Groups Sue NBC, Information Minister over Fines on TV Stations

Groups Sue NBC, Information Minister over Fines on TV Stations

…Say Fines Imposed by Regulatory Organisations Are Illegal, Offends Natural Justice The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), along with 261 groups and individuals, have sued the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, over the N9 million fine slammed on three television stations in the country. The plaintiffs

…Say Fines Imposed by Regulatory Organisations Are Illegal, Offends Natural Justice

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), along with 261 groups and individuals, have sued the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, over the N9 million fine slammed on three television stations in the country.

The plaintiffs also seek an order setting aside the N5 million fine and any other sanction imposed by the NBC on Nigeria Info 99.3 FM, Lagos, for carrying out its professional and constitutional duties.

In the suit filed on Friday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, the plaintiffs are asking the court to declare the fines imposed on Channels, AIT and Arise TV over their coverage of the #EndSARS protests illegal, and to stop the NBC from collecting the money.

The co-plaintiffs in the suit are Premium Times Services Limited, Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development, HEDA Resource Centre, International Centre for Investigative Reporting, African Centre for Media and Information Literacy, Media Rights Agenda and other 255 Nigerians.

The acting Director-General of the NBC, Prof Armstrong Idachaba, who is joined in the suit as a defendant, had last week imposed fines of N3 million each on Channels, AIT, and Arise TV for ‘unprofessional’ coverage of the protests across the country.

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1436/2020, the plaintiffs seek: “An order setting aside the arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional fines of N9 million and any other penal sanction unilaterally imposed by the NBC and Mohammed on Channels, AIT and Arise, and on any other radio/television station simply for carrying out their professional and constitutional duties.”

According to the plaintiffs, Section (2)(n) of the NBC Act and the Broadcasting Code are oppressive, and clearly inconsistent with the constitution and international obligations.

“If the NBC and Mr. Lai Mohammed are allowed to continue to use these oppressive provisions against independent media in the guise of performing their statutory duties, the result will be authoritarianism and denial of freedom and liberty,” they stated.

The suit filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by their lawyers, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare, Mr Adelanke Aremo and Mr Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “A fine is a criminal sanction and only the court is empowered by the constitution to impose it. Fine imposed by regulatory agencies like the NBC without recourse to the courts is illegal and offends the sacred principles of natural justice and fairness.

“It is the duty of government to allow the legal and judicial powers of the state to function properly. Imposing any fine whatsoever without due process of law is arbitrary, as it contravenes the principles of nemo judex in causa sua (one cannot be a judge in his own cause) and audi alteram partem (no one should be condemned unheard).

In what looks like a counter action, a pro-government group, the Coalition of Civil Societies for Police Reform and National Unity, has equally threatened to take legal action against the three TV stations if the NBC fails to revoke their licenses within 21 days.

National Coordinator of the group, Mr Mike Ekamon, issued the threat at a news conference on Tuesday in Abuja.

Ekamon alleged that the unprofessional coverage of the #ENDSARS protest by Arise News, AIT, and Channels TV incensed the public and contributed to the destruction of critical national and private assets, worth trillions of Naira.

He said: “This Coalition will sue the stations concerned for purveying fake news during the recent nationwide #ENDSARS protest against police brutality in the country.”

He further stated that the three broadcast stations ran afoul of section 5.4.1 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code which deals with the coverage of crisis, emergencies and protests.

“This sections stipulates that the broadcaster shall present news and commentary on a crisis, emergency and protest in accordance with the professional standards.

“And must at all times ensure that the coverage of a disaster, crisis, emergency, protest is aimed at the overall public interest, safety, guidance.

“And must provide authentic information, not broadcast morbid or graphic details of death, injury, pain, protest or agony and when necessary with due caution, not transmit divisive materials that may threaten or compromise the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria as a sovereign state.”

The section also stipulates that a disaster and protest should not be reported in such a manner that ”violates or impedes national security.”

Ekamon maintained that in reporting protests, the broadcaster should perform the role of a peace agent by adhering to the principle of accuracy and neutrality.

He also stated that the three broadcast stations violated the Nigerian Broadcasting Code by broadcasting footages on the Lekki shooting by soldiers from unverified and unauthenticated social media sources.

“This escalated the protest that engulfed Nigeria and gave the platform to hoodlums and other undesirable elements to wreck public peace and property,” he said.

The NBC has insisted that there is no going back on the sanctions it placed on three television stations over their coverage of the EndSARS protests.

This was disclosed by the Director-General of the NBC, Professor Armstrong Idachaba, during a visit to his office by members of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR).

Idachaba further stated that the NBC, on noticing the deviation and breach of the Broadcasting Code by the stations, had issued a statement and a memo to them, and also met with the executive officers of the stations to bring them in line. However, they continued in their irresponsible coverage of the protests.

 

 

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