Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to nullify the N5 million fine imposed on Daily Trust and other media houses in Nigeria, over a documentary on terrorism aired on their platforms.
SERAP in the suit it filed alongside Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) is asking the court to declare the sanction as unlawful, inconsistent with, and amounts to a breach of the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and therefore a violation of the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom.
Joined in the suit as defendants are Mr Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).
The NBC had last week imposed the fines on Trust TV, Multichoice Nigeria Limited, NTA-Startimes Limited and TelcCom Satellite Limited claiming that their documentaries “glorified the activities of bandits and undermines national security in Nigeria.”
In the suit, which is yet to be assigned to a judge, the civil society organisations are also urging the court to hold that the use of the Broadcasting Code by the NBC to impose sanctions on the independent media houses for an alleged infractions without recourse to the court constitutes an infringement on the provisions of sections 6(1), (6)(b) and 36(1) of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 and Articles 1 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.
They further want the court to declare that the provisions of the NBC Act and the Nigeria Broadcasting Code which are arbitrarily being used by the defendants to sanction, harass, intimidate and restrict the media are inconsistent and incompatible with sections 36(1), 39 and 22 of the Nigerian Constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and are null and void to the extent of their inconsistency and incompatibility.
The plaintiffs are also seeking a declaration that the defendants lack the legal power and authority to impose penalty unlawfully and unilaterally, including fines, suspension, withdrawal of license or any form of punishment whatsoever on the independent media houses for promoting access to diverse opinions and information on issues of public importance.
They are also urging the court for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants or any other authority, persons or group of persons from unlawfully shutting down, imposing fine, suspension, withdrawal of license or doing anything whatsoever to harass and intimidate or impose criminal punishment on the independent media houses or any of Nigeria’s journalists and media houses for promoting access to diverse information on issues of public importance.
In an affidavit attached to the suit, the plaintiffs claimed that the defendants have not shown that the documentaries by the media houses would impose a specific risk of harm to a legitimate state interest that outweighs the public interest in the information provided by the documentaries.
They also averred that the documentaries by the independent media houses pose no risk to any definite interest in national security or public order.
The plaintiffs also said, “It is inconsistent and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] to invoke the grounds of ‘glorifying terrorism and banditry’ as justifications for suppressing access to information of legitimate public interest that does not harm national security.
“The grounds of ‘glorifying terrorism and banditry’ used as the bases for sanctioning the media houses are entirely contrary to constitutional and international standards on freedom of expression and access to information.
“Imposing any fine whatsoever without due process of law is arbitrary, as it contravenes the 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 grounds for imposing fines on these independent media houses fail to meet the requirements of legality, necessity, and proportionality.
“The requirement of necessity also implies an assessment of the proportionality of the grounds, with the aim of ensuring that the excuse of ‘glorifying terrorism and banditry’ and ‘national security’ are not used as a pretext to unduly intrude upon the rights to freedom of expression and access to information,” the plaintiffs stated.