Muhammadu Buhari and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) have been prevented by the Federal High Court in Lagos from revoke 53 broadcast stations’ licences and shutting them down for allegedly not renewing their licences.
Following the hearing of a motion exparte argument by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Nigerian Guild of Editors, Honourable Justice Akintayo Aluko (Court 8) today issued an order of interim injunction (NGE).
Last week, SERAP and NGE sued Buhari and NBC, requesting “a declaration that section 10(a) of the Third Schedule to the NBC Act used by NBC to threaten to revoke the licences of 53 broadcast stations and to shut down the stations is unconstitutional and unlawful, as it violates freedom of expression” from the court.
SERAP and NGE requested “an order of interim injunction restraining Buhari and NBC, their agents from revoking the licences of 53 broadcast stations in the country and shutting down their operations, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed contemporaneously in this suit” from the court in their lawsuit.
The lawsuit is postponed until September 8, 2022, when the motion on notice for an interim injunction will be heard.
The lawsuit came after the NBC decided to cancel the licences of 53 broadcast stations and order them to cease operations within 24 hours due to an alleged N2.6 billion deficit.
In the lawsuit with file number FHC/L/CS/1582/2022, SERAP and NGE are asking the court to decide “whether the threat by NBC to revoke the licences of 53 broadcast stations and shut them down is not in conflict with freedom of expression and access to information” by using section 10(a) of the Third Schedule to the NBC Act.
Additionally, SERAP and NGE are asking for “a declaration that the right to a fair hearing as guaranteed by the Constitution and international law has been violated” by NBC’s use of section 10(a) of the National Broadcasting Act to unilaterally revoke broadcast station licences and shut down stations.
“The provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties on freedom of expression imply that this right can be exercised through any medium,” the lawsuit’s opening statement stated.
Effectively, these clauses acknowledge that every person has a right to equal access to information through any communication method without hindrance.
“Using the NBC Act and Code in this matter would unacceptably invite arbitrariness and would fundamentally curtail the freedom of expression, which is a cornerstone of the public order safeguarded by the Nigerian Constitution and the human rights treaties to which Nigeria is a state party.”
“In a democratic society, the media play a crucial role as a vehicle or tool for the exercise of freedom of expression and information, in both its individual and collective aspects.”
Indeed, it is the responsibility of the media to disseminate all types of information and viewpoints on topics of public concern.
The general public has a right to learn about and evaluate this information and views on their own. So, for a democratic society to work properly, there must be a free, independent, active, pluralistic, and diversified media.
According to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, “licence processes shall attempt to foster diversity in broadcasting. The right to freedom of expression is not subject to any substantial restrictions under any media registration scheme.
The rights of millions of Nigerians to express their opinions and to seek, receive, and spread information and ideas of all kinds through any medium they choose would be seriously harmed by revoking the licences of 53 broadcast stations and stopping their operations because they have not renewed their licences.
“Freedom of expression involves the right of the general public to receive, as well as the freedom of individuals who express themselves through a communication medium, to impart the widest possible diversity of information and ideas.”
“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 access a free, independent, and pluralistic media that allows for the most and most diverse information,” states the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Free Expression.
“The media, including the 53 broadcast stations affected, help to distribute the thoughts and information of Nigerians while also providing them with access to the ideas, information, opinions, and cultural expressions of other people.”
“The advancement of the collective deliberative process on public and democratic issues is fundamentally dependent upon the exercise of the right to freedom of expression through the media.”
Therefore, improving the protection of the right to free expression is necessary for the practise of other human rights as well as the right to informed and informed participation.
“The media, including the 53 broadcast stations that were impacted, play a crucial role in enabling millions of Nigerians to access both the pertinent information and the range of perspectives required for arriving at reasonable and informed decisions on matters of public interest.”
“The Plaintiffs acknowledge NBC’s requirements to control broadcasts. However, the exercise of such duties, including licence renewals or revocations, must adhere to the standards and restrictions established by the right to free speech.
“Only in the setting of a diversity of information sources and media channels is the free exchange of ideas and news feasible. For democracy to function effectively, there must be a variety of information sources.
The public interest, nondiscrimination, and reasonable standards of a democratic society, as well as the NBC Act and Broadcasting Code, cannot and should not be served by using these laws in a way that is contradictory and incompatible with them.
“Broadcasting is a means of practising freedom of expression. Any limitations on free speech must adhere to the principles of necessity, proportionality, and legality.
“The regulation of broadcasting must aim to advance and broaden the application of the right to free expression rather than to curtail it.