Nigeria: Media regulator fines TV station for airing fake press release

On November 14, 2022, Nigeria’s broadcasting regulator, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), slammed a fine of NGN2 million (about US$4,500) on Arise TV, a privately owned network.

NBC explained that its decision to punish the network was over the broadcasting of alleged fake news on Bola Tinubu, the ruling party, All Progressives Congress’ presidential candidate in the forthcoming 2023 elections.

In a statement, the Director-General of NBC, Balarabe Shehu, directed the broadcast station to pay the fine within two weeks.

There has been a slew of reports circulating on social media in which Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State, was accused of narcotics-related offences in the US over 30 years ago.

Amid the speculation, Arise TV published a press release dated 11 November 2022 and purported to have been signed by Festus Okoye, National Commissioner of Nigeria’s election management body, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The press release went viral in a matter of hours.

However, the INEC, in a statement signed by Festus Okoye on November 12, 2022, categorically disowned the press release and all information contained in it.

 “A Press Release purported to have been issued by the Commission has been trending online since yesterday, Friday, 11th November 2022. It claims that the Commission has commenced investigation into a case of criminal forfeiture against one of the Presidential candidates in the forthcoming General Election and is liaising with a Court in the United States of America in pursuit of same to determine possible violation of our guidelines or the Electoral Act 2022.

“We wish to state categorically that the said Press Release did not emanate from the Commission nor is it pursuing the purported course of action. It is the handiwork of mischief makers and utterly fake.

“Press releases from the commission are uploaded to the INEC Press Corps platform and simultaneously disseminated through our website and official social media handles. The public is advised to ignore the press release,” the statement by the INEC said.

Consequently, Arise TV retracted the story and apologised to Tinubu.

Despite the apology, the APC Presidential Campaign Council urged the broadcasting regulator to sanction Arise TV for not carrying out due diligence before broadcasting the fake report.

NBC acceded to the request, saying that the network’s action is a violation of the broadcast code. The Director General of the broadcast regulator, Balarebe Shehu, stated that Arise TV’s action is a most unfortunate breach of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code and a gross display of unprofessionalism and insensitivity at this time of electioneering.

“It would be recalled that the National Broadcasting Commission, between the 19th and 26th of September, 2022, went round the country to sensitise broadcasters and remind them of the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code and the Electoral Act as we count down to the 2023 general elections,” Shehu wrote.

“The commission [NBC] also underscored the need for broadcasters to double-check the veracity of any information, especially, those gotten from social media (User Generated Content), which is specifically affirmed by Section 5.6.5. of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.”

“Although your station has tendered an apology to the presidential candidate of APC after the professional glitch, the commission expects broadcasters to ensure utmost professionalism as anything contrary may have grave consequences,” Shehu said.

“Consequently, pursuant to Section 5.1.3 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, Arise TV is hereby sanctioned and shall pay a penalty of 2,000,000.00 (Two Million Naira). Note that the penalty shall be paid within two weeks of the receipt of this letter or sanction shall be graduated.”

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) finds it disturbing that Arise TV’s failed to verify the fake press release and urges them to demonstrate diligence and professionalism in future. Nonetheless, we appeal to the NBC to reconsider the sanctions imposed on Arise TV, especially in the light of the retraction and apology the media outlet has done after recognising its error. We also call on the authorities to investigate the source of the fake release and sanction its authors.

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