Nigeria’s broadcasting regulator has asked TV stations to curb their reporting of insecurity in the country by withholding details of incidents and victims, in what a leading civil society group described as a “sweeping gag order”.
Africa’s most populous nation is facing multiple security crises, with the northeast in the grip of a decade-long Islamist insurgency, the northwest hit by a wave of mass abductions of schoolchildren, and kidnappings for ransom rife in many states.
Some experts say the surge in criminality is partly driven by economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 shock in 2020, while the World Bank has said the increase in conflict and insecurity was a drag on growth and job creation.
In a letter to “all stations”, on Monday, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) said broadcasters should “collaborate with government in dealing with the security challenges” by toning down reporting and commentary.
They should do this by “not giving details of either the security issues or victims of these security challenges” and by “advising guests and/or analysts on programs not to polarize the citizenry with divisive rhetoric”, the letter said.
The civil society group Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) called on President Muhammadu Buhari to instruct the NBC to withdraw the document.
SERAP said reporting on the growing violence was in the public interest, and the regulator’s instructions would have a chilling effect.
Buhari’s two spokesmen declined to comment on the matter, while the NBC did not respond to requests for comment.
Buhari, a military ruler in the 1980s who returned to power as an elected civilian in 2015, has been accused of an assault on freedom of speech over his government’s decision in June to ban Twitter in Nigeria after the platform removed one of his posts.
(Reporting by Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh in Abuja and Estelle Shirbon in London; Editing by Alex Richardson)