Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 24 concerned Nigerians have filed a suit against the Federal Government and National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice in Abuja over the alleged arbitrary use of the NBC Act and broadcasting code to target, harass, sanction and fine independent television and radio stations in Nigeria, and to restrict Nigerians’ freedom of expression and access to information.
The suit is coming in the wake of the bridge [breach] letter’ by the NBC asking Channels TV to explain why it interviewed the spokesman for 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 fine imposed on Channels TV, AIT and Arise TV (N3 million each) over their coverage of the #EndSARS protests.
In the suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/19/21 the plaintiffs argued, “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 they said is a fundamental human right and cannot be denied without lawful justification.
The plaintiff also argued that the application of NBC 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.
“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,” they said.
They stated, “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 suit filed on behalf of the Plaintiff by their lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, states: “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.
“It also violates the rights of people to openly discuss issues relating to transparency and accountability in government and prevents them from accessing information on a wide range of related concerns.
“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.
“The Federal Government and NBC have routinely breached the fundamental principles of media freedom and media plurality, which are a central part of the effective exercise of freedom of expression and access to information, and thereby undermined the ability of Nigeria’s independent media houses to function effectively.”
The plaintiffs, therefore, asked 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 apply by the Federal Government and NBC to target, harass, intimidate, and impose sanctions on independent television and radio stations in the country.
They want the Court to declare 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.
They seek an order of the court to set 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.
They also seek an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendant and its agents from unlawfully imposing sanctions fines or doing anything whatsoever to harass Channels TV and any other television and radio stations in violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.
The Guardian News