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Civil society organisations sue Buhari for N5 million fine on Multichoice, Trust TV, others

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) on Sunday says it has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari for imposing fines on some media houses over allegations bordering on the promotion and glorification of terrorism.

The civil society organization asked the court to “declare arbitrary and illegal the N5 million fine imposed on Trust TV, Multichoice Nigeria Limited, NTA-Startimes Limited and TelcCom Satellite Limited, over their documentaries on terrorism in the country.”

The suit which was also co-filled by the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) joined the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) as defendants.

This disclosure is contained in a public statement issued by SERAP on Sunday August 7, 2022 and can be seen on its website.

SERAP and CJID in the suit number FHC/L/CS/1486/2022 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Lagos, are seeking: “an order setting aside the arbitrary and illegal fines of N5 million and any other penal sanction unilaterally imposed by the NBC on these media houses simply for carrying out their constitutional duties.”

The suit filed on behalf of the plaintiffs (SERAP and CJID) by their lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Ms Adelanke Aremo, said, “The NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed 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.

“The documentaries by these independent media houses pose no risk to any definite interest in national security or public order.

“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 documentaries by the independent media houses are in the public interest, and punishing the media houses simply for raising public awareness about these issues would have a disproportionate and chilling effect on their work, and on the work of other journalists and Nigerians.

“The action by the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed is arbitrary, illegal, and unconstitutional, as it is contrary to section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, and international human rights treaties including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Nigeria has ratified.’’

SERAP and CJID in the suit wants the court to make some of these declarations among others;

The act of the Defendants imposing a fine of N5 million each on the independent media houses 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;

That the use of the Broadcasting Code by NBC to impose sanctions on the independent media houses for 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;

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;

An order of the court setting aside of the fine of N5 million imposed by the Defendants, through the 3rd Defendant, each on Trust TV, Multichoice Nigeria Limited, TelCom Satellite Limited (TSTV) and NTA-Startimes Limited for televising the documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation “BBC Africa Eye” titled “Bandits Warlords of Zamfara”;

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;
What you should know

Recall that on August 3, NBC imposed a fine of N5 million on Trust Television Network (Trust TV), a subsidiary of Media Trust Limited, and some other media organizations over the Federal Government called the unprofessional airing of different documentaries that glorified and is capable of fuelling terrorism in Nigeria.

Lai Mohammed had earlier announced that the Federal Government will sanction the BBC and Daily Trust for their airing of different documentaries glorifying and fuelling terrorism in Nigeria.

Mohammed said the Federal Government was aware of the unprofessional documentary by the BBC, Africa Eye, where interviews were granted to bandit warlords and terror gangs, thereby promoting terror in the country.

The minister condemned the BBC for not upholding the same standards and tenets as they would have done in the UK as well as Trust TV for using its platform to grant interviews to a bandit kingpin, thereby promoting the activities of terrorists

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