The President Muhammadu Buhari-led government and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) have been stopped by the Federal High Court from revoking the licenses of 53 broadcast stations.
The Federal High Court, sitting in Lagos State, also stopped the commission from shutting down the stations for allegedly failing to renew their licenses.
Justice Akintayo Aluko in his ruling granted an order of interim injunction following the hearing of an argument on motion exparte by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE).
SERAP and NGE in a suit filed against the federal government and NBC asked the court for “a declaration that section 10(a) of the Third Schedule to the NBC Act used by NBC to threaten to revoke the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and to shut down the stations 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 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.
In 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 to revoke the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and shut them down is not in inconsistent with freedom of expression and access to information.”
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.
“The media plays an essential role as a vehicle or instrument for the exercise of freedom of expression and information – in its individual and collective aspects – in a democratic society.
“Indeed, the media has the task of distributing all varieties of information and opinion on matters of general interest.
“The public has a right to receive and assess this information and opinion independently. Therefore, the existence of a free, independent, vigorous, pluralistic, and diverse media is essential for the proper functioning of a democratic society.
“According to the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, ‘licensing processes shall seek to promote diversity in broadcasting. Any registration system for the media shall not impose substantive restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.
“The free circulation of ideas and news is not possible except in the context of a plurality of sources of information and media outlets. The lack of plurality in sources of information is a serious obstacle to the functioning of democracy.
“The NBC Act and Broadcasting Code cannot and should not be used in a manner that is inconsistent and incompatible with a plurality of voices, diversity of voices, non-discrimination, and just demands of a democratic society, as well as the public interest.
“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.”
The suit was filed after NBC revoke the licenses of the 53 broadcast stations and shut down their operations within 24 hours over alleged N2.6 billion debt.
This article was originally published on Naija News