Journalists kick as NBC revokes broadcast licences of AIT, 51 others

By Paul Michael

There was a media backlash at the weekend after the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) revoked the licences of Africa Independent Television (AIT), Silverbird TV, Raypower FM and 49 other broadcasting stations over failure to pay federal licensing charges of N2.6 billion.

Rhythm FM, Classic FM, Splash FM, Beat FM, MITV, and about two-dozen state-run broadcasting stations are also among the outlets affected.

Director-General of NBC, Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, made the announcement at a press briefing at Abuja, saying the 52 broadcasting stations have been shut down.

According to him, the stations had been warned for several months to pay licensing costs for their operations but failed to comply.

The stations were given 24 hours to settle all outstanding licensing obligations or be closed down. Some of the charges have not been settled since 2015.

The NBC DG said, “Therefore, after due consideration, NBC hereby announces the revocation of the licenses 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.”

Earlier in May 2022, Ilelah said that NBC published in the national dailies, the list of licensees that are indebted to the Commission, and granted them two weeks to renew their licenses and pay their debts or consider their licenses revoked, frequencies withdrawn, and withdrawn frequencies reassigned to others who are ready to abide by the necessary requirements.

The DG said three months after the publication, some licensees were yet to pay their outstanding debts, 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.

In view of this development, he said the continued operation of the debtor stations is illegal and constitutes a threat to national security.

Other affected stations include Rhythm FM (Silverbird Communications Ltd), Greetings FM (Greetings Media Ltd), Tao FM (Ovidi Communications Ltd), Zuma FM (Zuma FM Ltd), Crowther FM (Crowther Communications Ltd), WE FM (Kings Broadcasting Ltd), Linksman International ltd, Bomay Broadcasting Services Ltd, MITV (Murhi International Group Ltd), Classic FM (Pinkt Nigeria Ltd), Classic FM (Pinkt Nigeria Ltd), Classic TV (Pinkt Nigeria Ltd), Beat FM (Megalectrics Ltd), and Cooper Communications Ltd.

Others are Splash FM (West Midlands Ltd), Rock City FM (Boot Communications Ltd), Family FM (Kalaks Investments Nig. Ltd), Space FM (Creazioni Nig. Ltd), Radio Jeremi (Radio Jeremi ltd), Wave FM (South Atlantic Media Ltd), Kogi State Broadcasting Corporation, Kwara State Broadcasting Corporation, Niger State Broadcasting Corporation, Breeze FM (Bays Water Ltd), Vibes FM (Vibes Communication ltd) and Family Love FM (Multimesh Broadcasting Co. Ltd).

Also affected are Gombe State Broadcasting Corporation, Lagos State Broadcasting Corporation, Osun State Broadcasting Corporation, Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation, Ondo State Broadcasting Corporation, Rivers State Broadcasting Corporation, Bayelsa State Broadcasting Corporation, and Cross River State Broadcasting Corporation.

Imo State Broadcasting Corporation, Anambra State Broadcasting Corporation, Borno State Broadcasting Corporation, Yobe State Broadcasting Corporation, Sokoto State Broadcasting Corporation, Zamfara State Broadcasting Corporation, Kebbi State Broadcasting Corporation, Jigawa State Broadcasting Corporation, Kaduna State Broadcasting Corporation, and Katsina State Broadcasting Corporation.

The NBC DG said all broadcast stations which have not renewed their licences for the current duration are advised to do so within the next 30 days to avoid sanctions.

“The Commission also called 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 license does not warrant a broadcaster to stream online; they are two different licenses,” he noted.

Ilelah added that they have been in talks with the media houses for more than a year, but they refused to revert.

But reacting in a statement entitled,” NBC: A hasty decision, ” Chris Isiguzo, National President, Nigeria Union of Journalists, said: “The decision today by Industry Regulator , the National Broadcasting Commission – NBC, to revoke the licenses of 52 broadcast stations nationwide over indebtedness to the Commission was ill advised.

” The affected stations, according to NBC are said to owe arrears of licence fees amounting to N2.6 billon since 2015.

” Although the Director General of NBC, Malam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah claimed that this development had no political motives, yet we insist that the action was ill timed and reckless.

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” 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 consequence. We cannot afford the unpleasant outcome of such 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.”

On its part, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), expressed concern over the shutting down of over 50 broadcast stations by NBC for failing to pay their renewal licence fees.

In a statement by its President, Mustapha Isah and the General Secretary, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, on Friday, the professional body of all the editors in Nigeria said that the action, if not reversed, will lead to the loss of thousands of jobs in a country where jobs are scarce.

“The NGE is worried because media houses, which played and continue to pay 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 NGE stated.

The Guild noted that several broadcast stations are just managing to survive in the midst of the high competition in the industry following the licensing 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 license from five to, at least, 10 years.

The body of editors also advocated a reduction of the license 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 convenient payment period to ensure their survival.

According to the statement, “A caring government should be concerned about the possibility of job losses 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.”

The NGE, therefore, urged the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria and the Independent Broadcasting Organisation to enter into a dialogue with the NBC with a view to find a lasting solution to this recurring issue of licence renewal fees, which often lead to threats of shutdown.

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