1984: Return Of Press Gagging
The Caption of this piece is taken from George Orwell’s Master Piece ‘1984’ arguably one of the best books written in literature and his second most popular novel after the Evergreen ‘Animal Farm.’
The novel describes the agony of the proletariat in an unnamed Socialist State and how their every word is muscled. Freedom of Speech is alien there and those who dare to speak up pay dearly for it. The concept of ‘Big Brother’ which is the Sobriquet for the gagging of the press has its origins in this literary work.
The press and dictatorships are usually seen as strange bed fellows as the press – the fourth estate of the realm has the traditional duty of speaking truth to power making those in authority feel threatened. The press is usually seen as an adversary which makes its practitioners suffer all forms of indignities simply because they are doing their job.
In a streak of déjà vu with George Orwell’s book, President Muhammadu Buhari was the Military Head of State in 1984 and through the notorious Decree 4 greatly repressed the Nigerian media. Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor of the Guardian Newspapers were clamped into detention for no just cause.
During the 2015 Presidential Campaign, Buhari regaled his audience with a spun tale that he was now a reformed democrat – Old things had passed away to quote from the Bible and Nigerians should forget about his repressive past and forge a sturdy way forward.
The recent suspension of Channels Television by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the slamming of it with a five million naira fine for simply interviewing a leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) is a return to the dark gory days of the denial of press freedom which is supposed to be an attribute of democratic rule.
One of the golden rules of journalism is to hear the story from all sides so what was wrong in the interview granted to the Ipob leader? For how long will journalists keep getting treated like pariahs and sub humans?
It is the fundamental human right of journalists to ask questions in order to better inform the public especially in this current era of fake news and misinformation no thanks to the great liberalization of the media and the advent of citizens’ journalism. Channels TV is a credible media house and they have won numerous awards especially that of the television station of the year and so it is an authentic source of information for the public. Why subject them to needless censorship?
During the struggle for the emancipation of Ireland, some members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) granted interviews with private media houses in England without the sledge hammer falling on them. Why should Channels be punished for performing its duty to the members of the public?
The Nigerian media played a key role in the struggle for the democracy that we are currently enjoying. We recall guerilla media houses like Tell and The News Magazines who bravely battled the despotic General Sani Abacha regime. The likes of Senator Femi Ojudu, the Current Political Adviser to President Buhari, Dapo Olorunyomi who had to flee on exile to the United States, Osa Director, Onome Osifo-Whiskey amongst many other courageous journalists with some paying the supreme price and is this the best way to reward the media for all its labour of love?
Some of the apologists of the NBC opined that Channels had no right to interview Ipob since it is a proscribed organization. I dare say that this is an erroneous opinion as the concept of Audi Alteram Partem (Right to fair hearing) is applicable in journalism. Even the proscription of Ipob is highly hypocritical and sinister. How can an organization who has a clear ideological focus in its strident cry for secession as a result of the fraud called the forced Nigerian union of 1914 be said to be illegal when Boko Haram who kill, maim and have caused millions to be internally displaced are still legal within the ambits of the Nigerian law? The law was made for man and not man for the law. Once upon a time slavery was legal all over the world. Did its legality make it just? It is in the injustice in the system that is making Ipob agitate fiercely to leave the rapist union.
The law that proscribed Ipob can equally de-proscribe them as it is highly unjust. Channels has the right to air the views of its members in order to douse the tension in the land.
The fine of five million naira is extremely cruel. At a time where the media all over the globe is going through an extremely rough patch no thanks to declining advertising revenue as a result of the duopoly of Google and Facebook, to add a huge fine is highly insensitive. It is an open secret that many media houses in Nigeria are insolvent as they don’t pay regular salaries and the journalists working there don’t have any form of insurance or pension plan. Why should the NBC make a draconian law that is capable of putting them out of business and adding to the gargantuan unemployment burden at over 33%? No wonder investors are fleeing the country in droves and few are coming in. We don’t even have an iota of love for our fellow countrymen and we do everything humanly possible to kill visions and grand ideas. Channels has grown from strength to strength over the years to have foreign bureaus and they operate in a very harsh operating environment without any form of government support as they sweat it out to keep their head above water in an industry that has a very high mortality rate.
I call on this rudderless government with the NBC as its master’s voice to rescind the suspension and the five million naira fine so that the press can more effectively perform its noble duty to holding the government accountable and speaking the truth to power. We need to enjoy the dividends of democracy in the existence of an independent press which will be the purveyor of the people’s trust.
Enough of this bullying!
Tony Ademiluyi is the Co Founder of The Vent Republic Media – www.theventrepublic.com and wrote from Lagos.