Court Voids NBC’s Powers To Impose Fines

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A Federal High Court in Abuja has declared null and void the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code authorising the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to impose fines on broadcast stations for alleged breaches.
Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia on Wednesday ruled that the NBC, not being a court of law, acted above its powers by imposing such fines.
The judge further ruled that administrative and regulatory bodies could not exercise judicial powers.
The judgement followed a suit by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against NBC for imposing a N5m fine each on a television station and three pay-TV platforms in 2022 for allegedly undermining Nigeria’s national security by broadcasting documentaries on banditry in Nigeria.
The judge commended MRA for its legal challenge of 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 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 documentaries about the state of banditry 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 others, that NBC’s action of imposing fines on each of the media platforms and the station for broadcasting a documentary about the state of banditry and security in Zamfara State as unlawful and unconstitutional and with a chilling effect on the freedom of media to impart information and ideas.
MRA contended that it would deter the platforms and stations from reporting the true state of affairs regarding the security situation in Nigeria, and therefore constituted a violation of the rights of MRA, its members and other citizens of Nigeria to freedom of expression, particularly their right 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 was 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 was the drafter of the code, which provided for the alleged offences for which the media platforms and the station were punished, and which empowered the NBC to receive complaints, investigate and adjudicate on the complaints, impose fines and collect fines.
Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia, however, refused to grant the organisation’s claim of N700,000 as costs it incurred in litigating the action; another claim for N2m as general damages for NBC’s infringement on its rights, as well as a request for N1m as punitive damages for the commission’s “outrageous conduct in abusing its powers and arbitrarily imposing fines on broadcasting stations.”

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