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Nigeria: two bans, many views; In late March, the Nigerian authorities banned the live relay of foreign news because some of them.

The ban on live relay of foreign media programmes by Nigeria's local media was one of two such proscriptions made the same day in late March by the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC), a Federal Government agency responsible for the regulation of broadcasting in the country.

The other was the publicity of supposed religious miracles, a stunt which the teeming, largely unctuous, new-generation churches have found quite rewarding in their rather desperate drive for membership.

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The ban on the miracle messages have attracted mixed reactions. Those who think that these Nigerian variants of the hallowed, usually rare, supernatural phenomena are dubious public nuisance are celebrating the proscription of their publicity in the secular electronic media. Less critical followers of the miracle-monger ministers, though, are furious, and by mid-April appeared to have found support in some members of the Federal House of Representatives trying to influence its reversal.

The ban on the live relay of foreign news is a different kettle of fish. Most ordinary Nigerians commenting on the event have been against the ban. "Even under the military dictatorships of General Ibrahim Babangida and General Sani Abacha, we, the poor ones, who couldn't afford cable television were allowed these free options," a housewife in Enugu who said she used to watch a re-broadcast of the US-based Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) told New African.

Gabriel Osu, a Catholic priest and mass communications scholar who is also the director of Social Communications at the Lagos Catholic Archdiocese, captured the common liberal view when he said: "The whole scenario brings back bad memories of the Iron Curtain era of the old Soviet Union." But Silas Yisa, the head of the NBC, has defended the ban, saying it was necessary because "apart from the perspectives the foreign broadcasts convey, it is a professional aberration for a station to relay any news content over which it has no editorial control." Such broadcasts, he added, "posed a danger to national security" and warned that defaulting stations would face severe sanctions.

The ban has since stopped international stations like the BBC from broadcasting news and programmes on FM in Nigeria. BBC broadcasts had been relayed live for the past six years by local FM stations in many cities, including Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna and Port Harcourt.

But Yisa said the FM stations had been granted permission to relay the live broadcasts in breach of the provisions of the Nigerian broadcasting code. He said the code only permitted the monitoring and rewriting of foreign news or the exchange of such content after it had been "edited to suit the context of the Nigerian audience".

Yisa's view has been supported by a member of the Civil Liberties Organisation, Uche Obidike, who is a political analyst and a darling of the local media. To him, since the ban had not stopped Nigerians from listening to the BBC and the other foreign stations on shortwave or satellite television, there was nothing to fear. "I think it's only proper, because I doubt if there are any local radio stations in Britain that provide live relays of news broadcasts by Nigerian stations," Obidike added.

Although the more familiar academic or elite view is that the Western media present developing countries in unfavourable light, ironically in Nigeria (as in other African countries), the foreign media (especially radio and TV) enjoy enthusiastic patronage because they are able to report the excesses of governments and officialdom, usually with impunity, something the local media find it difficult to do in some African countries.

In Nigeria, because of the overbearing attitude of government officials, it is risky for the local media (especially radio and TV) to attempt such critical coverage. One journalist with more than 30 years experience was recently fired and ejected from his official residence after he broadcast the view of an important opponent of the government. He now lives in a derelict, disused warehouse in an Enugu suburb where he asked New African not to disclose his identity for fear of further harassment.

All sorts of less drastic browbeating go on, making self-censorship the beginning of wisdom for those who value their jobs and skin and want to keep them.

Strangely, nothing has been said yet about the re-publication of foreign newspaper contents which is also a familiar experience in Nigeria, after it was begun by the now moribund Post Express with selected reprinting of New York Times articles. Contents of the British papers, Financial Times and The Sun have also been reprinted in some Nigerian newspapers which have special sections for such extracts.
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Title Annotation:Around Africa
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:6NIGR
Date:May 1, 2004
Words:759
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