DAAR COMMUNICATIONS: TRUTH, BALANCE, OBJECTIVITY AND PLURALITY OF THE MEDIA
BEING TEXT OF THE ADDRESS DELIVERED BY HIGH CHIEF ENGR. RAYMOND A.A. DOKPESI, PHD, DSC, OFR, FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN EMERITUS OF DAAR COMMUNICATIONS PLC AT A PRESS CONFERENCE AT THE CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS OF THE DAAR COMMUNCATIONS PLC, KPADUMA HILLS, ASOKORO – ABUJA ON THURSDAY, JUNE 6, 2019.
Good morning fellow Nigerians and gentlemen of the press, before I proceed to the business of the day, permit me to felicitate with our Muslim brothers and sisters who have just celebrated the occasion of the completion of the Ramadan fast. Barka da Sallah!
1. Let me begin by expressing my profound gratitude to you all for honouring this invitation at very short notice. I greet you and welcome you to the premises of DAAR Communications Plc Head Quarters today as witnesses to the high handedness of government in deploying all instruments of power to threaten, intimidate and harass our media organisation for my affiliation with the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the government’s perceived bias by our stations in holding government, public officers and people in positions of power accountable to the people of Nigeria.
2. As you drove up to our premises, you will have observed the destruction of our security house and perimeter fencing across the boundaries of DAAR Communications Plc (HQ) executed by the FCDA approximately 6-weeks ago. We have since gone to court and it will be subjudice to make further statements on the issues before the courts. Suffice to say, that our premises have been left exposed to all manner of threats which endanger the lives of our staff and property. We have persevered in the discharge of our duties and obligations despite the physical and psychological intimidation the actions of the FCDA, a department under the control of this government, has impacted on us.
3. Since coming to office in 2015 and in compliance with a well scripted program of action to shutdown the DAAR Communications brand from Nigeria’s broadcasting landscape, we have been inundated with letters from our regulator – the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). Every broadcast which appears to them to offer a dissenting perspective to the position of Government is reprehended as a threat to National interest. Every reference and reportage from various sections of the country concerning injustice, inequality and iniquity is reprehended as a threat to National security.
4. We hold the position that it is the actions or lack of actions by the Government in responding to the above that threaten public order, public interest, public cohesion, the peace and unity of this country and NOT the reportage of same.
5. It is our view that communications, including broadcasting as a form of mass communication serves public interest when the media is able to inform and educate the public on the activities and initiatives of Government whilst also availing people in Government an opportunity to feel the pulse of the nation by reporting unadulterated comments, opinions and perspectives without censorship. By so doing, leaders including the President, can access and discern the value of diverse opinions and positions.
6. I make bold to say, as Founder and chairman emeritus of DAAR Communications Plc that our objective from inception to this day remain:
(i)To inform, educate and entertain,
(ii)To serve the interest of the general public
(iii)To set the agenda for the social, cultural, economic, political and technological development of our nation and
(iv)To hold the government and the people in power accountable to the people in pursuance of public interest over government or personal interests.
7. These goals and objectives are derived from the character and objectives of broadcasting as defined in the NBC code. However, it is important to note that there are areas of conflict between certain provisions of the NBC code, the responsibility of our professional obligations, the law and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is our view that where such conflicts exist, we must prioritise public interest in abiding by the Constitution and laws of the Federal Republic over and above provisions of the NBC code.
8. In summary therefore, we have served Nigeria’s public interest, convenience and necessity as outlined above.
9. TRUTH, BALANCE, OBJECTIVITY AND PLURALITY OF THE MEDIA
For the benefit of our audiences, students of journalism and mass communications, our regulators, people in power and government and the general public at large who have notions about responsible journalism and a media organisation’s responsibility to report news with balance and objectivity, let me state without fear or equivocation that the purpose of any responsible news media institution is the singular pursuit of truth. There is absolutely no obligation from any media organisation or any journalist to balance a story, but that is not to say they do not have a responsibility to be objective in their methodology for establishing the truth. For example:
Today, we accept global warming as an environmental phenomenon. Global warming is real. This is the truth. In discussing the issue, is there any basis for balancing a global warming story with a skeptic who does not believe in global warming? Absolutely not! But no media organisation can assume that global warming is truth. They must go through a process. An editorial board will have to review empirical data objectively and dispassionately and come to a resolution that global warming is real and shall be reported as truth in their news bulletins, programmes and editorials.
