AIT: Guilty as charged? By Julian Stanislaus

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After all the hue and cry and orchestrated protests outside embassies ostensibly against denial of press freedom by NBC’s shut down of AIT, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi ended up taking cover under the flowing gowns of his elders in the media to intervene and shield him from the consequences of his own excesses.

He ended up willingly signing a brokered “settlement” agreement that merely bought him time to pay long outstanding license fees of AIT/RayPower, and committed him to “take the necessary internal steps to ensure balance in their news coverage, especially political commentaries on it stations across the country, and take full editorial responsibility for the use of news contents sourced from social media and or any other avenue.” A plea of guilt on all NBC charges!

This episode reflects the deceptive and sensational tendencies that have unfortunately become the defining features of the private media in Nigeria. All the razzmatazz was just to politicize the NBC’s whip of broadcast regulation by misleading the public that it was “ a presidential directive” as Dokpesi claimed.

It was quite revealing that the High Chief of AIT/RayPower could only summon the sympathy of a handful of “protesters” who clearly represented no one but himself to accompany him on what he purported to be a distress call against “high handedness of government in deploying all instruments of power to threaten, intimidate and harass our media organization”. The desperation to blow the issue out of proportion is so glaring but even more conspicuous was the absence of staff of AIT/RayPower among his supposed sympathizers. Not even the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria (BON), the immediate constituency of his stations, bothered to even “express concern”.

Nor was there any PDP member of substance as should be expected since the High Chief attributed his ordeal to his affiliation with the opposition PDP. Indeed, the political programmes of the AIT since the 2019 electioneering season opened left no room to doubt that he had virtually converted the station, repeatedly described as “African” and “Independent”, into the sycophantic propaganda outfit of an unpopular Nigerian political party, so steeped in corruption and bad governance that it was ousted from almost two decades of economy-wrecking misrule by popular rejection.

Indeed High Chief was so disgusted with the notoriously reprehensible record of the PDP, that on November 11, 2015 Dokpesi, on behalf of the PDP party, made a public apology for the “mismanagement of Nigeria under the PDP government”. But when it was personally profitable the High Chief’s AIT aired libelous hate documentaries against General Muhammadu Buhari, then presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the party’s national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as propaganda weapons of mass incitement obviously to render them unelectable and perpetuate the mismanagement of Nigeria!

Defeated PDP Presidential Candidate-in Diaspora, Atiku Abubakar was the first to sympathize with Dokpesi’s NBC dilemma. Nigerians need no decoder to know why Atiku shares the Dokpesi delusion of describing NBC’s regulatory hammer on AIT’s unscrupulous partisan political propaganda broadcasts as the Press losing its independence. They can surely recall the station’s recent flagrantly contemptuous and heavily biased rendition of Atiku’s petition against the re-election of President Buhari pending before the Presidential Election Appeal Tribunal in a series of “documentaries” pre-empting the proceedings by presenting the petition’s claims as unassailable ”facts”, practically declaring Atiku as the “actual” winner of the 2019 presidential elections!

Running a virtual parallel petition tribunal on national TV network for the opposition PDP’ defeated candidate in the faked name of press independence and freedom! Only a mercenary media outfit, prostituted and profiting from professional piracy and stark negation of ethics, rules and regulations can boldly indulge in such yet insist it is “independent” and ”holding government accountable to the people of Nigeria”. To add insult to injury, Dokpesi has been running AIT/Raypower with expired license since 2015. His stations should not even be on air!

It is little wonder, therefore, that there were no notable AIT/RayPower staff or management members, no PDP leaders of substance, no recognized representatives of the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria (BON), in fact no responsible Nigerian or prominent media personality, in the self-mocking charade embarked on by Dokpesi. His stations have a record of such biased partisan broadcasts ”moderated” only by the proprietor’s political interests, non-payment of salary(notoriously unpaid for years on end) and disregard for NBC broadcast code. Both former Presidents Obasanjo (with Atiku as VP) and Yaradua administrations had cause to shut AIT down, arrest its political producers and seize tapes considered inimical to national stability.

This narrative illustrates that the weakest link in the presumed nobility of the role of the Press and media, ominously credited with being “mightier than the sword”, lurks in the necessary evil of “freedom of ownership” that overwhelmingly dictates the impact of freedom of the press, whether positive or negative, independent or mercenary, on the operating environment. Remarkably, the notion that private media are necessarily more “independent” or more “patriotic” and “democratic” remains the most misleading propaganda about the Press and media in general. At the end of the day, he who pays the piper STILL dictates the tune and the best interests of the majority rarely displaces the personal and often selfish interest of the publisher/proprietor. Believe it!

*JULIAN STANISLAUS, a West Africa correspondent for MEDIA WORLD, now lives in Abidjan.

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