License renewal: Groups task FG over shutdown threat to broadcast stations

Socio-economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to instruct Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to urgently withdraw the threat to shut down operations of 52 broadcast stations for alleged non-renewal of licences.

The regulator, last week, revoked licences of the affected media houses and threatened to shut down their operations within 24 hours over alleged N2.6 billion debts.

The NBC has now asked the stations to pay all outstanding license fees on or before August 23 or face shutdown by 12midnigt of August 24.

But in a letter signed by its deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, SERAP said the shutdown order was neither necessary nor proportionate.

If carried out, it noted, would offend the legal principles of equity and equality of access to mass communication.

The organisation said: “Under the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and international human rights laws, freedom and diversity must be guiding principles in the regulation and licensing of broadcasting. The threat to shut down 52 broadcast stations is entirely inconsistent and incompatible with these principles.”

In a similar vein, National Coalition on Improved Service Delivery (NACOISED) has reminded NBC to be mindful of the consequence of its action.

In a statement signed by its National Coordinator, Prince Chris Azor, warned that the shutdown order could be devastating and unimaginable if implemented on Wednesday.

Azor, who is also co-chair of Open Government Partnership (OGP) in Anambra State, cautioned that the action, if not reversed, would lead to “unprecedented dislocations in lives and livelihoods, thereby causing unimagined instability, poverty and ignorance in the country.”

He said revoking licences of the stations and shutting down their operations on account of indebtedness would undermine the rights of millions of Nigerians to express their thoughts.

ALSO, Media Justice Nigeria (MJN) has described the revocation exercise as ill-timed, ill-advised and in bad faith.

In a statement signed by its Director, Anote Ajeluorou, the group noted: “While MJN is not happy that the stations are yet to meet up their statutory obligation of renewing their licences that amount to N2.6 billion, we at MJN believe that the NBC should have devised other ways of addressing the situation rather than total revocation of licences at a critical time like this. Not even the one-week grace given is good enough.

“While NBC claimed that the licence revocation action has no political motive, MJN sees the action differently. It is no news that open political campaigns will commence in less than two weeks, in September. Revoking radio and TV licences when political campaigns are about to open is in bad faith. The action will consequently deny the stations avenues of making money from campaign advertorials that would have positioned them financially to pay whatever was being owed the NBC. MJN, therefore, believes NBC’s action is needlessly punitive and should be rescinded at once.

“MJN urges the regulator to reschedule the debts in such a manner that the stations are not unnecessarily shut down. NBC should look at the high cost of owning a TV or radio licence and review it downwards. NBC owes Nigerians the democratic duty of liberalising information that these stations stand for and not just behave as a revenue-generating agency of government. Nigerians cannot afford the information blackout that NBC’s action will create especially at a time of high insecurity like these where citizens need timely information that can save lives and property.”

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