This is how we arrive at our editorial positions at DAAR Communications Plc.
If we are critical of this administration’s management of the economy, it is because our editorial board have reviewed the economic indices and these show that Nigeria is worse off today than it was under previous administrations.
If we are critical of this administration’s commitment to nationhood and the principles of fairness, equity and justice for the various ethnic nationalities that make up the configuration of Nigeria, it is because the principle of Federal Character has been fragrantly ignored in the appointments of this administration and the remarks of principal officers of this government point to a lopsided bias in favour of regions from which votes were generated rather than showing leadership to all.
If we are critical of this government’s commitment to the tenets of democracy, it is because we have witnessed unabated interferences, harassment and intimidation by the agencies under the executive arm of Government on the institutions of democracy and their principal officers. This include the leadership of the National Assembly, the Judiciary and now the 4th estate of the realm.
We cannot separate these truths from reality. They are empirical and undeniable. We have been professional and objective in our assessment of the empirical evidence that led us to some of these conclusions. These have no bearing and no roots in partisan politics. They are statements of fact. We are a business and a commercial enterprise. We do not refuse anyone access to airtime. If Government feels that our editorial positions are unfair, they have opportunity to represent themselves.
We have never refused this Government a slot to respond or to reply to these positions. We have on the contrary, invited them times without number to appear for free to explain their positions and address the agitations of ordinary Nigerians. But they cannot determine what questions we ask them and what issues are off-limits. They must appear knowing that they are subjecting themselves to public scrutiny. The representatives of this Government have largely not taken up the opportunity to rise to this challenge.
Our obligation as provided for in section 22 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is to hold government, public officers and people in power accountable to the public. If AIT appears biased in propagating its editorial position, it is because the representatives of Government have shied away from giving account of themselves on our platform and not because AIT denies the Government opportunity to make their perspectives known to our audiences.
10. ALLEGATIONS OF DAAR POLITICAL BIAS OR DELIBERATE CENSORSHIP OF FREE MEDIA?
For our audiences who were unborn or were too young to track our pedigree in this industry, it is important to emphasise that DAAR Communications Plc has played this important role and stood by the tenets of the profession since we started broadcasting in 1993. We have suffered harassment from successive governments since the days of General Sanni Abacha and the struggle for democracy in Nigeria.
For the benefit of our detractors that attribute our positions to partisan politics, allow me recap some of the notable critical positions we took against successive PDP administrations starting with President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999:
1999 – 2007
3rd Term Agenda
2007 – 2011
Doctrine of Necessity
2011 – 2015
Fuel Subsidy Removal
Many of our viewers who raised the loudest plaudits for our actions then are now part of and hold senior positions in the ruling party, the APC. They know and understand the power of the media and a free press and understand that the pen is mightier than the sword if their government is compromised or found wanting. DAAR Communications Plc remains one of the few remaining independent media organisations operating without any fear or hinderance. We cannot separate the proclamations from senior members of the Buhari presidency, the demolition of our security infrastructure by the FCDA, the threatening letters and fines from the industry regulator and a number of other actions we have been duly notified of being plotted and in the pipelines, from desperate attempts to gag, muzzle, restrain and impair our operations and reportage.
11.Gentlemen of the press, I have been reliably informed that some security agencies have threatened my person with the “Okadigbo treatment”, whatever that means.
When I, High Chief, Engr. Raymond A.A. Dokpesi, Ph.D., D.Sc, OFR, Founder and now Chairman Emeritus of DAAR Communications Plc, committed myself to partisan politics in 2014, I duly resigned as Executive Chairman and recused myself from day to day operations of DAAR Communications Plc. This was the right thing to do.
