By Adeboye Adegoke and Adeboro Odunlami
On the 15th of January 2018, the management of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) which is the official government-owned television station, sent an internal circular to its staff expressly restraining them from relating with online publications which concern sensitive and topical national issues. According to the circular which emanated from the Office of the Executive Director (Administration & Training) the act was described as ‘embarrassing’ and ‘reckless and unethical’.
It is baffling that the NTA would issue this kind of instruction to its staff when Section 6(1) of the NTA Act specifically states that ‘It shall be the duty of the Authority to provide as a public service in the interest of Nigeria, independent and impartial television broadcasting for general reception within Nigeria.’ (emphasis ours)
The NTA was set up to report and make available to the country, news as it is. It is understood that there is hate speech – that sometimes, information can be couched in a way as to incite violence against groups of people or the government. That, obviously, is forbidden and quite unethical.
It should, however, be pointed out that this is not what is being referred to by the NTA in its circular. The circular makes it abundantly clear that what it forbids is ‘sensitive and topical national issues’. It is highly ridiculous and ironic for a federal news agency to forbid the broadcast of national issues simply because they are ‘sensitive’ or ‘topical’. Where else are the citizens supposed to get non-partisan and unadulterated news on national events but from the National TV?
Perhaps the management of NTA has forgotten that it belongs, not to any political party or to please the government, but to cater to the people. And it is to these same people, the NTA has a responsibility. The truth is, if there are topical, sensitive and even controversial issues going on in Nigeria, they must be reported by NTA. It is not the job of NTA to ensure the ignorance of the Nigerian citizens by deciding what their hearts can take and protecting them from the reality of affairs in Nigeria simply because they are topical and sensitive. The best the NTA can do in reporting sensitive matters is to put in excellent effort in its delivery to contain the reaction of its consumers.
Section 6(2) of the NTA Act provides “The Authority shall ensure that the services which it provides, when considered as a whole, reflect the unity of Nigeria as a Federation and at the same time give adequate expression to the culture, characteristics and affairs of each State, Zone or other part of the Federation.”
It may be the claim of the management of NTA that the circular was intended to ensure the ‘unity of Nigeria as a Federation’, but a further reading of the same provision would, however, reveal the spirit of this law. It says that ‘at the same time, give ‘adequate expression to… affairs of each State… or other part of the Federation.’
Additionally, the Management of NTA needs to be directed to Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which says, ‘Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference’ (the same is provided in Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which has been adopted in Nigeria)
The circular by NTA is very offensive to different degrees of the freedom of expression and the right to information. This is condemnable to us, and to every Civil right-respecting individual. The management of NTA is called upon to review its instructions bearing in mind its statutory responsibilities to the Nigerian people.
We are not asking the NTA to do anything outside what it was set up to do. Section 8(1)(c) of its enabling Act states that it is the duty of the Authority to ensure ‘that any news given in the programmes (in whatever form) is presented with accuracy, impartiality and objectivity’. NTA is not to cower or shy from the news but is to give news with accuracy, impartiality and objectivity.
Adeboye and Adeboro are digital rights advocates with Paradigm Initiative, the pan-African digital rights group.