By Nwafor Sunday
The Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the last general elections, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Thursday condemned a particular part of the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, code, stating that broadcast stations would be punished if they insult a President, Governor, Senator, or any one occupying political position in the country.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, on the other hand urged President Muhammadu Buhari to caution NBC to refrain from threatening Nigerians with punishment if they insult Nigerian leaders.
The rights group equally advised Buhari to repeal all laws punishing Nigerians simply for exercising their human rights.
NBC had said that it would commence punishment for any broadcast station that violates any of its code. It warned that all broadcast stations should be guided by the ethics and code of the profession.
Citing some of its code, NBC through Chibuike Ogwumike, zonal director of the NBC Lagos office, maintained that: “Section 3.1.: Professional Rules: 3.1.1: states that “No broadcast shall encourage or incite to crime, lead to public disorder or hate, be repugnant to public feelings or contain an offensive reference to any person or organization, alive or dead or generally be disrespectful to human dignity.
“Code: 3.1.19: The broadcast shall not transmit content that denigrates the social norms, values and culture of the society.”
Reacting, Atiku averred: “while there is no disputation over the fact that hate speech portends an existential threat to the enterprise of journalistic reporting and, in fact, inhibits the workings for a free society, it is absolutely repugnant that powers that be would instrumentalize the prevention of hate speech as a means of constricting free speech.
“It is globally acknowledged that one of the core functions of the mass media is to inform the society on all ranges of issues, not even to the exclusion of national security issues.
“In many advanced democracies the world over, criminals on even wanted lists of law enforcement agencies have reached out to the media to express their opinions about the crimes that they had perpetrated and the media space was not denied to them.
“As a matter of fact, it seems somewhat contradictory that a country like ours, which is in the throes of national security skirmishes, would choose to shrink media access to critical information.
“It is not known if any society had won the war against terrorism by placing a restriction to access to information, in the way the NBC had done.”
In its own prognosis, SERAP via its facebook handle opined: “We urge President Buhari to caution the National Broadcasting Commission to refrain from threatening Nigerians with punishment if they “insult President, governors, senators other leaders.”
“We’ll see in court if the NBC continues to undermine Nigerians’ human rights. Nigerian authorities should stop using “insult” as a pretext to stifle freedom of expression, and as a tool of repression.
“The ‘crime’ of insult is entirely inconsistent and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution, 1999 (as amended), and international human rights law.
“Public figures including those exercising the highest political authority like President and Governors, may be subject to criticism and the fact that some forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify restrictions or penalties.
“We’re again calling on President Buhari to immediately repeal all laws punishing Nigerians simply for exercising their human rights, and to ensure full respect for the human rights of everyone.”