12.I however cannot ignore that our regulator, the NBC today is under the leadership of a partisan politician. Ishaq Moddibo Kawu, the Director General of the NBC, was an aspirant of the APC for the governorship of Kwara State before the recently concluded general elections in Nigeria. Is he in a position to regulate freely and fairly? Is he devoid of partisan interest in regulating the industry? The fact that he lost his primaries and returned to resume as DG of the NBC is in itself despicable.
13.In spite of a global broadcast network license granted to DAAR Communications Plc by General Sanni Abacha administration in 1994, the DG of NBC has stalled the Commissioning of our stations in Yola, Awka and Sokoto since 2016 by fragrantly refusing the Commission Engineers to inspect the fully built and equipped broadcast facilities for radio and television. The DG of NBC falsely accuses DAAR Communications Plc of being indebted to the Commission for a license fee to the tune of N500 million.
14.The truth of the matter is that at the commencement of the current broadcast licence renewal period, the Commission unilaterally fixed the network licensing fee for private network broadcasters at N500 million. The Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON) on behalf of all broadcasters made several representations to the National Broadcasting Commission that the fee is darn too high bearing in mind that the economic fortunes of our country and the collapse of industry in Nigeria.
15.I am very reliably informed that BON made representations to the President, Commander in Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, through the Honourable Minister of Information, to review very significantly downwards the level of fees payable to the NBC and the humongous taxes that these private stations are made to pay to the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS). I have reiterated in the years past, that the State and Federal Government stations are made to pay much lower license fees and if my memory is not short, it is about N10 million annually and do not pay any taxes. This is in spite of the fact that these stations also have budgetary allocations, grants and subventions. Even at that, NBC sources have severally confirmed that these stations are also heavily indebted. Therefore the 5-year National network license for government owned stations is just 10% of what privately owned national network broadcasters are forced to pay. Yet they all still go to the same market to scramble for the very limited adverts available and offer uneconomical rates which the private sector cannot match since we do not enjoy same subsidies in covering the costs of our operations.
Rather than create a level playing ground for the deregulated industry to flourish in Nigeria, Mr Ishaq Moddibo Kawu, the DG NBC, in an email to a very senior and respectable broadcaster who volunteered to intervene between DAAR Communications Plc and the DG, stated inter alia:
“Good morning Sir. I’m unable to allow the inspection until and unless DAAR Communications effects payment of the over N500 million they owe NBC. I sincerely apologise to you Sir, because it is NOT about you, neither am I trying to disrespect your person. I will NEVER do so! But we have an experience with DAAR Communications and that’s what is guiding my action. Besides, there is no rational basis for me to allow an inveterate debtor as the organisation is to open new stations when it is OBVIOUS they have no plan to pay! In truth, they shouldn’t be on air in Nigeria because they have refused to meet their licensing obligations. It is that simple. Regards Sir.”
16.Ladies and gentlemen, the N500 million license fee here is not a debt from the previous licensing periods, but from 2016 when the new licensing period started. As stated earlier, this figure has been rejected by the industry and the umbrella body for all broadcasters, BON, is still negotiating a reasonable and sustainable fee with the Government. You will recall, in the heat of the campaign period just before the General Elections, at a BON Conference in Port Harcourt, the DG threatened to shut down over 100 radio and television broadcasters for failing to yield to the extortion of license fee payments since the 2016 licensing period became operational. Inspite of the ongoing negotiation, DAAR Communications Plc has continued to make payments on account for Licence fees!!!
