18 September 2008

Nigeria: FG Withdraws Channels TV Licence

National Broad-casting Commission (NBC) yesterday revoked the operational licence of the Channels Television, one of the frontline private television stations in Nigeria, following the news broadcast of 2.00pm on September 16, 2008 by the station.

In a related development, the Managing Director of News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Mrs. Remi Oyo was arrested by the State Security Service, (SSS) at about 4pm yesterday, shortly after she had rushed back from her trip to China. The state operatives had been waiting for her at the NAN headquarters in Abuja since Tuesday.

A senior SSS official confirmed Oyo's arrest to LEADERSHIP last night.

The station had aired the purported news that President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua was contemplating resignation on account of failing health, an action which the NBC described as capable of leading to "a breakdown of law and order in the country."

A statement signed by the commission's Director-General, Engr. Yomi Bolarinwa, and made available to LEADERSHIP yesterday, explained that the withdrawal of Channels Television's licence was in consonance with the provisions of paragraph 8, Section 'D' of the Third Schedule of the NBC Act 39 of 1992 (as amended) and paragraph 13.3.31 (g) of the commission's code.

The code states: "A licence may be revoked by the commission in the following cases, that is: where in the opinion of the commission the station has been used in a manner detrimental to national interest.

"The commission shall revoke a licence where a broadcast station commits any of the under-listed offences: where the licence broadcasts information immediately, leading, or likely to lead, to a breakdown of law and order in the country."

The NBC boss, however, said that the action of the commission was without prejudice to any further action that may be further considered by the commission as investigation, in this regard, was still ongoing.

The SSS yesterday accused NAN and Channels of a conspiracy to undermine the Federal Government.

The security operatives said their investigations reveal that the rumour of the resignation of Yar'Adua, which emanated from NAN and aired by Channels, "were being teleguided by some disgruntled persons to mount campaigns of calumny against the first family and some top government functionaries with a view to cause disaffection in the country."

The SSS said in a statement signed by its Head of Public Affairs, Mr. Kenechukwu Onyeogu, and made available to our correspondent that the news item about the President's resignation was mischievous and a grand plot to incite and stir public apprehension and ridicule the government.

"The news item in question is suspected to be in furtherance of the plans, and the plans are suspected to be part of orchestrated plans to undermine the government", it stated.

"We were compelled to invite some journalists from the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) and Channels Television to clarify the news item in question. No responsible government and security agency will overlook such a machination, hence the need to get to the root of the story."

The nation was thrown into confusion on Tuesday with a news flash from NAN that Yar'Adua may resign his appointment.The story was immediately denied by NAN, alleging that fifth columnists were responsible, hacking into its line and using a fictitious e-mail to send the story to media houses. Channels TV aired the story, which led to the closure of its Lagos and Abuja offices and the arrest of its editorial leadership.

A source quoted the Chairman of the Lagos State Council of the Nigeria Union of journalists (NUJ), Mr. Wahab Oba as saying that the union would protest the siege on Channels TV.

The CEO of Channels, Mr. John Momoh, was said to have travelled out of the country and could not be contacted on the closure of his station, which also led to the seizure of tapes, computers and other equipment by the security operatives.

However, a statement issued by his wife, Mrs. Sola Momoh, last night said the security men went away with five key management staff, three in Abuja and two in Lagos.

She also said some computers and equipment were carted away, adding that the entire staffers at the Abuja office were held for three hours.

Responding to the issue, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday said the news was the handiwork of a desperate group of power mongers who were hell-bent on derailing the democratic process."

Speaking after a meeting with Yar'Adua at the Aso Rock Villa, with some members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of PDP, the party National Chairman, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, called on the law enforcement agencies "to leave no stone unturned in getting to the root of this unpatriotic act."

The party said that it was at a loss as to the motives of the originators of the rumour and wondered why any citizen would attempt to short-circuit democracy in Nigeria.

On its part, the Action Congress (AC) has condemned the closure of Channels, saying it was totally against the norms of democratic practice to shut down a media organisation for whatever reason.

In a statement issued in Abuja yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said a government that prides itself as an adherent of the rule of law and due process should not condone "a Gestapo-style invasion of a media outlet by security agencies."

"We had hoped and prayed that we would never see this type of action again, especially under a democratic system that we are running now. But here we are, witnessing another throwback to the better forgotten days of incessant media harassment and intimidation under military rule," the party said.

Similarly, the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) have expressed shock and dismay over the news of the closure of Channels and the arrest and continued detention of five members of staff of the company.

"Our concern stems not only from the brazen breach of constitutionality, but also from the fact that the administration of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua has repeatedly and publicly expressed its commitment to the rule of law and due process," a statement jointly signed by the President of NPAN, Chief Ajibola Ogunshola and NGE's president, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye, stated.

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