…Warns Broadcasters to Desist from Giving Voice to Terrorist Organisations …As SERAP Takes Case to ECOWAS Court Asking it to Declare Action Illegal …Fine is Arbitrary, Highly Punitive, Unacceptable…Arogundade In spite of the cold embrace that greeted its earlier hammer on Channels TV for granting interview to the spokesperson of the proscribed Indigenous Peoples of
…Warns Broadcasters to Desist from Giving Voice to Terrorist Organisations
…As SERAP Takes Case to ECOWAS Court Asking it to Declare Action Illegal
…Fine is Arbitrary, Highly Punitive, Unacceptable…Arogundade
In spite of the cold embrace that greeted its earlier hammer on Channels TV for granting interview to the spokesperson of the proscribed Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, Mr Emma Powerful, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has finally asked the TV station to pay a fine of N5 million for breaching the broadcasting code. Also fined N5 million alongside Channels TV is Inspiration FM Lagos.
This action is coming amidst the move by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), and 24 concerned Nigerians that have sued the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and the NBC, at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja over “arbitrary” use of the NBC Act and broadcasting code.
The Commission had last week queried Channels Television after Mr Powerful, was interviewed on its live programme, ‘‘Politics Today’’, on Monday, April 26th. Following the news of its action, NBC faced widespread condemnation by many Nigerians who viewed the alleged suspension of Channels TV by NBC as an abridgement on media freedom and independence.
In the letter addressed to Channels TV managing director on Monday, the NBC accused the station of promoting content liable to incite hatred and sectionalism by tolerating the IPOB spokesman’s “derogatory, false and misleading statements” which is in violation of Sections 3.11.1(b) and 5.4.3 of broadcasting Act.
But on Tuesday, April 27th, NBC denied suspending the TV station, claiming that it only warned it and did not suspend the station’s operations over the broadcast of an interview with a leader of an outlawed group, IPOB. NBC, however, said the TV station apologised for breaching the code. Similarly, Inspiration FM Lagos reportedly aired a broadcast of IPOB wherein it made “secessionist claims”.
In a statement on Thursday, NBC acting Director-General, Mr Armstrong Idachaba, said the sections of the code breached by the stations are “class A” offences which attract the “immediate order of suspension of broadcast services; suspension of licence and immediate shut down”.
“Section 3.11.1(b), the broadcaster shall ensure that no programme contains anything which amounts to subversion of constituted authority or compromises the unity of corporate existence of Nigeria as a sovereign state,” NAN quoted Idachaba as saying.
“(In) 15.5.1: the following penalties shall apply in respect of a breach committed by the broadcaster: light, N200,000 to N500,000; heavy, N500,000 to N4,999,000; severe, N5,000,000.”
According to Idachaba, NBC reviewed the appeals of both stations and decided to set aside the option of suspension of license. “The NBC has reviewed the appeals and apologies from both stations, and has decided to set aside the option of suspension of license,” he said.
“The Commission has, however, directed both stations to pay N5 million penalty each to serve as a deterrent.” The NBC boss, however, warned broadcasters to desist from endangering the security of the nation by giving voice to “terrorist organisations”.
Executive Director, International Press Centre (IPC), Mr Lanre Arogundade, says, “The fine is arbitrary, highly punitive and unacceptable. It reinforces our position that NBC keeps violating the basic tenets of fair hearing and justice by continuously being the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge in its case against broadcast stations.”
“This act is particularly in bad taste as Channels alleged offence was the interview it conducted with IPOB spokesperson. Yet the military recognised the same IPOB by stating that its officers invaded its operational headquarters and killed a commander and six others,” he quips.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, and 24 concerned Nigerians have sued the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and NBC, at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja over “arbitrary” use of the NBC Act and broadcasting code.
In the suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/19/21 and filed last week by SERAP Deputy Director, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare and Mr Opeyemi Owolabi, contended that the code was enacted to target, harass, sanction, and fine independent television and radio stations in Nigeria, and to restrict Nigerians’ freedom of expression and access to information.”
Therefore, “SERAP is asking the ECOWAS Court to declare illegal and contrary to Nigeria’s international human rights obligations the provisions of the NBC Act and broadcasting code frequently applied by the Federal Government and NBC to target, harass, intimidate, and impose sanctions on independent television and radio stations in the country.”
The suit came in the wake of the “‘bridge [breach] letter’ by the NBC asking Channels TV to explain why it interviewed the spokesman of a proscribed organisation; the ban on Jay FM 101.9 Jos for playing songs such as Falz’s ‘This is Nigeria’, Wande Coal’s ‘Iskaba’ and Olamide’s ‘See Mary, See Jesus’; and the N9m fines imposed on Channels TV, AIT and Arise TV [N3m each] over their coverage of the #EndSARS protests,” Oluwadare stated.
In the suit, the Plaintiffs are arguing that, “The rights to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom allow Nigerians to seek and attain truth, which is an inherently good activity. These rights also allow Nigerians to participate in representative governance, social and political decision-making, which the Federal Government and NBC are obligated to foster and encourage.
According to the Plaintiffs, “Attempts to justify restrictions on these fundamental rights and freedom on the overly vague grounds of incitement, morality and subversion of the constituted authority contradict the principles of the universality of human rights. Freedom of Expression is a fundamental human right and cannot be denied without lawful justification.
The Plaintiffs are also arguing that, “the application of the Nigerian Broadcasting Act 1992 and broadcasting code to sanction independent television and radio stations is arbitrary, and has created an environment in which independent media houses are censored, or resort to self-censorship.
The Plaintiffs stated that, “Despite the Freedom of Information Act in Nigeria which guarantees the right to access public records, the Federal Government and its agents and several states of Nigeria have routinely refused to release information sought.
The Plaintiffs are also arguing that, “A lot of Nigerians at home and abroad rely on independent television and radio stations including online on their coverage of topical issues of public interest to access impartial, objective and critical information about ideas and views on how the Federal Government and its agents are performing their constitutional and international human rights obligations.
“The low level of political tolerance for views perceived to be critical of government or offensive means that the press continues to be subject of scare tactics, harassment and intimidation.
“Censorship restricts the flow of information from the Federal Government and its agents about issues of public interest, preventing people from accessing critical information, expressing themselves, and denying them opportunities to assert other fundamental human rights.
“The Federal Government and NBC should be stopped from using the broadcasting code or any other regulations and/or law to erode the sacred rights to freedom of expression, information and media freedom, which is the bedrock of the rule of law and sustainable democracy, as the Federal Government and NBC have violated the right of Nigerians to objective and impartial news coverage and reportage.”
The Plaintiffs are therefore asking the ECOWAS Court of Justice for the following reliefs:
“A declaration that the application of the provisions of the National Broadcasting Commission Act 1992 and the Nigeria Broadcasting Code by the Defendant and its agent to impose sanctions and penalties on independent television and radio stations is inconsistent and incompatible with the right to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom guaranteed under Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“An order setting aside the sum of N5 million or any other form of penal sanction unilaterally imposed by the Defendant and its agent on Channels TV and/or on any such other television and radio stations.
“An order directing the Defendant and its agents to immediately repeal and/or amend the National Broadcasting Commission Act and the Nigerian Broadcasting Code and bring them into conformity with Nigeria’s international human rights obligations,” among others. Meanwhile, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.