Nigeria’s National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and its acting director-general are being sued along with information and culture minister Lai Mohammed over fines the commission imposed on three TV broadcasters last week.
The lawsuit has been initiated by the Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP), along with 261 groups and individuals, over the N9m (US$23,600) fines imposed by the NBC, which is led by acting director-general Armstrong Idachaba.
The fines were imposed on Channels TV, AIT and Arise TV for allegedly using unverifiable video footage from social media to cover the End SARS protests that recently took place in Nigeria.
In the suit, which is before the Federal High Court in Abuja, the SERAP-backed group has urged the court to declare that the fines are arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional and should not be enforced by the NBC.
The group consists of co-plaintiffs including Premium Times Services, the Centre for Journalism Innovation & Development, the HEDA Resource Centre, the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy and Media Rights Agenda.
They claim the fines were imposed without fair hearing and are in breach of the broadcasters’ constitutional rights.
“The NBC, being a regulatory body, is not empowered by law to act as the prosecutor and the judge all at the same time,” said a statement from SERAP.
“We humbly urge the court to set aside the unlawful and unconstitutional fines imposed on independent media houses, and to uphold the sanctity of the Nigerian Constitution, Nigerians’ human rights, media freedom and the rule of law.”
The plaintiffs are seeking “an order setting aside the arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional fines of N9m and any other penal sanction unilaterally imposed by the NBC and Mohammed on Channels TV, AIT and Arise TV, and on any other radio/television station simply for carrying out their professional and constitutional duties.”
They also argue that the NBC Act and the Broadcasting Code are oppressive and inconsistent with the constitution and international obligations, which guarantee freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom.
“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 group also asked the court to nullify the N5m and other penal sanctions unilaterally imposed on 99.3 FM Lagos for discharging its duties.