NBC moves to overturn judgment stopping fines on radio, TV stations

THE National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has filed a motion at a Federal High Court in Abuja to set aside a judgment which stopped it from imposing fines on broadcast stations.

In the motion filed by its counsel, Babatunde Ogala, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), the Commission is seeking to set aside the judgment, claiming that the court lacked the jurisdiction to render the verdict and that it arrived at a decision in ignorance of relevant facts.

The ICIR reported that a Federal High Court in Abuja, on May 10, stopped NBC from issuing fines to broadcast stations nationwide.

Following a March 1, 2019 announcement by the then-Director General of the Commission, Ishaq Kawu, that the Commission had imposed a fine of N500,000 each on 45 broadcast stations for alleged contraventions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, an Abuja-based lawyer Noah Ajare filed the lawsuit on behalf of Media Rights Agenda (MRA), challenging the NBC’s authority to fine broadcast stations.

The presiding judge, James Omotosho, in his judgment, declared that the NBC does not have judicial powers to impose penalties.

The judge held that the NBC Code, which gives the Commission the power to impose sanctions, conflicts with Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution, which vested the authority in the law courts.

The judge also set aside fines imposed on 45 broadcast stations by NBC.

But contrary to the finding of the judge in his judgment that the NBC “was served with the Originating Summons on 24th February, 2022 and served with several hearing notices but failed to file any process”, the Commission is alleging that the originating summons in the suit, which led to the judgment, was not served on it.

It is also claiming that MRA “has two un-appealed, subsisting and binding decisions of the Federal High Court on the same issues and parties” and that rather than appeal those decisions, it brought a fresh suit, setting the court on a collision course with judgments of the other Federal High Court in the same complex.

The NBC cited a lawsuit brought by MRA in 2021, in which the organisation contested the constitutionality and legality of the Commission’s action on May 27, 2020, in fining Breeze FM radio, based in Lafia, Nazarawa State; Adaba FM radio, in Akure, Ondo State; and Albarka FM radio, in Ilorin, Kwara State, N250,000, N500,000, and N250,000, respectively. The presiding judge, Obiora Atuegwu Egwuatu, ruled against the lawsuit on March 2, 2023.

The Commission noted that a similar lawsuit was brought by seven groups, including the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), MRA, HEDA Resource Centre, the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), and Premium Times.

In that lawsuit, the seven organisations contested the NBC’s decision to fine Channels Television, Arise Television, and Africa Independent Television (AIT) each N3 million for covering the #EndSARS protests, as well as the NBC’s decision to fine Nigeria Info 99.3 N5 million, without giving the stations a chance to refute any of the accusations made against them. According to NBC, the presiding judge, Nkeonye Maha, dismissed the suit on April 26, 2022.

The NBC is claiming that these suits and their outcome were not brought to the attention of the court and that if the court had been aware of them, it would have reached a different decision in its May 10 judgment.

The suit filed by the NBC to set aside the order stopping it from fining broadcast stations has been fixed for hearing on October 5.

In 2019, NBC fined 45 broadcast stations the sum of N500,000 each over alleged ethical infractions in the year’s general elections. The Commission said the stations had to be sanctioned for allowing politicians to utter abusive, inciting and provocative statements during broadcast programmes.

Displeased, the Media Rights Agenda (MRA), a non-governmental organisation, filed a suit against NBC in 2020.

The group asked the Court to declare the sanctions procedure applied by NBC in imposing the fine on the broadcast stations a violation of the right to a fair hearing under Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Articles 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap AQ) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

Ruling on the N500,0000 fine, the presiding judge, Omotosho, said the Commission acted as the complainant, court and judge when it acted on the alleged infractions.

The judge noted that the Nigerian Broadcasting Code cannot confer judicial powers on NBC to impose criminal sanctions or penalties.

He pointed out that NBC has no power to conduct a criminal investigation that would lead to a criminal trial and imposition of sanctions.

“This will go against the doctrine of separation of powers. The action of the respondent qualifies as excessiveness as it had ascribed to itself the judicial and executive powers,” he said. 

The ICIR reported in May that the NBC said it would challenge the court order, which restrained it from imposing fines on broadcast stations.






     

     

    Reacting to the judgement in a statement dated May 11, the Director General of the NBC, Balarabe Shehu llelah, said the Commission would appeal against the judgment.

    He noted that the court order conflicted with the previous judgment of a court which empowered the Commission to regulate broadcasting in Nigeria. 

    Some lawyers who spoke to The ICIR after the Abuja Federal High Court barred the NBC from imposing fines on radio and television stations said media houses sanctioned by the Commission in the past can go to court to seek a refund.

    The lawyers insisted that the NBC lacked the power to impose fines on broadcast stations.

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