Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has condemned last weekend’s shutting down by Zamfara State Governor Bello Matawalle of five broadcast stations in the State for alleged violation of professional ethics, saying the action signaled a descent into anarchy in the country and should never happen again.
In a statement issued by Mr. Ayode Longe, MRA Programme Director, the organization said: “It is most disheartening that following the bad example set by the Federal Government in its intermittent censorship of broadcasting stations in abuse of its power and authority, the Zamfara State Governor now believes that the broadcast media are fair game in his undemocratic maneuvering to gain a political advantage to the extent that he is shutting down even stations owned by the Federal Government.”
The Zamfara State Government issued a statement on October 15, 2022, through the Commissioner for Information, Mr. Ibrahim Dosara, announcing the immediate shut down of three television stations and two radio stations in the state, namely: the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) owned Pride FM radio, Gamji Television, Gamji FM radio, and Al’umma Television, claiming that the affected media houses attended a rally organised by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state despite an Executive Order banning political rallies for security reasons.
The government directed security agents to arrest any staff member of the affected stations who attempts to go into the stations to perform any duty.
Describing the State Government’s action as illegal, unconstitutional and an obscene abuse of power, Mr. Longe said it is only in a lawless society that a government would even contemplate shutting down a media organization for performing its professional and constitutional duty of covering a political event by a rival political party and actually proceed to do so.
According to him, no governor has the authority to shut down any media house even if it has violated its professional ethics as there are procedures to follow to seek redress or sanctions if the governor feels the stations are in breach of any law or regulation.
Besides, Mr. Longe, said: “There is absolutely nothing unprofessional in the action of the broadcasting stations in covering a political rally by an opposition political party, even if the purported ban on political rallies by the Governor was legally done. The fact that the rally took place at all despite the purported ban by the Governor is itself a newsworthy event and the media ought to cover and report it. There is nothing in the Code of Ethics for Journalists or the Nigeria Broadcasting Code or any Law currently in force in Nigeria that makes the action of the broadcasting stations unprofessional or unethical and it is not within the authority of the Governor to establish professional or ethical codes for the media.”
Accusing the Governor of attempting to gain an unfair political advantage by preventing an opposition political party from campaigning during a period of electioneering campaigns in violation of the Electoral Act 2022, he reminded the governor that his action shutting down the stations is a gross violation of the rights of the people of the state and other parts of the country under Section 39 of the Constitution as the action denied access to information to the viewers and listeners of these stations who depend on them for news and other information.
Mr. Longe said although the state government has reopened the stations and apologised for the closure while also ordering the withdrawal of the security agents deployed to the media houses, it is nonetheless necessary to emphasize that the arbitrary actions taken by the Governor in the first place, merely because the media houses did not pander to his whims, were reprehensible and should never be repeated in the State or elsewhere in the country.
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