You don’t have power to impose fine on Broadcaste, Court tells NBC

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By Ayinde Muhammed

A Federal High Court in Abuja has declared that the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC) does not have the power to impose fines on broadcast stations for breaches of the Broadcasting code.

The judgement was on a suit instituted by Media Right Agenda (MRA) against the 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 banditary in Nigeria.

Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of the Nigerian High Court ruled that administrative and regulatory bodies could not exercise judicial powers.

He held that the NBC which is not a court of law, acted above it’s powers by imposing such fines.

The judge commended MRA for its legal challenge of the NBC’s action and issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Commission 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.

Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia set aside the fines imposed by the NBC on August 3, 2022 on Multichoice Nigeria Limited, owners of DSTV; TelCom Satellite Limited (TSTV); Trust-TV Network Limited; and NTW Startimes Limited for broadcasting a documentary about the state of banditary and security in Zamfara State, saying the regulator’s action was wrong and unjustifiable in a democratic society.

Abuja-based human rights lawyer, Uche Amulu, filed the suit on behalf of MRA, asking the court to hold, among other things, the 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 is unlawful and unconstitutional and has a chilling effect on the freedom of media to impart information and ideas.

MRA contended that it would deter the platforms and station from reporting the true state of affairs regarding the security situation in Nigeria, and therefore constitutes 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.

MRA also sought a declaration that the procedure adopted by the NBC in imposing the fines is a flagrant violation of the rules of natural justice and the right to fair hearing under Section 36 of the Constitution and Article 7 of the African Charter as the Commission is the drafter of the Code, which provides for the alleged offences for which the media platforms and the station were punished, and which empowers the NBC to receive complaints, investigate and adjudicate on the complaints, impose fines and collect fines.

In her judgment, Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia agreed with all MRA’s arguments and granted all the prayers of the organisation. She, however, refused to grant the organisation’s claim for N700,000 as costs it incurred in litigating the action; another claim 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”.

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