NBC to appeal court ruling that stopped imposition of fines on media houses

THE National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has said it will challenge a court order which restrained it from imposing fines on broadcast stations.

A Federal High Court in Abuja, on May 10, barred the NBC from issuing fines to broadcast stations nationwide.

The presiding judge, Justice James Omotosho, in his ruling declared that NBC does not have judicial powers to impose penalties on broadcast stations.

The judge also set aside the N500,000 fine imposed on 45 broadcast stations on March 1, 2019 on the grounds that NBC, not being a court of law, lacked such power.

According to the judge, 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 ICIR had earlier reported how the Incorporated Trustees of Media Rights Agenda took legal action against the NBC in 2020.

In 2019, NBC issued fines of N500,000 each to 45 broadcast stations, citing alleged ethical infractions during the general elections.

The Commission explained that the sanctions were necessary due to the stations allowing politicians to make abusive, inciting, and provocative statements on their broadcast programs.

In response, Media Rights filed a lawsuit, urging the court to declare the fine imposition procedure employed by the NBC as a violation of the right to 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.

Justice Omotosho, while ruling on the matter, said the Commission acted as the complainant, court and judge when it considered the alleged infractions, noting that the Nigerian Broadcasting Code did not confer judicial powers on NBC to impose criminal sanctions or penalties.

Meanwhile, reacting to the development 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 was in conflict with previous judgment of a court which empowered the Commission to regulate broadcasting in Nigeria. 

Ilelah said the Commission had applied for a Certified copy of the judgment.

“The attention of the National Broadcasting Commission has been drawn to a ruling by the Federal High Court, Abuja nullifying the powers of the Commission to impose fines on broadcast Stations that violate the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

“In view of the foregoing, the Commission has applied for a Certified copy of the judgment.

“It is global best practice and the ethics of the leggal profession, that no party to a suit can freely comment on a judgment it has not seen and read.

“The Commission will appeal against the judgment when found to be in conflict with previous judgments of the Court, which empowers the Commission to regulate broadcasting in Nigeria,” parts of the statement issued by the NBC DG read.

Also reacting to the development, the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, through it legal department, described the judgment of the Federal High Court as “ill-conceived and dead on arrival because of legal encumbrances”.

The Director, Legal Department, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Nelson Orji, reacted to the court order in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

He said that another Abuja Federal High Court had earlier given a contrary ruling that the NBC had the power to impose sanctions on erring stations.

According to him, Justice N. E. Maha in April 2022 had ruled in a case brought against NBC by seven organisations led by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

In a Certified True Copy of the April 2022 judgment made available to NAN, Justice Maha had interpreted the provision of Section 2(1)(n) of the NBC Act, 1992.

The provision states, “The Commission shall have the responsibility of determining and applying sanctions including revocation of licences of defaulting stations which do not operate in accordance with the broadcast code and in public interest.”

Relying on the provision, Justice Maha ruled: “The law is settled that a regulator imposing fines under its enabling law in the discharge of its functions could not have acted unconstitutionally.

“In Moses Ediru v Federal Road Safety Commission and 20 ors(supra) the court held that the FRSC Act gives the Commission the right to impose and enforce sanctions and such right does not derogate from the judicial powers of the court as provided in the Constitution.

“In essence, there is no confluence point where the powers of FRSC and that of the court meet. In that Moses Ediru case, the court further observed that FRSC and the court are mutually exclusive such that the FRSC powers of enforcement of sanctions is not an usurpation of the judicial powers of the court.”

Speaking further on the two cases, Orji said the NBC can decide which of the conflicting decisions of the same court of coordinate jurisdiction to obey.

 “Where there is conflicting decision of courts of coordinate jurisdiction a party can choose which of them to obey and it will not be held in contempt of any court.

“It is worthy of note that the judgment of Justice Maha is first in time and still subsisting as it has not been set aside by any appellate court.

“In this light, NBC is still well within its right to continue to impose sanctions on broadcast organisations which run fowl of the NBC code.”






     

     

    Orji also noted that the case against the 45 erring stations were strict liability offences and they had all complied by paying their fines.

    He argued that if the judgment was allowed to stand it would mean that government agencies such as the NBC, FRSC, and Quarantine Services, would be rendered redundant.

    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 lack the power to impose fines on broadcast stations.

    Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: [email protected]. He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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