Court Sets December 8 for Judgment in MRA’s Suit Against NBC Over Imposition of Fines on Four Media Platforms

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Mr. Uchenna Amulu, MRA’s Lawyer

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has fixed judgment for December 8, 2023, in a suit filed by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) for imposing fines on four media platforms, 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 suit arose following the NBC announcement in a statement issued on August 3, 2022, that it had imposed sanctions of ₦5 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 suit in August 2022, through its Abuja-based lawyer Mr. Uchenna Amulu, challenging the powers of the Commission to impose fines on Multichoice Nigeria TSTV, Trust-TV Network Limited and NTA-Startimes Limited for airing the documentaries.

In the suit, MRA asked the court for the following reliefs and orders:
• A declaration that the NBC’s act of imposing fines of ₦5,000,000.00 (Five Million Naira) on each of Multichoice Nigeria Limited, owners of DSTV; TelCom Satelite Limited (TSTV); Trust-TV Network Limited, and NTA-Startimes Limited for broadcasting a documentary about the state of banditry and security in Zamfara State has a chilling effect on the freedom of media to impart information and ideas as it would deter the said media platforms and stations from reporting the true state of affairs regarding the security situation in Nigeria, and therefore constitutes a violation of the rights of the MRA, its members, and other citizens of Nigeria to freedom of expression, particularly their rights to receive ideas and information without interference, as guaranteed by Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
• A declaration that the NBC’s act of imposing fines of ₦5,000,000.00 on each of Multichoice Nigeria Limited, owners of DSTV; TelCom Satelite Limited (TSTV); Trust-TV Network Limited, and NTA-Startimes Limited, for their carriage of a documentary about the state of banditry and security in Zamfara State is unlawful and unconstitutional having regards to the provisions of Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
• A declaration that the procedure adopted by the NBC in imposing the fine of ₦5,000,000.00 on each of Multichoice Nigeria Limited, owners of DSTV; TelCom Satelite Limited (TSTV); Trust-TV Network Limited, and NTA-Startimes Limited is a flagrant violation of the rules of natural justice and the right to fair hearing under Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Articles 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 on the basis that the NBC is the drafter of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, which provided for the alleged offences for which the media platforms and stations were punished, empowers the NBC to receive complaints, investigate and adjudicate on the complaints, impose fines and collect fines.
• A declaration that the threat by the NBC to impose more severe sanctions on each of Multichoice Nigeria Limited, owners of DSTV; TelCom Satelite Limited (TSTV); Trust-TV Network Limited, and NTA-Startimes Limited, if they failed to pay the sum of ₦5,000,000.00 illegally imposed on them by the NBC constitutes a violation of the right to fair hearing under Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
• A declaration that the NBC, not being a court of law and not having been constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality, has no power or competence to impose fines on broadcast stations as punishment or penalties for the commission of an offence as the competence to establish that an offence has been committed and to impose criminal sanctions or penalties belongs to the courts.
• A declaration that the NBC, not being the Nigerian Police or a law enforcement agency, has no power to conduct a criminal investigation or an investigation that could lead to criminal charges against the affected media platforms and stations or the imposition of criminal penalties and accordingly, that the investigation purportedly conducted by the NBC, leading to the fines imposed on the media platforms and stations for alleged offences under the Nigeria Broadcasting Code is ultra vires, null and void.
• A declaration that the Nigeria Broadcasting Code made by the NBC, being a subsidiary legislation that empowers the NBC as a regulatory and administrative body to enforce the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, cannot confer judicial powers or jurisdiction in criminal matters on the NBC to impose criminal sanctions or penalties such as fines, particularly as the said Nigeria Broadcasting Code was made by the NBC itself.
• A declaration that the sum of ₦5,000,000.00 (Five Million Naira) imposed by the NBC on each of Multichoice Nigeria Limited, owners of DSTV; TelCom Satelite Limited (TSTV); Trust-TV Network Limited, and NTA-Startimes Limited as punishment or fines for the alleged breach of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code is unconstitutional, ultra vires, null and void.
• Aa order setting aside the ₦5,000,000.00 fines purportedly imposed by the NBC on each of the media platforms and stations listed in paragraphs (a) and (b) above vide the press release dated the 3rd of August, 2022.
• An order of Perpetual Injunction restraining the NBC, its servants, agents, privies, representatives or anyone acting for or on its behalf, from further imposing any fine on any of Multichoice Nigeria Limited, owners of DSTV; TelCom Satelite Limited (TSTV); Trust-TV Network Limited, and NTA-Startimes Limited or any other broadcast station in Nigeria for any alleged offence committed under the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
• An order compelling the NBC to pay to MRA the sum of ₦700,000.00 (Seven Hundred Thousand Naira) as the cost of litigating the action.
• An order mandating the NBC to pay to the MRA the sum of ₦2,000,000.00 (Two Million Naira) as general damages for infringing on the rights of the MRA and its members to receive information through Multichoice Nigeria Limited, owners of DSTV; TelCom Satelite Limited (TSTV); Trust-TV Network Limited, and NTA-Startimes Limited which serve as sources of information for MRA and its members.
• An order mandating the NBC to pay to MRA the sum of ₦1,000,000.00 (One Million Naira) as punitive damages for its outrageous conduct in abusing its powers and arbitrarily imposing fines on Multichoice Nigeria Limited, owners of DSTV; TelCom Satelite Limited (TSTV); Trust-TV Network Limited, and NTA-Startimes Limited for carrying out their professional functions and constitutionally-mandated duty of keeping MRA, MRA’s members and the general public informed about the state of affairs regarding the security situation in Nigeria, including in Zamfara State.

When the matter came up for hearing on October 30, 2023, MRA was represented by Mr. Uchenna Amulu, Esq. while the NBC was represented by Mr. Cyprian Ogwumike, Esq. leading C.O.C Emeka-Izima, Esq. counsel on both sides argued and adopted their various processes filed in the suit.

After the arguments and submissions of counsel on both sides, the court adjourned to December 8, 2023 for judgment