In the subsequent discussions and correspondences with those that discussed DAAR Communications Plc matters with him, the DG NBC, finally opened up and confessed his fears that his refusal to grant the DAAR Communications request is because DAAR Communications will use the stations in those aforementioned locations to promote the People’s Democratic Party to the detriment of the APC. I have no doubt in mind therefore the NBC under the leadership under Moddibo Kawu has become very high handed and tyrannical in its regulatory roles of the electronic media in Nigeria. I have it on good authority also that certain other privately licensed broadcasters have also been marked and pencilled down for humiliation, intimidation, endless queries and constant threats of revocations of broadcast licenses by the Moddibo Kawu lead NBC.
17.So when one juxtaposes and considers all the above with the fact that the Director General of the NBC, Ishaq Moddibo Kawu, was dragged to court by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) on a 12-count-charge bordering on fraud in the digital switchover project of the Federal Government and that that members of his management at NBC have testified against him openly in court, it begs the question: can this man remain independent of external and clandestine influences? Can the scandal he is embroiled in be used to influence his performance as a regulator? Is it possible that he will go the extra mile over and beyond the powers of the NBC to gain favour from politicians and powers who may have influence on whether to retain him as DG and offer him a soft landing on the charges before him? Is he a fit and proper person with the interest of the industry at heart to lead the regulatory body?
18.He too must know that the right thing for him to do is to step down from the leadership of the NBC at least until such a time that he is acquitted of the charges against him. Do I need to tell him the right thing to do? Can the broadcasters he is regulating freely raise these issues against him as a public figure? I make bold to unequivocally call on the Federal Government of Nigeria to immediately relieve him of his duty at the NBC to allow the industry to breathe fresh air.
19.Now, the Commission has come out boldly to challenge DAAR Communications’ right to editorial opinion, views and commentary.
In a letter NBC|AIT.05|19 addressed to the General Manager, (AIT & Raypower), and titled: USE OF ONE-SIDED AND UNFAIR ALLEGATIONS OF NEWS COMMENTARY ON JUSTICE BULKACHUWA’S MEMBERSHIP OF PRESIDENTIAL PETITION TRIBUNAL; WARNING.
The NBC claims that a News commentary on the above subject matter replete with unfair allegations against the judiciary was aired from Monday, 20th May 2019 on AIT and Raypower FM.
“The commentary was aired on the two stations severally during the week. The broadcast is a contravention of the provisions of the code and extant laws regarding discussion of cases pending in the law courts, which could be termed as contempt of court. Furthermore, the language used was offensive and unfair on the judiciary.”
The NBC letter goes further to say the broadcast is viewed as offensive, unfair and unprofessional as provisions of section 1.15.1 of the Nigerian Broadcast Code was violated.
Section 1.15.1 “Broadcast objectives are best achieved if all involved in the production and transmission of programs adhere to the following laws”
Section 1.15.1 (F) “The law of contempt relating to matters pending before the law courts.”
The NBC further states that the material is also perceived as one sided in favour of the likely sponsors, a violation of section 0.2.2.1 (b) that states:
“Broadcasting Organizations shall recognize that they exercise freedom of expression as agents of society, not for any personal or sectional rights, privileges and needs of their own or of their proprietor’s, relatives and friends or supporters.”
It adds that section 5.1.2 also states inter alia “News shall be factual and presented in a correct and fair manner, without distortions, exaggerations or misrepresentations.
The NBC concludes its letter by stating: “Consequently your station is by this letter WARNED and advised to be cautious when discussing issues relating to matters pending in the court of law and refrain from use of language inimical to the broadcast profession.”
20.Gentlemen of the Press, nothing can be more preposterous and bizarre. The NBC does not appear to know the difference between NEWS and Commentary / Opinion / Editorial. Or the NBC under the leadership of the DG is being mischievous in doing a hatchet job of admonishing the free press for exercising their right under the guises of contraventions of the NBC code.
What was aired by AIT and RayPower referred to above by the NBC was simply Editorial commentary in which the President of the court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa was called upon to recuse herself from the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal as there was the likelihood of bias on her part.
21.The Editorial quoted profusely from national and international laws on the likelihood of bias. Justice Bulkachuwa’s husband is not only a card-carrying member of the ruling party the APC but in actual fact a Senator elect on the platform of the APC. What is more, her son ran for the Governorship ticket of a state under the APC during the last general elections.
