opinion and expression.’

“Since article 19(2) promotes so clearly a right to information of all kinds, this indicates that your government bears the burden of justifying any restriction on reporting of cases of violence and killings, and withholding of such information as an exception to that right.

The group, therefore, noted “exacerbating these concerns are growing restrictions of civic space, the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, and the attempts by your government to push for the amendment of the Nigeria Press Council Act and the National Broadcasting Commission Act, to further suppress media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information.”

SRRAP said allowing the media to freely carry out their duties is essential to building a secure society and leaving no one behind.

“Conversely, imposing impermissible restrictions on broadcast stations, journalists and other Nigerians undermine the security that builds a healthy and vibrant society,” it added.

Kindly Share This Story