On behalf of the Board of Management and members of staff of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), I will like to thank you for inviting me to address this stakeholders’ meeting on political broadcasting here in the historic city of Benin. It is for me a great pleasure to come back to this truly remarkable city. Benin City is one of the greatest cities on the African continent; and for all those familiar with history, the people and kings of Benin City, helped to validate the claims of African peoples, as being some of the harbingers and creators of human history. Because here in the lovely city of Benin, our African ancestors created a civilization that marveled visitors from Europe, who started visiting Benin from the Fifteenth Century. The first Europeans here were the Portuguese, who came to Benin around 1485, and that led to the development of strong trading relationships. The Portuguese traded their manila and guns, for Benin’s ivory, pepper and palm oil, according to WIKIPEDIA. It also reported that the first English expedition to Benin was in 1553, during which “significant trading” also developed, based on the same commodities that Benin had earlier traded with the Portuguese. The English were followed by the Dutch; they left descriptions of a remarkable kingdom, with sophisticated organizational abilities, either in its armies; trading relations; architecture; urban planning and artistic genius. Benin City even had street lighting at a time that they did not exist in major European cities!
I have made that short historical excursion, in order to help us concentrate our minds about the importance of the gathering that has brought us together today. In a few weeks time, the people of Edo state will be going to the polls to elect a new governor. It is a very important step in the consolidation of the democratic process in our country. For us in broadcasting, the electioneering period tests our professional credentials. This period is often characterized by the tension of campaigns and the emotional, often incendiary or inflammatory speeches by politicians. It is never easy for the broadcast community to keep to the straight and narrow path defined by the Nigeria Broadcast Code, which the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), is obliged to enforce. Our Zonal Office here in Benin City is not left out of the heat of this moment; but I am aware, that pre-election meetings were held with broadcast licensees; letters were sent out to all stations in Edo state, to remind you of the need to conduct yourselves in a professional manner; erring stations were contacted to point out breaches of the Broadcasting Code and demands made for redress; notices of sanctions were issued to recalcitrant broadcasters; while our office has also compiled a list of stations that would have to be sanctioned for different breaches.
I have similarly been informed that the most common breaches recorded during the political campaigning period, have included unbalanced news reportage; attacks on personalities instead of issue-based campaigns; unbalanced coverage of political events as well as the broadcast of unethical advertisements by many of our licensees. These are very serious breaches indeed. Let us be clear about the basic points. The Nigeria Broadcasting Code has described broadcasting as “ a creative medium, characterized by PROFESSIONALISM…” (0.2.1 CHARACTER OF BROADCASTING). The same section of our CODE also said that: “Broadcasting shall influence society positively, setting the agenda for the…political…development of a nation, for public good”. Broadcasters are expected to ensure that our content and output shall not “be disrespectful to human dignity”. The POLITICAL OBJECTIVES of broadcasting include helping to “create and promote political awareness amongst the people in order to achieve a democratic society”; similarly, we are to help “inculcate in the people the spirit of tolerance of all shades of opinion and promote social justice based on the responsibilities and rights of the individuals in society” (0.2.2.4). Similarly, the CODE stresses that “Nigerian broadcasting shall meet the best in professional standards” (0.2.3.b). These are the general backgrounds against which our outputs as broadcasters are to be measured and judged. And these are the basis of the complications of sanctions that our Zonal Directorate has compiled against some of our licensees.
In respect of political broadcasts, the CODE is very unambiguous; contrary to the practices that have been recorded, broadcast stations are obliged to “give equal access to all registered political candidates on their facilities” (7.6.. While “airtime shall be allocated equally among the political parties at similar hours of the day” (7.6.9). You are also mandated to “allot equal airtime to all political parties during prime times and at similar hours each day, subject to the payment of appropriate fees” (7.6.10). The CODE also reminds that broadcasters “shall ensure equal coverage to all political parties” (7.6.11), and most vitally, “No broadcaster shall be employed or used to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election” (7.6.12).
What is clear from the relevant sections of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code that I have quoted is that broadcasters have a major responsibility to society and to the democratic process in our country. We must handle election coverage with utmost professional judgment and the best ethical considerations. This is the challenge that faces us all in the lead to the elections coming up on the 10th of September, 2016. How broadcasters and broadcast stations conduct ourselves will be recorded as part of the whole package of the maturity of Nigeria’s political process and the entire democratic architecture. Our licensees must become more familiar with the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code and be guided by them, especially in this heated environment of politicking. May I also remind our colleagues, that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) understands its responsibilities in this period and at all times. We are committed to regulating broadcasting in Nigeria, according to the letters of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code; therefore, every breach of the CODE by broadcasters will be meticulously compiled and I can also assure that the breaches will be appropriately sanctioned. I will also like to appeal to political parties to conduct themselves with utmost decorum even in the context of the heat that the search for votes and political power can generate. Our politicians should use temperate language; contest fairly and decently; avoid hate speech which has become recognized as a national and international crime; and they should help to deepen Nigeria’s democracy not undermine it.
Finally, I want to return to my point of embarkation: the long and heroic history of ancient Benin Kingdom. This is a place where innovative approaches were invented in statecraft; organization and esthetic beauty. Benin City helped to validate the humanity of the African peoples and gave a lie to racist profiling of Africans as being people without any significant contributions to human civilization. Let us all resolve to borrow a leaf from the proud traditions of the ancestors of Benin and create values of political decency; democratic consolidation and broadcasting professionalism of the highest and the best ethical standards. As we approach the governorship election on September 10th, 2016, we should work hard to ensure that our political broadcasts do not undermine democracy in this state and in our country.
Thank you very much for your attention!