Outcry after Nigerian TV stations told to curb reporting of security issues by Emmanuel Akinwotu

Regulator’s move comes amid fears that limited press freedoms are being eroded by the government

Nigeria’s broadcasting regulator has told TV stations to limit their reporting of rising insecurity in the country and withhold details of incidents and victims, in a move widely criticised by the country’s media and civil society groups.

In a letter sent to the country’s broadcast stations, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) said TV stations should refrain from “giving details of either the security issues or victims of these security challenges”, and that they should “collaborate with the government in dealing with the security challenges” by toning down reporting and commentary.

The letter issued earlier this month but which came to light in recent days, comes amid profound frustration around Nigeria at the scale of rising insecurity and fears that limited press freedoms are being eroded by the government.

Africa’s most populous country is facing multiple security crises at once, with the north-west and central regions suffering an unprecedented wave of mass abductions of schoolchildren, and kidnappings for ransom as well as killings by armed groups known as “bandits”. Fears have also grown that jihadist activity is on the rise, spreading from the north-east where a 12-year jihadist insurgency rages on.

Fisayo Soyombo, the editor of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism in Nigeria said the letter showed the government’s “disdain for press freedom”.

“It is not just undemocratic but utterly preposterous,” he said, with the government “unable to accommodate any criticism”.

“A responsible government would be busy strategising against insurgents and bandits but ours wants the easy way out, which is to club the media into silence.”

The bandits have operated with relative freedom from the safety of forest havens spanning into Niger and the Sahel. In the latest incident revealing the escalating threat from the groups, Nigeria’s airforce said on Monday that a fighter jet was shot down by “intense ground fire from the bandits” in Zamfara state, north-west Nigeria. The pilot “luckily” survived after successfully ejecting from the aircraft, a spokesperson said. 

In the south-east meanwhile, attacks blamed on pro-Biafra militants have surged, killing dozens of police officers, while kidnapping for ransom and armed robberies have increased in many parts of the country. 

The economy has also suffered one of its worst periods in decades, with two recessions in the last five years and skyrocketing unemployment.

Accusations of repression against the media and government critics have also mounted, halfway through former military general Muhammadu Buhari’s second term in office as president. Lawmakers in Buhari’s All Progressives Congress party last month proposed an amendment to allow the government to determine a code of conduct for Nigerian media agencies and journalists, who could be fined and prosecuted for “fake news” and other breaches of the code.

Media organisations branded the amendment and other proposed moves to clamp down on social media companies in recent months as an “attack on free speech”, after a ban on Twitter in early June

“The attack on the media and free speech has intensified in the last years,” said Idayat Hassan, the director of the Centre for Democracy and Development. “And it seems non-ending as we witnessed the two new bills intended to further regulate us. There is a complete assault on both online and conventional media: and there is no end in sight.”

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