Baba-Ahmed: SERAP, CJID sue Buhari, others over N5m fine 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, asking the court to “declare arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional the N5m fine imposed on Channels Television over a recent interview with the Labour Party’s vice-presidential candidate, Datti Baba-Ahmed.”
Joined in the suit as Defendants are the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and Mr Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture.
The NBC had recently fined Channels Television N5 million over an interview with Datti Baba-Ahmed. The NBC alleged that the interview ‘violated the NBC code.’
But in the suit number FHC/L/CS/616/2023 filed last week at the Federal High Court, Lagos, the plaintiffs are asking the court to determine “whether the NBC code used to impose a fine of N5m on Channels TV and the threat of ‘higher sanctions’ is not in inconsistent and incompatible with access to information and media freedom.”
The plaintiffs are asking the court for “a declaration that the NBC code used by the NBC to impose a fine of N5m on Channels TV and the threat of ‘higher sanctions’ is arbitrary, unconstitutional and unlawful, as it violates the rights to a fair hearing, freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom.”
The plaintiffs are seeking “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.”
The plaintiffs are also seeking “an order directing and compelling the NBC to reverse its arbitrary and unlawful decision to impose a fine of N5m on Channels TV forthwith.”
In the suit, the plaintiffs are arguing that: “the media has the task of distributing all varieties of information and opinion on matters of general interest and public interest.”
The plaintiffs said, “Imposing any fine whatsoever without due process of law is arbitrary and unconstitutional, as it contravenes the fundamental principles of nemo judex in causa sua which literally means one cannot be a judge in his own cause and audi alteram partem which means no one should be condemned unheard.”
The plaintiffs are also arguing that, “The media plays an essential role as a vehicle or instrument for the exercise of freedom of expression and access to information in a democratic society.”
According to the plaintiffs: “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 plaintiffs also said, “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.”
The suit filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by their lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare, Andrew Nwankwo, and Ms Blessing Ogwuche, read in part: “The grounds for imposing a fine of N5m on Channels TV fail to meet the requirements of legality, necessity, and proportionality.
“Broadcasting is a means of exercising freedom of expression. Any restrictions on freedom of expression must meet the requirements of legality, necessity, and proportionality.
“The regulation of broadcasting must aspire to promote and expand the scope of the right to freedom of expression, not restrict it.
“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.
“Article 19 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights establishes the right to freedom of opinion without interference. Article 19(2) establishes Nigeria’s obligations to respect ‘the right to freedom of expression,’ which includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information, regardless of frontiers.
“Under article 19(3), restrictions on the right to freedom of expression must be ‘provided by law’, and necessary ‘for respect of the rights or reputations of others’ or ‘for the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health and morals’
“Although article 19(3) recognizes ‘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.
“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.
“Arbitrarily imposing fines on media houses simply for carrying out their constitutional duties would both seriously undermine the rights of millions of Nigerians to express their thoughts, and their right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, in any medium they choose.
“Freedom of expression includes the public’s right to receive, and the right of those who express themselves through a medium of communication, to impart the greatest possible diversity of information and ideas.
“The right to freedom of expression is based on the right to establish or use a media outlet to exercise freedom of expression and on society’s right to have access to a free, independent, and pluralistic media that allows for the most diverse information.
“The exercise of the right to freedom of expression through the media is a guarantee that is fundamental for advancing the collective deliberative process on public and democratic issues.
“The strengthening of the guarantee of freedom of expression is a precondition for the exercise of other human rights, as well as a precondition to the right to participation.
“Any regulation of the media must be evaluated according to the guidelines and directives imposed by the right to freedom of expression.
“The plaintiffs recognize the mandates of NBC to regulate broadcasting. However, the exercise of such mandates including imposing any fine must follow the thresholds and guidelines set by the right to freedom of expression and media freedom.
“The free circulation of ideas and news is not possible except in the context of a plurality of sources of information and media outlets. The lack of plurality in sources of information is a serious obstacle for the functioning of democracy.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.
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