A friend and comrade brother, Franklyn Isong, recently expressed his displeasure and frustration with the government owned, censored and controlled Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation (AKBC), I can understand his grudge not just as a celebrated journalist but as a publisher of one of the leading newspapers in Akwa Ibom State who understands the sacred role of the media in the society as enshrined in Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
But then, his view is not novel. In an article I wrote sometime ago, I had articulated some of the things I would do if someday I get elected as governor of my state, I had said among other things, and I repeat; that I will privatise the AKBC which has become Akpabio Broadcasting Corporation.
Like other states government owned media in the country, the AKBC has become a propaganda tool of the government of the day. In terms of content, the corporation is worse than useless, it betrays the very purport of ‘Fourth Estate of the Realm’. The stations, both TV and Radio, are so insensitive and destitute that one begins to wonder if there is actually a need to have those stations.
You tune in to these stations day in, day out, all you see and hear are praises of the government. Most of the programmes are geared towards painting a decaying and terribly flawed administration as people oriented, so they air adverts of inflated projects that the government has succeeded in carrying out endlessly as if the life of the corporation depends on that. If thirty minutes passes without reference to governor Akpabio, then something is wrong.
It is so bad that the ills in the society is being concealed by the very people who by the nature of their calling are suppose to expose them. Such a tragic failure, such a shame. As it is today, only a naive person will go to AKBC with grievances against the government with the expectation that he or she will be given a platform to ventilate same. When the two stations occasionally report happenings that seem to expose the government to criticism, it is just in error. AKBC is anything but objective.
I had cause to confront some highly placed members of staff and management of the corporation with these concerns in 2011 while attending a BBC organised retreat for the media and the civil society in the state preparatory to the last general elections. They admitted my accusations but they claimed it was occasioned by job insecurity. The question then was and remains: has any staff of the corporation ever been sacked for discharging his duties professionally?
In terms of sound and visual quality, the stations is excellent. Of course, having discovered the ignoble role that both the TV and Radio components of the corporation are playing in deceiving and fooling the credulous populace, the government had to acquire sophisticated equipments and a digital transmitter for the corporation to aid them in their criminal, partisan and mendacious reportage.
This is the same corporation that banned a nationally acclaimed journalist and media consultant, Mr Michael Bush, the CEO of Bush House Nigeria, from airing his weekly programme for daring to interview the senatorial candidate of the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) during the widely rigged 2011 elections in the state. Mr Bush had to relocate to Abuja and continue his programme on Radio Nigeria having survived an attempt on his life.
I only pity people like my friend Franklyn Isong who can still take the poisonous stories, news and adverts of AKBC with equanimity. I had since lost that grace. How can these people be dissipating tax payers money on frivolous reportage of irrelevant government activities. The point should be made that this detestable state of affairs would not be possible without the imprimatur of the state governor. We need to properly situate this issue, the media in Akwa Ibom State is currently under severe attack from a government that is intolerant of the opposition and dissenting voices.
Relevant in this regard is the ongoing incarceration without fair trial of Mr Thomas Thomas, a fearless and anti-establishment editor with the very popular state-based Global Concord Newspaper, for publishing a story of an allege plan by the state governor, Godswill Akpabio, to assassinate two paramount rulers who are said to be strongly opposed to his plans to impose a successor on the people of the state in 2015. Ever since he was arrested about a month ago by the men of the State Security Service, he has neither been seen nor heard of.
The media is crucial to the survival of our nascent democracy, it is therefore imperative for us to insist on her independence. The fact that a media organization like the AKBC is funded by the government does not justify the kind of garbage that is being offered to the public by both the TV and Radio components of the corporation. Those entrusted with power must be reminded of the epochal words of Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, who said that “the greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism”. If we do not call AKBC to order, very soon, they will report how the governor went to the toilet or the manner he eats with his family. Maybe then, Akwa Ibom people will rise up and say Enough is Enough.
Inibehe Effiong is a Human Rights Activist. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org