A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has adjourned hearing to October 30, 2023, in a suit filed by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) for imposing fines on Multichoice Nigeria Limited, owners of DSTV; TelCom Satellite Limited (TSTV); Trust-TV Network Limited; and NTA-Startimes Limited, for airing documentaries which the Commission claimed glorified the activities of bandits and undermined Nigeria’s national security.
The NBC announced in a statement issued on August 3, 2022, that it had imposed sanctions of N5 million each on Multichoice Nigeria Limited, TSTV, and NTA Startimes Limited for carrying a documentary by the BBC Africa Eye titled “Bandits Warlords of Zamfara”, which the NBC claimed glorified the activities of bandits and undermines national security in Nigeria. It said it had also fined Trust-TV Network Limited N5 million for its documentary titled: “Nigeria’s Banditry – The Inside Story”. The Commission accused them of contravening the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, Sixth Edition, especially Paragraphs 3.1.1, 3.12.2 and 3.11.2.
MRA initiated the legal action in August 2022, challenging the powers of the Commission to impose fines on Multichoice Nigeria TSTV, Trust-TV Network Limited and NTA-Startimes Limited for carrying the documentaries.
Mr. Uchenna Amulu, representing MRA, argued that the lawsuit against the NBC centres on the fines imposed on four media platforms for broadcasting the BBC Africa Eye documentaries on the activities of bandits in Nigeria. He further contended that the fines, communicated through a press release titled “NBC Sanctions Pay-TV Platforms” issued on August 3, 2022, have raised concerns about their impact on media freedom and freedom of expression, particularly with regard to reporting on security issues in Nigeria.
Uchenna also presented a series of declarations sought in the case, including declarations regarding the chilling effect of the fines on media freedom, their unlawfulness, procedural violations, and the threat of further sanctions by the NBC. He argued that NBC lacks the competence to impose such fines and that the fines are unconstitutional and void.
Uchenna also requested various orders from the court, including the setting aside of the fines, a perpetual injunction to prevent NBC from imposing further fines, compensation for the cost of litigation, general damages, and punitive damages for the alleged abuse of power by NBC. Legal proceedings on the matter faced several delays, with the most recent hearing initially scheduled for October 5, 2023, but was adjourned because the court did not sit on the said date. As a result, the court fixed the new hearing date for October 30, 2023, to delve into these issues surrounding media freedom, regulatory authority, and the rights of broadcasting platforms and citizens in Nigeria.