CEM REPORT | A Federal High Court in Lagos has barred the Federal Government from revoking the licenses and shutting down 53 broadcast stations in the country over license renewal.
The presiding judge, Justice Akintayo Aluko, yesterday, granted an order of interim injunction restraining the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) from making any move on the alleged 53 defaulting stations following the hearing of an argument on motion ex parte by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE).
SERAP’s official Kolawole Oluwadare, speaking of the judgment on Monday, said the Judge, after issuing the interim order, adjourned until 8 September, for the hearing of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.
He added that the defendants – NBC and President Muhammadu Buhari – had an opportunity to give their defence to the suit and give reasons why the restraining order should be reversed.
CEM had earlier reported that NBC had threatened to revoke the licences of 53 broadcast stations on the grounds of their failure to pay their licence renewal fees cumulatively worth N2.66 billion. The commission ordered those that were unable to pay to shut down at 12 am on 20 August.
The commission cited section 10(a) of the 3rd Schedule of the National Broadcasting Commission Act CAP N11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 to back its decision against the stations.
Read details here.
However, the revocation was suspended and the timetable extended following an intervention of the Nigerian chapter of the International Press Institute.
But following the intervention of the Nigerian chapter of the International Press Institute, NBC suspended the revocation of the operating licenses of 52 broadcast stations.
By extension, NBC directed all the stations “to pay all outstanding license fees on or before 23 August 2022 or shut down by 12 am on 24 August.”
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Following the decision, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) last week filed a motion ex parte along with the main suit challenging NBC’s planned action against the broadcast stations.
The duo prayed the court for a declaration that Section 10(a) of the Third Schedule to the NBC Act is unconstitutional and unlawful, as it violates freedom of expression.
The suit also prayed the court for an order of interim injunction restraining Buhari, NBC and their agents from taking the action, pending hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed contemporaneously in this suit.
The suit reads in part: “The provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties on freedom of expression indicate that this right can be exercised through any medium.
“Effectively, these provisions recognise that every individual has the right to an equal opportunity to receive, seek and impart information through any communication medium without discrimination.
“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 the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties to which Nigeria is a state party.
“The media plays an essential role as a vehicle or instrument for the exercise of freedom of expression and information – in its individual and collective aspects – in a democratic society.”
“According to the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, ‘licensing processes shall seek to promote diversity in broadcasting. Any registration system for the media shall not impose substantive restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.’
“Revoking the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and shutting down their operations because they have not renewed their licenses 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.
“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 plaintiffs noted that they recognised the mandates of NBC to regulate broadcasting. They, however, maintained that “the exercise of such mandates including renewals or revocation of licenses must follow the thresholds and guidelines set by the right to freedom of expression.”
“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.”
“The NBC Act and Broadcasting Code cannot and should not be used in a manner that is inconsistent and incompatible with a plurality of voices, diversity of voices, non-discrimination, and just demands of a democratic society, as well as the public interest.”