• Monday, July 22, 2024
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Court nullifies NBC’s power to impose fines on broadcast stations

Court nullifies NBC’s power to impose fines on broadcast stations

The Federal High Court in Abuja on Wednesday declared null and void the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, authorising the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to impose fines on broadcast stations for alleged breaches of the Code, as it ruled that administrative and regulatory bodies could not exercise judicial powers.

The judgment was delivered by Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia in response to a suit filed by the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against NBC. The legal challenge came after the Commission imposed fines of N5 million each on a television station and three pay-TV platforms in 2022 for allegedly undermining Nigeria’s national security by broadcasting documentaries on banditry.

Ofili-Ajumogobia commended MRA for its legal challenge and issued a significant order of perpetual injunction, restraining the NBC or anyone acting on its behalf from further imposing fines on any media platform or broadcast station in Nigeria for alleged offences under the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

The judge declared that NBC, not being a court of law, exceeded its powers by imposing fines, emphasising that such actions were inappropriate in a democratic society. She specifically set aside the fines imposed by NBC on August 3, 2022, on Multichoice Nigeria Limited (DSTV), TelCom Satellite Limited (TSTV), Trust-TV Network Limited, and NTA Startimes Limited for broadcasting a documentary about the state of banditry and security in Zamfara State.

The suit was filed by Abuja-based human rights lawyer, Uche Amulu, on behalf of MRA. The court was asked to consider NBC’s actions unlawful and unconstitutional, asserting that it had a chilling effect on the freedom of media to impart information and ideas.

MRA contended that the fines would deter media platforms and stations from reporting the true state of affairs regarding the security situation in Nigeria, violating the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

Furthermore, MRA sought a declaration that the procedure adopted by NBC in imposing the fines violated the rules of natural justice and the right to a fair hearing. It argued that NBC, being the drafter of the Code, lacked the independence and impartiality required to adjudicate complaints, investigate, impose fines, and collect fines.