Court Prevents NBC From Shutting Down AIT, Silverbird, 51 Other Stations

The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) was ordered by a Lagos Federal High Court not to revoke the licenses of 53 broadcast stations or shut them down for allegedly not renewing their licenses.

Following the hearing of an argument on a motion ex parte by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Nigerian Guild of Editors, Honorable Justice Akintayo Aluko (Court Cool) today granted an order of interim injunction (NGE).

Last Monday, SERAP and NGE sued Buhari and NBC, requesting “a determination that section 10(a) of the Third Schedule to the NBC Act, utilized by NBC to threaten to revoke the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and to shut the stations down, is unconstitutional and unlawful, as it violates freedom of expression”.

In the suit, SERAP and NGE had asked the court for “an order of interim injunction restraining Buhari and NBC, their agents from revoking the licenses of 53 broadcast stations in the country and shutting their down operations, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed contemporaneously in this suit.”

The suit is adjourned to 8th September, 2022 for the hearing of the Motion on Notice for interlocutory injunction. The suit followed the decision by the NBC to revoke the licenses of the 53 broadcast stations and shut down their operations within 24 hours over alleged N2.6 billion debt.

In the suit number FHC/L/CS/1582/2022, SERAP and NGE are asking the court to determine “whether section 10(a) of the Third Schedule to the NBC Act used by NBC to threaten revoke the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and shut them down is not in inconsistent with freedom of expression and access to information.”

SERAP and NGE are also seeking “a declaration that section 10(a) of the National Broadcasting Act used by NBC to unilaterally revoke the licenses of the broadcast stations and shutdown the stations is a violation of the constitutionally and internationally guaranteed right to fair hearing.”

The suit, read in part: “The provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties on freedom of expression indicate that this right can be exercised through any medium.”

“Effectively, these provisions recognize that every individual has the right to an equal opportunity to receive, seek and impart information through any communication medium without discrimination.”

“The use of NBC Act and Code in this case would inadmissibly open the door to arbitrariness and would fundamentally restrict the freedom of expression that is an integral part of the public order protected the Nigerian Constitution and 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, “license processes shall attempt to foster diversity in broadcasting. ‘Any registration system for the media shall not impose substantive restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.’

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 licenses of 53 broadcast stations and stopping their operations because they have not renewed their licenses.

“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 speech is predicated on the right to create or use a media outlet to exercise that right, as well as on society’s right to access a free, independent, and pluralistic media that permits for the most diverse information.

“The media, including the affected 53 broadcast stations, serve to distribute Nigerians’ thoughts and information while at the same time allowing them access to the ideas, information, opinions, and cultural expressions of other individuals.”

“The exercise of the right to freedom of expression through the media is a guarantee that is fundamental for advancing the collective deliberative process on public and democratic issues.”

“Therefore, the strengthening of the guarantee of freedom of expression is a precondition for the exercise of other human rights, as well as a precondition to the right to participation to be informed and reasoned.”

“The media including the affected 53 broadcast stations play an essential role, as they allow millions of Nigerians to access both the relevant information and a variety of perspectives that are necessary for reaching reasonable and informed conclusions on matters of public interest.”

“The Plaintiffs acknowledge NBC’s requirements to control broadcasts. However, the application of such obligations, such as license renewals or revocations, must adhere to the restrictions and standards established by the right to free speech. Only in the setting of a variety 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 exercising freedom of expression. Any restrictions on freedom of expression must meet the requirements of legality, necessity, and proportionality.”

“The regulation of broadcasting must aspire to promote and expand the scope of the right to freedom of expression, not restrict it.”