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 on Channels Television.
In the suit, they are asking the court to “declare arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional the N5m fine imposed on Channels Television over a recent interview with the Labour Party 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 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 fie 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.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.