Court Nullifies NBC’s Power To Impose Fine On Media Houses

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The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has nullified the National Broadcasting Commission’s (NBC) power to impose fines on media houses for alleged breaches of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, the presiding judge of the court, recently delivered the judgement in a suit instituted by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against NBC following the Commission’s imposition of fines of N5 million each on a television station and three pay-TV platforms in 2022 for allegedly undermining Nigeria’s national security by broadcasting documentaries on banditry.

She stated that administrative and regulatory bodies could not exert judicial powers. In her ruling, Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia held that the NBC not being a court of law, acted above its powers by imposing such fines.

Also, the judge issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining NBC or anyone acting on its behalf from further imposing any fine on any media platform or broadcast station in Nigeria for any alleged offence committed under the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

Consequently, Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia set aside the fines imposed by NBC on August 3, 2022, on Multichoice Nigeria Limited, owners of DSTV; TelCom Satellite Limited (TSTV); Trust-TV Network Limited; and NTA Startimes Limited for broadcasting a documentary about the state of banditry and security in Zamfara State.

The judge said that “the regulator’s (NBC) action was wrong and unjustifiable in a democratic society.”

While Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia agreed with all MRA’s arguments and granted all the declarations and injunction sought by the organization, she however, refused to grant the organization’s claim for N700,000 as costs it incurred in litigating the action.

In addition, the judge did not grant another of MRA’s claims for N2 million as general damages for NBC’s infringement on its rights as well as a request for N1 million as punitive damages for the Commission’s “outrageous conduct in abusing its powers and arbitrarily imposing fines on broadcasting stations.”

Mr. Uche Amulu, an Abuja-based human rights lawyer, filed the suit on behalf of MRA asking the court to hold, among other things, NBC’s action of imposing a fine on each of the media platforms and the station for broadcasting a documentary about the state of banditry and security in Zamfara State.

Amulu argued that the imposition of fines on the media houses by NBC was unlawful and unconstitutional and could negatively impact the freedom of media to impart information and ideas, particularly as regards reporting the true state of affairs regarding the security situation in Nigeria.

His argument further pointed out that the imposition of the fines on the affected media houses constituted a violation of the rights of MRA, its members, and other citizens of Nigeria to freedom of expression, particularly their rights to receive ideas and information without interference, as guaranteed by the Constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

Furthermore, the suit argued that NBC’s imposition of fines was a flagrant violation of the rules of natural justice and the right to a fair hearing under Section 36 of the Constitution and Article 7 of the African Charter.

The suit further contended that NBC had no power or competence to impose fines on broadcast stations as punishment or penalties for the commission of an offence as the competence to establish that an offence has been committed and to impose criminal sanctions or penalties belongs to the courts.

MRA also urged the Court to declare that the Nigeria Broadcasting Code issued by the NBC cannot confer judicial powers or jurisdiction in criminal matters on the Commission to impose criminal sanctions or penalties such as fines, particularly as the Code was made by the NBC itself.

The suit also requested the Court to declare the fines unconstitutional, ultra vires, null and void, set them aside and issue an order of perpetual injunction restraining the NBC, its servants, agents, privies, representatives or anyone acting for or on its behalf, from further imposing any fine on any of the media platforms or station, or any other broadcast station in Nigeria for any alleged offence committed under the Nigeria Broadcasting Code

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