Vision FM 92.1 operating in Abuja, says it is losing US$25,000 weekly from advertisements, since the unexpected sanctions on its popular show, ‘Idon Mikiya or Truth to Power show’
The one-hour program airs at 5 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and is the station’s most successful, with at least 30 million listeners tuning in every week, from across northern Nigeria.
The station’s manager and Chief Operating Officer, Shuaibu Mungadi said the program was ordered suspended on January 28, by the Nigerian media regulator, the National Broadcasting Commission, for six months and fined the station with US$12,500.
In its communication, Mungadi said the regulator cited a Jan. 5 show that discussed controversies over Rufai Abubakar, head of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). He said the regulator alleged that Vision FM broadcast trade secrets and other issues regarding the national security agency, and that its commentaries lacked fairness and balance. He said weeks of dialogue have yet to pay off.
“The constitutional role of the media is being trampled by the government, that is the position of things. The government is vehement, the government is indifferent,” he added. The regulator is yet to speak on the suspension.
The content, including information about agency appointments, constituted “a breach of the provision of section 39(3)(b) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which imposes restrictions on matters concerning government security services or agencies established by law,” the letter read.
But Mungadi said authorities are twisting the law to stifle views and said the show was just raising important issues.
The regulator’s actions come amid an increase in media repression that critics say has worsened under President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Nigeria Union of Journalists, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and other rights groups criticized the suspension.
In January, NIA agents demanded that People’s Gazette reveal the identity of a source use in the newspaper’s reporting about the agency director. In an unrelated incident, unidentified men beat a journalist and damaged equipment at Thunder Blowers, a news website in Zamfara state.
Media rights groups say journalists risk arbitrary detentions or charges under a 2015 cybercrime law. They note that last year, the president suspended Twitter for seven months.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders says Nigeria is one of the most difficult places in West Africa to report from, with journalists spied on, arrested, attacked or even killed. The country registered a five-point decline on the World Press Freedom Index last year, ranking 120 out of 180 where 1 is freest.
Authorities deny they are suppressing press freedom. The media regulator has previously said it is not restricting the media but warned news outlets to be conscious of their reporting and said that defaulters will be called to order.
Because of this suspension, Mungadi said the station loses US$25,000 weekly, that is usually generated from advertisements and sponsorships.
“We lost our marketing because there’s so much sponsorship on this program, those sponsorships were withdrawn,” Mungadi said.
Without that revenue, Mungadi said, he is unsure how long the station can keep up with salaries.
Listeners are also calling to ask why the show is no longer broadcast.
“Once it is five o’clock you’ll see a lot of people calling, ‘I am on your station now, but I am not hearing Idon Mikiya, what is happening?’ Even if the program comes back we’re going to lose a lot of listeners,” said station manager Abdul Alugbere.
Supporters in the northern Nigerian states of Kano, SOOO, and Bauchi attempted to protest the suspension but, Alugbere said, they were stopped by the police.
The suspension shows authorities are not open to criticism, said Kolawole Oluwadare, director of SERAP.
The Nigerian nonprofit focuses on fighting corruption and economic and social rights. When the regulator suspended Vision FM’s show, SERAP issued a statement urging authorities to lift the ban.
“(The suspension) again shows the government’s intolerance for whatever is perceived as critical views of government action. We have also approached the station because we’re willing to take this up in the public’s interest,” said Oluwadare.
For now, Mungadi and his team at Vision FM continue to make efforts to reverse the suspension. But he said they’d never renege on journalistic standards, no matter the cost.
“We are journalists, we cannot be intimidated into discarding issues of public interest. We shall rather remain sanctioned than compromised,” said Mungadi.