22.What the editorial called for is most certainly what any and every responsible media house ought to do in the full exercise of its role not only as the fourth estate of the realm but in the execution of its constitutional role of ensuring that all three arms of government are held accountable to the people.
23.We find the NBC’s allegation of unprofessional conduct on the editorial position of AIT & RayPower reprehensible and totally reject it in its entirety.
An editorial is a commentary that clearly states the position of the media house publishing or airing. It is usually the media houses’ standpoint on any issue. It is strong views expressed without equivocation and any apologies to anybody. Indeed, globally, the media holds its right to editorial positions as one uncompromisable and inalienable right and privilege. It is the basis for the right of the people to know.
The pedigree of the AIT & RayPower as broadcast stations resolute in its defence of the masses will not be canvassed here.
24.I must however, say very quickly here that the allegation of likely sponsors made by the NBC is a statement of guilt given the partisan outlook of the leadership of the NBC and the onus for the DG himself to recuse himself from the leadership of the NBC.
In any case, that the NBC would merely conclude by issuing a warning to AIT & RayPower over what it calls use of one sided and unfair allegations against Justice Bulkachuwa’s, membership of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal speaks volumes.
The NBC conveniently refuses to acknowledge that the honourable Justice and President of the court of Appeal has actually stepped aside and recused herself in deference to calls made by AIT amongst other patriotic and well meaning Nigerians even though she gave personal reasons for her decision.
Let me praise the courage and doggedness of other media organizations, print, electronic and social that made similar calls. It is time to stand up for what is right.
25.Similarly, two other letters were received by this organization from the NBC on May 27th, 2019.
The first was titled, “BROADCAST OF DOCUMENTARY: THE NIGERIAN JUDICIARY ON TRIAL: THE KENYAN EXAMPLE.”
While the second letter is titled, “LACK OF EDITORIAL RESPONSIBILITY IN USE OF CONTEXT FROM SOCIAL MEDIA.”
26.Gentlemen of the Press, we are all professionals, we did not hide the identity of the production of the Documentary. It was an AIT production.
If politicians and other stakeholders are willing, ready and able to hide the gross and brazen abuses that were inherent in the last general elections, the worst elections we have had since 1999, we the media must not be intimidated and hounded to submission. We must speak out to save our democracy. We must stand resolute and fearless in the discharge of our responsibilities as the fourth state of the realm.
The media must remain a fertile ground for the cross fertilisation of ideas, constructive criticisms, give voice to the voiceless and help to the helpless.
27.The documentary we aired on the Nigerian Judiciary on Trial – The Kenyan Example was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. The petition already laid before the tribunal at the time had become a public document.
There were already ongoing robust and very engaging debates on the salient points of the petition before the Tribunal. All AIT simply did was add our voice to the conversation by addressing the minds of Nigerians to the Kenyan Example at their Presidential elections in 2017.
This was because we found similarities in the situations of both but separate events.
In any case, the point really was that the Supreme Court of Kenya cancelled the Presidential elections and ordered a repeat because in its view the server of the electoral body had been compromised.
We are all aware of the heated but sometimes absurd debates that have arisen over INEC servers since our general elections and how it is indeed impacting negatively on the nation’s standing in the comity of Nations.
Again, we at AIT and RayPower plead not guilty to the NBC charges that the broadcast is not only prejudicial but also seen as an intimidation of the judiciary and the attempt to influence the process of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal.
The NBC must see itself as a national regulatory body that it is and not an organization existing to protect the sole interests of the ruling party in government.
Except this is done and quickly too, the NBC will soon find itself immersed in a cobweb of intricate and and very uncoordinated interpretations of the code of broadcasting and other laws.
There are existing laws in Nigeria that govern contempt and there are legal procedures for the courts to find any person or organization guilty. The NBC can therefore only act in furtherance of a court order towards applying the full sanctions of the law.
