The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Thursday wielded the big stick against Daar Communications Plc, owners of African Independent Television (AIT) and Raypower Radio, suspending its licence indefinitely.
With the suspension, announced in Abuja by NBC Director-General, Mallam Modibbo Kawu, the two broadcasting stations would be off air until the matter is resolved.
The suspension came on the same day DAAR Communications founder, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, led management team of the organisation on a protest to the National Assembly and some embassies in Abuja over what he called harassment and intimidation of the company and its officials.
A wave of protests, however, trailed the suspension of the organisation's licences with the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) demanding a review of the decision.
Kawu said at a news conference that the suspension of the licence of the organisation was due to the stations' breaches of the broadcasting code.
He said: "Today, the 6th of June, 2019, AIT/Raypower embarked on the use of inflammatory, divisive, inciting broadcasts and media propaganda against the government and the NBC for performing its statutory functions of regulating the broadcast industry in Nigeria.
"Consequently, after several meetings with management of Daar Communications Plc and many letters of warning, the NBC, today 6th June, 2019, took a decision to suspend the licence of Daar Communications Plc for failure to abide by the commission's directives, the provisions of the NBC Act Cap N11. The shutdown order is until further notice."
He added that the NBC had been monitoring the stations for a long time and had issued warnings that were defied.
Kawu explained: "Following monitoring reports and complaints from concerned Nigerians about the broadcast contents of Daar Communications Plc's AIT/Raypower broadcast stations, the NBC has over the last two years summoned on several occasions, management of the company to address issues regarding the operations of AIT/Raypower with the company, particularly, Political Platform and Kakaaki aired on AIT.
"In one of our meetings, held on 2nd June, 2017, the commission expressed its disappointment with the way and manner hate speech, divisive and inciting comments are applied in discussion of national issues in breach of the provisions of the NBC Act and Broadcast Code.
"Again, on 15th August, 2017, it became imperative to invite the company for yet another meeting on almost same issues. Furthermore, while addressing another meeting on 7th February, 2018, we highlighted issues of concern to the commission, which indicated that the company had been breaching the provisions of Sections 3.1.2 and 3.1.3 of the broadcast Code.
"The company's delegates in their response promised to abate the breaches and comply with the law.
"However, on October 18, 2018, the commission was disturbed with the manner in which social media issues became part of the mainstream media unedited on AIT/Raypower, and was constrained to issue a generic letter to all broadcast stations on it."
According to him, Daar Communications allegedly ignored all the warnings and even resorted to trying to incite the public against the commission.
DAAR Communications: We Will Go To Court
Reacting to the suspension of the company's operating licence, the Group Managing Director of Daar Communications Plc, Mr. Tony Akiotu, told THISDAY last night that as a law-abiding corporate citizen, the organisation would abide by the NBC's decision.
He, however, gave an indication that the company would be heading to court to challenge the closure of its broadcasting stations.
"As a law-abiding citizen, we've decided to abide by the closure order on the alleged breaches of the broadcasting code.
"As a law-abiding citizen, we will go to court for the court to interpret the laws of the land. We will go to court to seek redress; and that is the lawful thing to do and will do it expeditiously," Akiotu said in a telephone interview.
NGE, NUJ Protest
NGE and NUJ swiftly reacted to the shutdown of the two broadcasting stations yesterday, expressing shock that such a decision could be taken in a democracy while calling for the reopening of the stations.
President of NGE, Mrs. Funke Egbemode, said she was shocked and speechless that the closure was happening in a democracy.
Egbemode, who said she was just coming out of a meeting, added that she needed time to assimilate or consider whether the closure was possible in a democracy.
She said: "I am just coming out of a meeting; you need to give me time to even assimilate or even consider if whether that is possible in a democracy.
"But I am in shock if it is true. Right now, I have no word. I am just shocked. I need to find out how we got to this point and what we can do.
"But right now, I am too shocked to even say anything. I am just shocked and speechless."
On its part, NUJ believed the action portends a grave danger for free press and independent media in Nigeria.
In a statement by its President, Mr. Chris Isiguzo, the NUJ condemned the NBC's action, saying there are better ways of sanctioning errant media organisations.
It said an independent and pluralistic media in a democracy like Nigeria serve to promote democracy by their dissemination of authentic information and ensuring transparency in governance.
"We condemn this closure over allegations of breach of 2004 Broadcasting Code and insist there are better ways of sanctioning media organisations that are found to have erred.
"It will be helpful if the NBC will immediately reopen AIT to ensure that it continues to promote debate and opinions on issues that are of societal, economic and political importance to the nation. We expect them to do the needful within 24-hours," it stated.
Earlier Thursday, Dokpesi, had accused the NBC of undue harassment and intimidation with the intention of gagging the press.
Dokpesi, who led the management team of AIT/Ray Power FM on a protest to the National Assembly and embassies in Abuja yesterday, also accused Kawu of incompetence, bias and partisanship in the management of the regulatory agency.
He urged the presidency to sack him for bringing the affairs of the commission to disrepute.
He contested NBC's allegations against Daar Communications bordering on violations of broadcasting codes owing to its partisanship.
Dokpesi said contrary to attempts by the NBC to paint the broadcasting stations under Daar Communications as opposition media, they were only discharging their constitutional responsibilities.
He added that even under successive administrations when Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), of which he is a member, was the ruling party, the broadcasting stations served public interest.
He also accused security agencies of plotting to either kill or hurt him.
Dokpesi said: "I, however, cannot ignore that our regulator, the NBC, today is under the leadership of a partisan politician. Ishaq Modibo Kawu, the director-general of the NBC, was an aspirant of the APC for the governorship of Kwara State before the recently concluded general elections in Nigeria.
"Is he in a position to regulate freely and fairly? Is he devoid of partisan interest in regulating the industry? The fact that he lost his primaries and returned to resume as DG of the NBC is in itself despicable," Dokpesi said.
He also accused NBC of stunting the growth of the television and radio stations, saying that in spite of a global broadcast network licence granted to Daar Communications by the late General Sani Abacha administration in 1994, Kawu has stalled the inauguration of the company's stations in Yola, Awka and Sokoto since 2016.