I was highly disappointed the first time I entered what was considered as the standard size of a studio in a radio station. I was expecting something big with a lot of electronic accoutrements. Instead, here was this six by six cubicle with a microphone sitting on a round table.
The other visible instrument was what looked like an amplifier which whoever sat behind the microphone was supposed to manipulate.
It is, therefore, easy for anyone who finds himself in such a cubicle and with no one in sight to spew out anything. What that presenter may lose sight of is the fact that whatever he/she says is receiving the attention of millions of listeners all over the world.
And so it came to pass that a radio presenter called Blakk Rasta (real name Abubakar Ahmed), found himself in a studio and made a reckless statement which had a smear on Members of our Parliament.
The man has apologised for those unsavoury remarks with the explanation that the words came out of his mouth when he was on intense heat.
What is of greater significance to this country is not the appearance of Blakk Rasta before the Privileges Committee of Parliament. Blakk Rasta has come to represent a new phenomenon called radio presenters who are testing what they deem the limitless frontiers of freedom of expression. They are joined in this exercise by devout collaborators collectively known as serial callers who exercise their right to talk in a very vicious and careless manner.
In the past when we had only GBC 1, GBC 2 and GBC 3 or External Service, you do not just enter the studio because you have the ability to speak any language and hear your own voice. You are groomed and taught how to be civil and courteous to your listening public. That did not take away your right to say the truth no matter how unpleasant it might be. Even the truth must be told in a language that does not sting or stink.
Today, one of the benefits of our democracy being sustained by the 1992 Constitution is a liberalised media environment characterised by a multiplicity of radio stations. Some of these are stations owned by people with the resources and connections but who lack the expertise. Their prime motive is to make money. They, therefore, engage people whose only qualification is that they can talk; the substance of what they say is of very little significance once the cash is flowing.
Unfortunately, it appears the National Communications Authority (NCA), which allocates the radio frequencies, has very little to do with how the radio stations are operated in terms of professional expertise, language, decorum, objectivity and all that. It is a sellers’ market and we the customers must take it as it is.
The unprofessional behaviour of some of our radio presenters and their external collaborators has become a national canker that must be addressed not by appearing before the Privileges Committee of Parliament.
In other words, parliament should not only show concern when they are, in one way or the other, affected by irresponsible statements on the radio stations. Parliament is the house of representatives of the people so if members find comments from the studios very repugnant and oppressive, they should remember that members of the public are equally affected.
That means there should be a common effort to check recklessness and abuse of the right to free expression without undermining the beauty of free expression.
It will not be fair for parliament which, as stated earlier, is the house of representatives to turn itself into a monster that must be feared and which only acts on its own interests.
Some of us think it is not fair for the National Media Commission (NMC) to be called upon to restrict bad media practice when it has no control over who operates radio stations. It is, therefore, a rational argument that the legal status of the NMC should be expanded to allow it to take over the job of the NCA. That will guarantee that radio stations do not only operate as commercial or technical entities but also professional institutions.
With the near collapse of the print media worldwide and for technical and financial reasons, radio stations will continue to assume greater roles in information dissemination especially in our part of the world.
This potent tool that could build or destroy should, therefore, not be left in the hands of those who only care for money but very little for the peace and stability of the nation. By all means we should not mortgage our freedom of speech so long as we exercise it responsibly.