The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has instituted a legal suit against the Federal Government and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) over the broadcasting code, which it described as illegal.
SERAP and 24 other concerned Nigerians filed the suit at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja, according to a statement by the group on Sunday.
The suit, with case number ECW/CCJ/APP/19/21, was filed last week on behalf of the plaintiffs by their lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi.
According to the civil society organisation, the suit was filed following the “‘bridge [breach] letter’ by the NBC asking Channels TV to explain why it interviewed the spokesman of a proscribed organisation and subsequently fining the TV station.
It also noted that the NBC placed a ban on Jay FM 101.9 Jos for playing songs such as Falz’s ‘This is Nigeria’, Wande Coal’s ‘Iskaba’ and Olamide’s ‘See Mary, See Jesus’; and imposed fines on Channels TV, AIT and Arise TV [N3m each] over their coverage of the #EndSARS protests.
SERAP is arguing that the Federal Government and NBC arbitrarily use the “NBC Act and broadcasting code to target, harass, sanction, and fine independent television and radio stations in Nigeria, and to restrict Nigerians’ freedom of expression and access to information”.
“The rights to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom allow Nigerians to seek and attain truth, which is an inherently good activity. These rights also allow Nigerians to participate in representative governance, social and political decision-making, which the Federal Government and NBC are obligated to foster and encourage.”
“Attempts to justify restrictions on these fundamental rights and freedom on the overly vague grounds of incitement, morality and subversion of the constituted authority contradict the principles of the universality of human rights. Freedom of Expression is a fundamental human right and cannot be denied without lawful justification.”
“The application of the Nigerian Broadcasting Act 1992 and broadcasting code to sanction independent television and radio stations is arbitrary, and has created an environment in which independent media houses are censored, or resort to self-censorship.”
“Despite the Freedom of Information Act in Nigeria which guarantees the right to access public records, the Federal Government and its agents and several states of Nigeria have routinely refused to release information sought,” the suit read.
SERAP and the other plaintiffs have, therefore, prayed to the ECOWAS court to declare the Broadcasting Code and the NBC Act illegal and restrain the Federal Government and NBC from implementing its ‘draconian’ provisions.
“The Federal Government and NBC should be stopped from using the broadcasting code or any other regulations and/or law to erode the sacred rights to freedom of expression, information and media freedom, which is the bedrock of the rule of law and sustainable democracy.”
“The Federal Government and NBC have routinely breached the fundamental principles of media freedom and media plurality, which are a central part of the effective exercise of freedom of expression and access to information, and thereby undermined the ability of Nigeria’s independent media houses to function effectively.”
“The persistent use of the NBC Act and broadcasting code by the Federal Government and the NBC is a blatant violation of the rights to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom, as well as prohibition against self-censorship,” the plaintiffs stated in the suit.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.