That the NBC would arrogate to itself the authority to decide whether a broadcast station has committed a contempt of court charge and threaten fire and brimstone smacks of a total misrepresentation of what our extant rules are and about.
As I have already said we are absolutely not guilty of the charges and allegations raised by the NBC in the documentary.
28.The third and final letter accuses AIT of lack of Editorial Responsibility in the use of content from social media. This allegation is as absurd as it is self-contradictory.
The programme in question – Kakaaki Social – which holds in the mornings on weekdays curates the thoughts and opinions of ordinary Nigerians as expressed on social media regarding a variety of topics. It is important to note that this programme generates none of the content published but only curates and publishes the thoughts and opinions of the Nigerian public on critical issues.
29.On May 27th, 2019 NBC wrote a letter querying the producers of the programme for publishing opinions of Nigerians over the threat by militants in the Niger Delta to declare a Niger Delta Republic on June 1st, 2019. The threat by the militants was widely reported by every media print, tv, radio and online media house in the country.
30.However for some unknown reason, the programme was singled out by NBC and accused of issuing a call to war and being outrightly inciting. This accusation was made in spite of the fact that most of the comments published on the programme condemned the threats of secession and called for national unity. The reference underlined in the NBC letter to the singular comment seemingly supporting secession of the Niger Delta Republic did NOT endorse secession. It merely drew attention to proposals by the Nigerian government to offer N100 Billion to Miyetti Allah to seize kidnapping in the country when the contributions of Miyetti Allah to the Nigerian economy are limited to the meat industry and compared it to failed promises by Government to address environmental concerns and the agitations of Niger Deltans who suffer as a result of the oil economy having the most devastating externalities on the indigenes.
Are we supposed to censor the perspectives of a Niger Deltan who has raised a valid comment concerning the fairness, equity and justice of this Government in contemplating payments of a huge sum of money to Miyetti Allah when the Niger Delta has remained peaceful in spite environmental degradation and failed promises to clean it up?
His rights are protected by section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In response to the NBC’s grievance that we even allowed the issue of secession pass through our editorial gatekeepers, let us ask: is this not news? Is it not in public interest for the oil companies, their workers and staff to take extra precautions over increased restlessness and agitation? Is such reportage unprecedented?
31.You will recall about 2014 Boko Haram proclaimed the territories of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states as seceded under the authority of Islamic State (IS). This was reported by all local and foreign media. Was this reportage a call to war or being outrightly inciting? Absolutely not, it was a reportage of truthful facts. This is no different. Have imprisoned members of Boko Haram who fought against Nigeria to uphold Islamic State on Nigerian soil not been pardoned and set free by this administration? Did they not commit acts of treason? How then does the NBC equate reportage of an agitation with acts of treason. This is preposterous!
32.Gentlemen of the Press, we are on a road previously travelled. A media and press clampdown is in the offing.
All the tell tale signs are there. It is time to rise up to say if the Executive arm of Government can muscle the legislative arm, intimidate and cajole the judiciary, there is nothing it can do about the fourth estate of the realm, its existence or freedom to operate as it is constitutionally provided for.
This is the bitter pill the NBC under its leadership and various influences must swallow.
What will work is synergy.
If indeed, we all exist to contribute meaningfully to the growth and development of Nigeria and its citizens, we must begin to see ourselves as partners and not as avowed enemies on the basis of our political, religious and other beliefs.
AIT & RayPower by the special grace of God are ideas whose time have come. Except God wills it lesser mortals shall labor in vain to kill it.
Thank you ever so much for honouring this invitation and God bless.
33.I shall now embark on my protest march to the National Assembly and other designated locations to ensure that the entire world is made aware that a major offensive on the Freedom of the Press has started in Nigeria.
34.I call on the media, national and international, the global civil society and human rights groups and the committee for the Protection of Journalists, CPJ to heed our clarion call and come to our aid.
God protect the free media in Nigeria.
God save democracy in Nigeria.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.