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NBC code violates freedom of expression

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By Abraham Adekunle

ECOWAS court says Nigeria has failed in aligning with int’l obligations.

An Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) court sitting in Abuja has declared that the Nigerian Broadcasting Code used by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to impose sanctions and fines on broadcast stations violates freedom of expression. The ECOWAS court made the declaration on October 23 in a judgment delivered in a suit filed by a non-governmental organisation, Expression Now Human Rights Initiative, against the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The court maintained that the Nigerian government had failed in its responsibility to align its domestic legislation with its international obligations.

At the court, the applicant had challenged the use of the NBC Code by the Nigerian government to arbitrarily impose sanctions including fines against broadcast stations. According to the court presided by Justice Dupe Atoki, in enacting laws, member states must give due consideration to its alignment with international guarantees and obligations like those under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. Also known as the Banjul Charter, the charter is an international human rights code intended to promote and protect human rights and basic freedoms in Africa.

Court says provisions in the Code too ambiguous and vague.

Solomon Okedara & Co, who represented the applicant, specifically challenged Articles 3(1)(1), 3(1)(2), 15(2)(1) of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th edition) and Article 15(5)(1) of the Amendments to the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th edition) that they contravene the principle of freedom of expression. Article 3(1) of the Code reads: “The objectives of broadcasting in Nigeria are designed to further the goals of democracy and socio-economic development. These objectives challenge the broadcasting industry to assume a major role in the establishment of democratic culture in the country. To achieve this, all programmes shall display a transparent concern for fair play, honesty and integrity.”

In its judgment, the court noted that Article 3(1) (1) of the Code is infinite in scope and therefore violates the provision of Article 9(1) and (2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. The provisions read “Every individual shall have the right to receive information” and “Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law” respectively. The court noted that the provisions of Article 3(1) (2) of the Code are too ambiguous and vague and can “lead to curtailment of the right to freedom of expression.”

Only the courts can impose sanctions on stations as punishment.

The court also ordered that the Nigerian government aligns Articles 3 (1) (1), 3(1) (2), 15(2) (1) of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th edition) and Article 15 (5) (1) of the Amendments to the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th edition) in line with its obligations under Article 1 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and to cease giving effect to the provisions until it has aligned the same as ordered by the court.

Also in May 2023, the Nigerian Guild of Editors commended the Federal High Court Abuja, for making an order of perpetual injunctions restraining the NBC from imposing fines on broadcast stations in the country. The court, in a judgment in May by Justice James Omotosho, ruled that not being a court of law, the NBC had no power to impose sanctions as punishment on broadcast stations. However, the commission has still issued a couple of warnings in 2023 to TV stations that violated their Code.

Arise TV was given a number of warnings by NBC.

One of such is Arise TV. In October 2023, the NBC issued operators of the station a final warning on the alleged violation of the NBC Code. The director-general of NBC, Balarabe llelah, gave the warning in a letter to the Chief Executive Officer of Arise Global Limited and which was also made available to the media. The letter, which was titled “Preponderance of derogatory and incendiary remarks: Final warning,” Mr. Ilelah said that the commission had observed with concern the preponderance of incendiary remarks allowed on Arise News.

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3 months ago

NBC code violates freedom of expression. – ECOWAS court says Nigeria has failed in aligning with int’l obligations. – Express your point of view.

Adeoye Adegoke
3 months ago

I completely understand your concern about the NBC code and its potential impact on freedom of expression. It’s disheartening to hear that the ECOWAS court has found Nigeria to have failed in aligning with international obligations in this regard.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that allows individuals to express their thoughts, ideas, and opinions freely. It plays a vital role in promoting democracy, fostering public debate, and driving social progress. Any restrictions on this freedom should be carefully balanced to ensure they are necessary, proportionate, and in line with international standards.
While it’s important to recognize the need for responsible media practices and the promotion of ethical standards, it’s equally crucial to safeguard the principles of freedom of expression. Balancing these two aspects can be a complex task, but it’s essential to find a middle ground that respects both.
In light of the ECOWAS court’s ruling, it is crucial for Nigeria to reassess its approach to the NBC code and ensure that it aligns with international obligations and respects the right to freedom of expression. Open dialogue, constructive engagement, and collaboration with relevant stakeholders can help find a solution that respects both media regulation and freedom of expression.
It’s important for governments to foster an environment where diverse voices can be heard, where journalists can operate independently, and where citizens can freely express their opinions without fear of retribution. This not only strengthens democracy but also contributes to a more inclusive and informed society.
Ultimately, striking the right balance between media regulation and freedom of expression requires a thoughtful and inclusive approach. It’s essential for Nigeria to carefully consider the concerns raised by the ECOWAS court and take steps to address them in a manner that upholds the principles of freedom of expression while ensuring responsible media practices.

3 months ago

To promote a democratic and inclusive society, it is imperative to strike a compromise between upholding the right to free speech and attending to legitimate concerns. Maintaining this right while taking essential restrictions into account is crucial for nations.

3 months ago

Freedom of expression is violated by the NBC code. Nigeria, according to an ECOWAS court, has not complied with international responsibilities. regarding the potential impact of the NBC code on the right to free speech. It is disheartening that Nigeria was found to have disregarded its international obligations in this regard by the ECOWAS court.

3 months ago

The ECOWAS court’s ruling on the Broadcasting Code is a crucial recognition of freedom of expression. It highlights the importance of aligning national laws with international standards, emphasizing the need for a balance between regulation and the right to express opinions. The ongoing legal discussions reflect a commitment to upholding these fundamental rights in Nigeria.