Order: SERAP Gives Buhari Govt 24 Hours To Withdraw Gag Order On Reporting Of Terrorists’ Attacks

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The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently instruct Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to withdraw the directive banning journalists and broadcast stations from reporting details of terrorist attacks and victims across the country.

NBC had in a letter dated July 7 issued a directive asking journalists, television and radio stations in Nigeria to stop glamourising and giving too many details on the nefarious activities of terrorists and kidnappers during their daily newspaper reviews.

SERAP, in a letter to President Buhari, expressed grave concern that contents of the NBC directive would restrict the rights to freedom of expression, information, and victims’ right to justice and effective remedies that are central to public debate and accountability in a democratic society.

In a letter dated 17 July and signed by its deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, SERAP said: “The contents of the directive by the NBC to journalists and broadcast stations are entirely inconsistent and incompatible with Nigeria’s obligations under Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We would be grateful if the repressive directive is withdrawn within 24 hours of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, the SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions in the public interest.

“Reporting on the growing violence and killings in many parts of the country is a matter of public interest. The NBC directive to journalists and broadcast stations to stop reporting these cases, coupled with the possibility of fines and other punishment, would have a disproportionate chilling effect on the work of those seeking to hold the government accountable to the public.

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“The broad definitions of what may constitute ‘too many details’, ‘glamourising’, ‘divisive rhetoric’, and ‘security issues’ heighten concerns of overreach, confer far-reaching discretion on the government, and suggest that the NBC directive is more intrusive than necessary. These words and phrases do not indicate precisely what kind of individual conduct would fall within their ambit.

“The vague and overbroad definitions of ‘too many details’, ‘glamourising’, ‘divisive rhetoric’, and ‘security issues’ also raise concern that the NBC directive unduly interferes with the rights to freedom of expression and information, and is disproportionate to any purported legitimate governmental aim. Ill-defined and/or overly broad directives are open to arbitrary application and abuse. The use of these words and phrases by the NBC, given their opaque and ambiguous meaning, leaves open the possibility for application beyond unequivocal incitement to hatred, hostility or violence. Such words and phrases may function to interpret legitimate reporting by broadcast stations, journalists, and other Nigerians as unlawful.”

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