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CJID, SERAP sue NBC, Buhari over N5m fine imposed on Channels TV

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) have filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari over the N5 million fine imposed on Channels Television. 

The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, are joined in the suit. 

Last week, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) fined Channels Television over an interview with Datti Baba-Ahmed, vice-presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), saying the broadcast violated some sections of its code.

Datti had alleged that Bola Tinubu did not meet the constitutional requirements to be sworn in as Nigeria’s president.

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In the suit marked FHC/L/CS/616/2023 and filed last week before a federal high court in Lagos, the plaintiffs are asking the court to determine whether the NBC code used to impose the penalty and “threat of higher sanctions is not inconsistent and incompatible with access to information and media freedom”. 

The petitioners, in the suit filed by their lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare, Andrew Nwankwo, and Blessing Ogwuche, also prayed the court to declare the fine “arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional”. 

The organisations also sought “an order setting aside the N5m fine for being inconsistent and incompatible with section 22, 36 and 39 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.

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The plaintiffs requested “an order directing and compelling the NBC to reverse its arbitrary and unlawful decision to impose a fine of N5m on Channels TV forthwith”. 

SERAP and CJID said “the media has the task of distributing all varieties of information and opinion on matters of general interest and public interest”.

They argued that “under the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties to which Nigeria is a state party, freedom and diversity must be guiding principles in the regulation of broadcasting. The fine of N5m imposed on Channels TV is entirely inconsistent and incompatible with these principles”. 

“Although article 19(3) recognises ‘national security’ as a legitimate aim, the Human Rights Committee has stressed ‘the need to ensure that the invocation of national security is not used unjustifiably or arbitrarily to restrict freedom of expression and media freedom,” they said.

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“The use of NBC Act and Code in this case would inadmissibly open the door to arbitrariness and would fundamentally restrict the freedom of expression that is an integral part of the public order protected by the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties to which Nigeria is a state party.”

 The litigants said the NBC Act and broadcasting code “cannot and should not be used in a manner that is inconsistent and incompatible with plurality of voices, diversity of voices, non-discrimination, just demands of a democratic society, and the public interest”. 

“The fine is arbitrary and unlawful and would have a disproportionate and chilling effect on the work of other broadcast stations and journalists and Nigerians,” they said. 

 No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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