*Urges police to investigate invasion of TV station
The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has commended Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of the Federal High Court, Abuja, for declaring null and void some provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, authorising the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to impose fines on broadcast stations for alleged breaches of the Code.
In a similar attack on the independent press, the NGE has strongly criticised the reported invasion of ABN TV by a team of the Nigeria Police Force to arrest a guest during a Live-Programme in Umuahia, Abia State, recently.
Delivering judgement in a suit instituted by a pro-media rights group, the Media Rights Agenda (MRA), against the NBC – following the commission’s imposition of fines of N5 million each on three television stations in 2022 for allegedly undermining Nigeria’s national security by broadcasting documentaries on banditry in Nigeria, Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia held that the NBC not being a court of law, acted above its powers by imposing such fines.
The judge also commended the MRA for its legal challenge of the NBC’s action and issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the commission or anyone acting on its behalf from further imposing any fine on any media platform or broadcast station in Nigeria for any alleged offence committed under the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia set aside the fines imposed by the NBC on August 3, 2022 on Multichoice Nigeria Limited, owners of DSTV; TelCom Satellite Limited (TSTV); Trust-TV Network Limited; and NTA Startimes Limited for broadcasting a documentary about the state of banditry and security in Zamfara State, saying the regulator’s action was wrong and unjustifiable in a democratic society.
In a statement by the NEG’s President, Mr. Eze Anaba and the General Secretary, Dr. Iyobosa Uwugiaren, the umbrella of editors and media executives in Nigeria said that Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia’s ruling has vindicated its consistent position over the years that the NBC cannot be the accuser, the investigator and the judge on matters relating to alleged breaches of the Broadcast Code.
“Our position has always been that an independent body, institution or competent court of law should be the one to examine any perceived infraction by the broadcast stations, which should be given the opportunity to defend themselves.
“The court is right in its ruling – by saying that NBC had arrogated judiciary power to itself by imposing fine arbitrarily without recourse to the law,” the Guild stated.
The editors reiterated their earlier resolution to engage President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the National Assembly and other stakeholders over the NBC Act and the Broadcast Code of Conduct – with the aim to amend and reform them to conform to the global best practices.
The MRA had filed a suit asking the court to hold, among other things, the NBC’s action of imposing a fine on each of the media platforms and the station for broadcasting a documentary about the state of banditry and security in Zamfara State is unlawful and unconstitutional and has a chilling effect on the freedom of media to impart information and ideas.
The pro-media rights group had contended that the NBC, not being a court of law and not having been constituted in a 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.
It, therefore, prayed the court to declare the fines unconstitutional, ultra vires, null and void, set them aside and issue 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 the media platforms or station, or any other broadcast station in Nigeria for any alleged offence committed under the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
In her judgement, Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia agreed with all MRA’s arguments and granted all the declarations and injunction sought by the organisation.
Criticising the reported invasion of ABN TV by a police team to arrest a guest during a Live-Programme in Umuahia, Abia State, recently, the Guild said that the action was unnecessary and uncalled for.
The Guild said that on Tuesday, January 16, 2023, policemen invaded the station during a live programme, Youth Rendezvous, to arrest a guest, Mr. Udensi Donald, during the programme, claiming that a senior brother of the guest had written a petition against him over a family matter.
The Guild added that despite repeated plea by the staff to the police officers to allow the programme to come to an end before the guest could be arrested, the police still whisked him away while the live programme was on.
“This action of the police is uncivilised, barbaric and confrontational. No matter the enormity of the alleged offence, the police officers could have, without difficulty, waited for the live programme to come to an end before swinging into action”, the NGE stated.
The Guild, therefore, called on the Nigeria Police Force to thoroughly investigate the matter in ensuring that the affected officers are brought to book and the broadcast equipment belonging to the TV station, which were damaged in the course of the invasion, be replaced immediately.
However, we are encouraged by the Inspector-General of Police’s promise to thoroughly investigate the action of the overzealous police officers.