TV stations pay fines over fake news

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The Federal Government says the sanctions imposed on some broadcast media stations in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests were justified and that the affected stations already paid their fines.

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, stated this on Thursday in Abuja at a media briefing on the #EndSARS protest and its aftermaths.

The minister said that two of stations paid their fines in full, while the third paid a part of the fine, with an appeal for time to pay the balance.

Mohammed stressed that the fines imposed on the stations by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) were not only justified, but that the NBC was indeed lenient.

“In the aftermath of the EndSARS crisis, the NBC fined three broadcast stations for using unverified and dangerous information from the social media.

“Commentators, many of whom didn’t even know why the NBC imposed the fine, rushed to allege an attempt to stifle free speech.

“Unknown to them, the stations themselves knew that they breached the Broadcast Code.

“It is sad to see the traditional media jettisoning the age-long gate-keeping process and instead rushing to rely on the free-wheeling social media, devoid of any gatekeeping, for news,’’ he said.

The minister also said it was imperative for the traditional media to authenticate information from the social media or from any source, for that matter, before publishing or broadcasting same.

He condemned the emerging trend in which traditional media freely used materials from social media sources without taking the pains to verify their authenticity.

“This is a dangerous trend that must be curbed, in the interest of media practitioners themselves, the profession and indeed the country,’’ he said.

Mohammed said if the NBC had wielded the big stick during the protest, some broadcast media organisations would have faced more severe sanctions than mere fines.

“Recall that an otherwise reputable broadcast media organisation had carried a fake report that the Ecumenical Centre in Abuja was on fire during the violence that followed the protest.

“Though the organisation in question later retracted the story, the kind of reprisal attack this could have sparked is better imagined.

“Also, another reputable broadcast media organisation featured a report that identified a maintenance worker atop a bank building overlooking the Lekki tollgate in Lagos as a sniper, leading to attacks that destroyed many of the bank’s branches.

“The organisations have not even been sanctioned for these terrible disinformation, yet rabble-rousers have latched on to the fines to make all sorts of baseless allegations,’’ he said

The NBC fined Channels Television, AIT and Arise TV N3 million each on Oct. 26 over their unprofessional coverage of the #EndSARS protest and the crises that followed it.

Acting Director-General of NBC, Prof Armstrong Idachaba, announced the sanctions at a news conference in Abuja.

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