London-based satellite TV station Arise News has been taken off air with journalists and media staff said to be owed £1m.
Its editor-in-chief Nduka Obaigbena last week informed staff he was assisting an inquiry being conducted by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The Arise News listing on Sky channel 519 was removed this week and viewers attempting to tune in were informed "channel unavailable".
At the Arise News studio on the twelfth floor of New Zealand House overlooking Trafalgar Square, a skeleton team of journalists failed in their attempts to restore news programmes after the video plug was pulled last week first by a London satellite communications company over unpaid bills, and finally this week by Sky.
Since last week viewers trying to tune in had been informed: "Normal service will resume as soon as possible."
Arise News says it employs “a diverse team of 500 world class journalists and broadcasters” at other studios including Lagos, Johannesburg and New York.
But it is now estimated to owe £3m to various creditors.
Ofcom, the broadcast regulator, confirmed that Arise Broadcasting Ltd, holding three licences, had breached its Code of Conduct by not paying annual fees on time.
A spokesman explained: “The licensee is on notice that the breaches are being considered for the imposition of a statutory sanction."
A number of British staff, supported by the two media unions, the National Union of Journalists and BECTU, are taking the Arise chief executive and editor-in-chief to court.
Tom Bell, a senior BECTU official, said: “The union is continuing to vigorously pursue claims for over £800,000 on behalf of more than 60 members over unpaid wages.
"This is the most shocking and difficult case in my 25 years’ experience. There’s a real fear that Arise may be forced into liquidation and that the many British journalists and broadcasters involved will not receive a penny of the money that’s owed to them.”
The decision last week to try to keep Arise News on air by recruiting a hand-picked team of less than 20, many of them freelancers, to produce limited programming further incensed loyal staff. The selected few had each been paid £250 per day while the majority of their colleagues were left out in the cold and unpaid since August last year.
One Arise journalist, speaking anonymously in fear of losing thousands owed, said : “There’s much disillusion, bitterness and anger now between freelance journalists who had been selected in the skeleton team an
the majority of long-term staff who were excluded and who have still not received any money at all.
“There have been many tears in the newsroom with journalists’ families facing severe financial hardship and unable to pay mortgages, school fees and household bills.
"We feel bullied and threatened that if we quit or take legal action we’ll get nothing. We stayed on in the forlorn hope our money will perhaps come through, but our debts are continuing to pile up.”
Obaigbena promised a week ago in a message to all staff that they would be fully paid by last weekend. But that promise has not been met.
Two leading British television companies have been supplying presenters, reporters, directors, producers and technical and studio staff since the Arise launch on 4 February 2013. They are reportedly each owed in excess of £500,000.
And Reuters, the principal provider of daily global newsfeeds, is seeking a winding up petition in the High Court involving £620,000 of unpaid accounts.