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Nigeria: Buhari goes after online TV, radio, says operators must be licensed

All is almost set for the Muhammadu-Buhari-led federal government of Nigeria to criminalise the operation of “unlicensed” online television and radio stations in the country.

Before Buhari’s emergence as Nigeria’s democratically elected president, Nigeria’s strict Broadcast Code only applied to traditional TV and radio stations which are heavily regulated.

“Change” happened.

Information and culture minister Lai Mohammed told members of the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), in Abuja on Friday, the president has approved wide-ranging “reforms” in the broadcasting industry, including the licensing of online radio and television stations.

This means no one can just wake up and start an online TV or radio service without government permission, and without adherence to the strict code governing similar traditional channels. Those already running similar online platforms could also have to submit to the code or close shop.

“I just want to use this opportunity to inform you that Mr President has actually already approved a review of the Broadcast Code that is going to take care of many of the issues you have already raised here,” Mohammed’s media aide, Segun Adeyemi, quoted the minister as saying.

The comment was in response to a request made by BON for the review of the Broadcasting Code, Premium Times reported.

Mohammed said the president had approved that WebTVs and radio stations, including foreign broadcasters beaming signals into Nigeria, will be licensed because “sanity” must be brought into this industry.

“Mr President has also approved a wide range of reforms in the industry which, at the appropriate platform, I will let you know,” he said.

The minister promised to carry BON along in the review process.

He, however, also stressed that the government is committed to free media. But history teaches that Buhari and his information minister cannot be trusted. Mohammed made a similar promise during a meeting with online publishers in 2015, the year Buhari won his first democratic term which was, according to critics, characterised by government attacks on media and free speech. “I will not tamper with press freedom,” Buhari promised during his 2015 campaign during which he also called for an unarmed revolution.

Critics say Buhari’s shift of focus to online video and audio publishing could further erode press freedom in Nigeria. Buhari first appeared in Nigeria’s public consciousness after forcefully sacking a democratically elected government in 1983, suspending the constitution and installing himself as military head of state.

During that time, journalists were jailed. Some were flogged.

Buhari enacted Decree Number 2 of 1984 under which the state security and the chief of staff were given powers to detain, without charges, individuals deemed to be a security risk to the state for up to three months.

After defeating Goodluck Jonathan at the polls in 2015, Buhari told Nigeria’s association of legal practitioners he would willingly suspend the rule of law for the sake of “national security”.

Sahara Reporters publisher Omoyele Sowore is currently being detained, without trial, by Buhari’s democratic junta for leading the Revolution Now movement.

“I have said it on many platforms that this administration is not about to gag the press,” Mohammed told BON members who called at his office on Friday.

“No! But we will appeal to the press to please self-regulate for the sake of this country and also for the sake of the industry itself,” he said.

Mr Mohammed also appealed to BON to partner with the government in the promotion of peaceful co-existence and cohesion in order to engender progress and national development.

“Today, if anybody listens to what is being said on some radio or television stations, you will think that this country is at war or that Christians actually cannot live with Muslims or that there is a dichotomy between the North and the South.”

The minister appealed to the BON members to use their platforms to promote the unity and cohesion of the country.

In his remarks, the Acting Chairman of BON, Godfrey Ohuabunwa, said the re-appointment of the minister was deserving because he brought life and great innovation to the broadcast industry during the first tenure of the administration.

He said BON is ready to key into the government’s agenda, especially the fight against fake news.

President Buhari is eroding press freedom and free speech under the guise of restoring “sanity”.

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