Nigeria: FG Lifts Suspension On Channels TV

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The suspension order, earlier slammed on the Channels Television by the Federal Government of Nigeria, for airing what the government described as "an unwholesome news item", has been reversed. In the same vein, the federal government has ordered the immediate release of all journalists detained as a result of the false report concerning President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua.

Announcing the withdrawal of the suspension order in his office in Abuja, on behalf of the government, the director general, NBC, Engr. Yomi Bolarinwa, told journalists that lifting the suspension order by the government became necessary in view of the apology tendered by Channels, having acknowledged its mistake. Bolarinwa also said that the reversal of government's earlier position on the issue, is in line with certain provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

Channels Television, one of the leading television broadcast stations in the country, had on September 16, 2008, at 2.00pm, broadcast that President Yar'Adua was contemplating resigning as president of Nigeria on account of his alleged failing health, a development the government considered capable of leading to a breakdown of law and order in the country.

Bolarinwa said that in reaction to this, "The National Broadcasting Commission on Wednesday 17th September, 2008, suspended the operational broadcast licence of Channels Television in all locations in Nigeria, due to the station's breach of the provisions of the National Broadcasting Commission Act No. 38 of 1992 (as amended) and the Nigeria Broadcast Code."

He, however, explained that following the suspension order, the commission, as the regulatory authority of the nation's broadcasting industry, continued its investigations into the immediate and remote causes of the breach, adding that the commission was satisfied with its findings. The commission advised Channels to be cautious and crosscheck its information in future, before airing it as news, particularly on issues of this magnitude.

Speaking further, Bolarinwa stated, "Consequently, the National Broadcasting Commission, in consonance with the provision of paragraph 13.5.1.1 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code and without prejudice to the duties of security services to carry out their ongoing investigations to a logical conclusion, hereby lifts the suspension order and directs Channels Television to put in place effective mechanism to confirm news items and sources before broadcast.

"The National Broadcasting Commission is also working with security agencies to ensure that all journalists detained in connection with the false report about the president are released.

"Channels Television caused to be broadcast, an unwholesome news item which could have been detrimental to national interest and lead or likely to lead to a breakdown of law and order in the country, contrary to the provisions of the National Broadcasting Commission Act and Nigeria Broadcasting Code, for which Channels Television has accepted responsibility and tendered an apology." Meanwhile, reactions have continued to trail the closure on Wednesday of Channels TV, with opposition political parties and civil society groups condemning government's action.

Speaking at a protest against the closure, the convener of United Action For Democracy, Abiodun Aremu, condemned as barbaric the closure of the TV station, adding that the arrest and detention of four staff members of the station and suspension of the operational licence of the station was illegal and unlawful and called for its immediate restoration. " Government must also tender an unreserved apology to the TV station and the public for this crude military -like assault," he said.

The general secretary of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), Segun Sango, said the president should not have closed the station, but react to the issue. He said the closure of the station was not an attack on the media, but on Nigeria, warning of dire consequences if the operating licence of the TV station was not restored.

"This protest is a signal to the government to reverse its decision, as the NLC, TUC and other groups will stage a mass demonstration against this brutal encroachment on Channels' democratic rights and citizens' liberties if the operational licence of the TV station is not restored," Sango warned. He added that it was time for the government, which promised to follow the rule of law, to prove so.

Lagos State chairman of the Campaign for Democracy, Prince Obi, said the government has not demonstrated respect for the rule of law by the closure of the TV station. Also reacting to the closure of the TV station, the Lagos State chapter of the Action Congress (AC) said the clampdown on Channels was dictatorial and capable of painting the image of President Yar'Adua black.

Leadership (Abuja) 22 September 2008