Two rights groups have asked the Federal High Court in Abuja to quash the N3 million fine imposed by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) on each of the three television stations over their coverage of the #EndSARS protests.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) co-filed the first suit alongside 261 concerned Nigerians, civil society and media groups, while the Digital Rights Lawyers Initiative filed the other.
SERAP’s suit joined Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed and the acting Director-General of the NBC, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, as defendants.
The applicants prayed the court to declare that the N3 million fine imposed by NBC on each of Channels TV, Africa Independent Television (AIT) and Arise TV over their coverage of the #EndSARS protests was “arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional”.
They prayed for an order stopping the NBC from enforcing the fine.
They further claimed that the information minister had been making consistent efforts to gag the press from performing their watchdog role by using broadcasting codes.
The group said the imposition of the fine without giving the stations fair hearing was in breach of the constitutional rights of the media houses.
“The NBC, being a regulatory body, is not empowered by law to act as the prosecutor and the judge; all at the same time. 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,” SERAP said.
It urged the court to strike down Section 2[n] of the NBC Act and Broadcasting Code relied upon by the NBC and information minister to impose fines on the three stations.
SERAP argued that that section was inconsistent sections 22 and 39 of the Constitution which guarantee freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom.
Similarly, DRLI, in the suit filed by its lawyers, Messrs Solomon Okedara and Olumide Babalola, contended that “the sanction and fine imposed on the television stations creates a chilling effect on freedom of expression and constitutes an unjustifiable interference of its members’ right to freedom of expression particularly, their right to receive ideas and information from the sanctioned television stations.”
It further prayed the court to make a declaration that the NBC, “not being a judicial body lacks the power to impose fines on any broadcaster, including fines imposed on ARISE TV, CHANNELS TV and AIT and the imposition of such fines is null and void.”
DRLI further prayed the court to set aside the N3m fine and to award N1million damages against the NBC.
Speaking, after the suit was filed, Okedara told The Nation that the protection of the Applicant’s members’ right to receive ideas and information is not just required for their proper development in all facets of life “but it is indeed a matter of their fundamental right to freedom of expression which cannot just be toyed with by any person or entity.”