BON, NGE, NUJ Kick As NBC Orders Closure of AIT/RayPower, Silverbird TV, 50 Other Stations
*N2.6 billion debt triggered revocation, says regulator, moves to ensure immediate compliance using security agencies
The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) yesterday revoked the licences of the AIT/RayPower FM, Silverbird TV and 50 other broadcasting stations across the country over N2.6 billion indebtedness to the regulatory body.
In a swift reaction, the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), the Nigerian Guild of Editors and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), all described the action of the NBC as harsh and insensitive, in view of the economic crisis in the country, and called for immediate reversal.
The Director-General of NBC, Malam Balarabe Ilelah, who announced the revocation of the licences at a news conference in Abuja, also ordered the affected stations to shut down within 24 hours and to pay their debt to prevent total disconnection.
22 state government-owned broadcasting stations were on the list of stations whose licences were revoked yesterday.
Ilelah further directed NBC offices nationwide to collaborate with the security agencies to ensure immediate compliance.
He insisted there was no political motive in the revocation of the licenses of the broadcast stations.
He added that the Commission had been in talks with the affected media houses for more than a year, to clear their indebtedness but they refused to revert.
He recalled that in May 2022, the NBC published in the national dailies, the list of licensees that were indebted to it, with a grace of two weeks to them to renew their licences and pay their debts or consider their licences revoked.
He, however, regretted that three months after the publication, some of the licensees were yet to settle their outstanding debts, “which is in contravention of the National Broadcasting Commission Act CAP N11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, particularly Section 10(a) of the third schedule of the Act.”
As a result, he declared the debtor-stations were operating illegally and constituted a threat to national security.
“Therefore, after due consideration, the NBC hereby announces the revocation of the licences of the under-listed stations and gives them 24 hours to shut down their operations. Our offices nationwide are hereby directed to collaborate with security agencies to ensure immediate compliance,” Ilelah said.
He also advised all broadcast stations, yet to renew their licences for the current duration, to do so in the next 30 days to avoid sanctions.
The NBC DG also prevailed on all IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) and all other broadcast stations that are streaming online to register with the Commission to avoid disconnection.
“Broadcasters should note that having a DTT or FM licence does not warrant a broadcaster to stream online; they are two different licences,” he asserted.
He also called on all Internet Protocol Television and all other broadcast stations that are streaming online to register with the Commission to avoid disconnection.
“Broadcasters should note that, having a DTT or FM licence doesn’t warrant a broadcaster to stream online; they are two different licenses,” said the NBC boss.
BON Appeals for Debt Scheduling
Yesterday, BON appealed to the NBC to withdraw the shutdown and revocation orders and to allow the implementation of the debt recovery template already submitted to it.
In a letter of appeal addressed to the Director General of the NBC, signed by the Executive Secretary of BON, Dr. Yemisi Bamgbose, the organisation said it is “seeking for further understanding with the 54 stations listed for shutdown and licence revocation.”
He continued: “Kindly recall that our intervention on this matter in the recent past facilitated debt reconciliation and payment of the backlog of some stations and agreed staggered payments for others.”
The organisation premised its appeal on the “hostile economic situation,” stating that it was not unmindful of the fact that it was statutory for them to pay licence fees, but that “it is a known fact that media income has seriously nosedived as a result of the global impact of COVID-19 on the general economy which had negative consequences on the income of broadcast media houses.”
According to the organisation, they had little or no earnings, even from advertising, during the pandemic, explaining that they operated when other sectors of the economy were shut down on account of the scourge.
The letter stated that members of BON were still adversely affected by the extended economic impact of the pandemic and “global economic recession which has affected the nation’s economy continued to escalate the economic woes of broadcast media organisations.
“Within the last one year, broadcast media houses have been groaning under heavy burden created by high cost of running the stations, specifically the cost of diesel which has gone up beyond reach.
“While many sectors have closed operations as a result of the current economic problems, Radio and Television stations remained on air at a loss, recognising the essence of prompt information in a precarious situation like ours.”
The “escalation of social media impact,” was also cited by BON, stating that “state stations provide verified information to the rural areas and closing 54 stations will negate the efforts of the government in fighting insurgency which may lead to regrettable consequences. This will give room to the thriving of the social media with its attendant consequences.
BON said the closure of the broadcast houses would lead to job loss and “will throw thousands of workers to an already over-saturated labour market therefore taking food out of the tables of millions of people. Without exaggeration, this will not be complementary to the efforts of the government at generating employment.”
The organisation observed that shutting down the stations would create further problems, as the non-broadcast of commercials already booked would lead to non-payment.
NGE, NUJ Kick
The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), the professional body of all the editors in Nigeria, in a press statement signed by its President, Mustapha Isah and the General Secretary, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, said the NBC hammer, if not reversed, would lead to the loss of thousands of jobs in a country where jobs are scarce.
It said further: “The NGE is worried because media houses, which played and continue to play a key role in the nurturing and development of democracy can’t just be off air, no matter the reasons.
“While the Guild is not against broadcast stations fulfilling their financial obligations to the NBC, we note that the current harsh operating environment that has crippled every sector in our nation was not taken into account by the NBC before its action.
“Currently, it is difficult for private stations to import broadcast equipment due to the high exchange rate. We are all aware of the high operational cost, including the cost of diesel to power their generating sets.”
The Guild added that several broadcast stations were just managing to survive in the midst of the high competition in the industry, following the licencing of hundreds of more stations by the NBC.
The NGE called for a review of the NBC Act to increase the lifespan of a broadcast licence from five to at least 10 years.
The body of editors also advocated a reduction of the licence fees, considering the fact that several broadcast stations now operate in the country, saying for instance, the Lagos zone alone now has close to 50 radio stations.
The NGE tasked the NBC to enter into dialogue with the affected stations to restructure the debts owed and work out a convenient payment period to ensure their survival.
According to the statement, “A caring government should be concerned about the possibility of job losses rather than revenue generation. After all, one of the functions of the NBC is working for the survival and the development of the broadcast industry.
“A critical stakeholder in the nation’s democratic space cannot be shut out at this critical moment of our democracy, especially when the country is preparing for the 2023 general election.”
In its own reaction, the Nigerian Union of Journalists described the NBC hammer as “ill-advised, ill-timed and reckless.”
The NUJ in a statement signed by its National Chairman, Chris Isiguzo said, “It should be noted that this wholesale revocation of licences at this critical time of insecurity in the country appears to be a decision taken without careful prior deliberation, consultation or counsel.
“While we regret the inability of these broadcast stations to fulfill their obligations to NBC, in-view of dwindling resources, we caution against such large-scale clampdown of broadcast stations in disregard to security issues and the attendant consequences.
“We cannot afford the unpleasant outcome of such a media blackout at this time. We call on NBC to exercise more restraint on this issue in consideration of national security and allow for more dialogue and consultation to find a better way of dealing with the situation.”
Culled from THISDAY