SERAP and CJID contest the imposition of fines on the media
By Adedapo Adesanya
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) said on Sunday it had filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari for fining media outlets for allegedly glorifying terrorism.
SERAP also wants the court to “declare arbitrary and unlawful the N5 million imposed on Trust TV, Multichoice Nigeria Limited, NTA-Startimes Limited and TelcCom Satellite Limited, for their documentaries on terrorism in the country.”
The lawsuit, which was co-filed by the Center for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), includes Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) as defendants.
Business post had reported how NBC imposed media fines including Trust TV on the grounds that their documentaries glorified the activities of bandits and undermined national security, an act which contravenes the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
However, the groups in lawsuit number FHC/L/CS/1486/2022 filed last Friday in the Federal High Court in Lagos, SERAP and CJID seek: “an order quashing the arbitrary and unlawful fines of 5 million naira and any other penalties criminal sanction unilaterally imposed by NBC on these media simply for fulfilling their constitutional duties.
“NBC and Mr. Lai Mohammed have failed to demonstrate that the media house documentaries would impose a specific risk of harm to a legitimate state interest that overrides the public interest in the information provided by the documentaries. “, said the deputy director of SERAP. , Kolawole Oluwadare, partially read.
“The documentaries of these independent media do not present any risk to a certain interest for national security or public order.”
The plaintiffs said that “this is inconsistent and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended] to invoke the motives of “glorification of terrorism and banditry” to justify the suppression of access to information of legitimate public interest which does not harm national security. »
He argued that independent media houses’ documentaries are in the public interest and that punishing media houses simply for raising public awareness of these issues would have a disproportionate and chilling effect on their work and the work of other journalists. and Nigerians.
“The action of NBC and Mr. Lai Mohammed is arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional as it is contrary to Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution and international human rights treaties including the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Nigeria has ratified.”
The complaint filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by their lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Ms Adelanke Aremo reads, inter alia, as follows: “A fine is a criminal sanction and only the court is empowered by the Constitution to impose it. A fine imposed by regulators like NBC without recourse to the courts is unfair, illegal and unconstitutional. »
“The grounds for ‘glorifying terrorism and banditry’ used as the basis for sanctioning the media are totally contrary to constitutional and international standards on freedom of expression and access to information.”
“Imposing any fine without due process is arbitrary because it contravenes the principles of Nemo judex in causa sua which literally means one cannot be a judge in one’s own cause and audi alteram partem which means that no one should be condemned without being heard.”
“Article 19 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights establishes the right to freedom of opinion without interference. Article 19(2) establishes Nigeria’s obligations to respect “the right to freedom of expression”, which includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information, regardless of frontiers.
“Under Article 19(3), restrictions on the right to freedom of expression must be ‘prescribed by law’ and necessary ‘for the respect of the rights or reputation of others’ or ‘for the protection of national security or public order (ordre public), or public health and morals'”
“Although article 19(3) recognizes ‘national security’ as a legitimate objective, the Human Rights Council, the body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Covenant, has underlined ‘the need to ensure that the invocation of national security is not used unjustifiably or arbitrarily restrict the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
“The grounds for imposing fines on these independent media do not meet the requirements of legality, necessity and proportionality.
“The requirement of necessity also involves an assessment of the proportionality of the motives, with the aim of ensuring that the excuse of “advocating terrorism and banditry” and “national security” is not used as pretext for unduly encroaching on the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.
Plaintiffs also seek the following remedies:
A statement that the defendants’ act of imposing a fine of five million naira each on the independent media is unlawful, inconsistent with and constitutes a violation of the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and therefore a violation of the rights to freedom of expression, access to information and freedom of the media;
A statement that the use of the Broadcasting Code by the BNC to impose sanctions on independent media for an alleged violation without recourse to court constitutes a violation of the provisions of Articles 6 & [b] and 36 the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 and Articles 1 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a State Party;
A statement that the provisions of the National Broadcasting Commission Act and the Broadcasting Code of Nigeria which are arbitrarily used by the defendants to sanction, harass, intimidate and restrict independent media are inconsistent and inconsistent with Sections 3639 and 22 of the Nigerian Constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and are null and void to the extent of their inconsistency and incompatibility;
A statement that the defendants do not have the legal power and authority to unlawfully and unilaterally impose penalties, including fines, suspension, revocation of license, or any form of penalty whatsoever, to the independent media for promoting access to diverse opinions and information on matters of public interest. importance;
A court order quashing the five million naira fine imposed by the defendants, through the 3rd defendant, each on Trust TV, Multichoice Nigeria Limited, TelCom Satellite Limited (TSTV) and NTA-Startimes Limited for broadcasting the documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation “BBC Africa Eye” titled “Bandits Warlords of Zamfara”;
An order of perpetual injunction prohibiting the defendants or any other authority, person or group of persons from unlawfully closing, imposing a fine, suspension, revocation of license or doing anything to harass and intimidate or impose criminal sanctions on independent media or any Nigerian journalists and media houses for promoting access to various information on matters of public importance;
And any other order or other order(s) that the Court sees fit to make in the circumstances
No date has been set for the hearing of the lawsuit.