27th October, 2020
IMPOSITION OF FINES
The West Africa Media Lawyers Association, WAMELA, has received news from various online news platforms that the fine of the sum of Nine Million Naira only was imposed on AIT, ARISE TV AND CHANNELS TELEVISION, that is, Three Million each for their coverage of the #EndSARS protest in Nigeria.
We are compelled to react to the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission Code concerning these fines.
WAMELA condemns in the strongest terms the imposition of fines on media houses based on the coverage of an event that is of national interest to the citizens and the West African sub-region. Nigerians watched the said programmes, some of which were televised from the venue of the Lekki Toll Gate, as did the international community. We saw nothing untoward, illegal or unethical in the broadcasts and interviews. The fact that the visual broadcasts and interviews generally put the government and the security agencies in bad light, do not make them wrong.
Surprisingly, we observed that the coverage of the protests is probably one of the finest moments of Nigeria’s broadcast history as the broadcasts contain views from all angles and diversities, including pro-government interviews. We noted the frequent use of “protesters” as well as “hoodlums” in describing actors at the scenes. The broadcasts were objective, informative and fair.
It is globally acknowledged that one of the core functions of the mass media is to inform the society on all ranges of issues, not even to the exclusion of national security issues. The mass media has a role to play in ensuring that all possible shades of opinions are given access to the media platform and the #EndSARS protest is not an exception.
It is now obvious especially given the earlier instructions of the NBC to the media houses not to report the #EndSARS Protests in such a way as to embarrass the government, that the National Broadcasting Commission which is supposed to be independent, is being teleguided by the Federal Government. The fines are indirectly intended to serve ad gag orders.”
WAMELA therefore, call on the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to
- Immediately reverse the order imposing the fines on the three media houses, as such an order has no place in a democratic society and on account of the fact that the penalty is at best, ill-thought out and inappropriate at the moment.
- To cause a review of the Broadcasting Code which is the basis for the fine ab initio, because the very interpretation of same is offensive to the notion of free speech which is an essential ingredient of participatory democracy that Nigeria operates.
We state here that in the event of failure of the NBC to reverse the draconian fines on the media houses, we will be left with no choice but to approach the Courts for an Order of the Court reversing the unjustifiable penalties, as it is an order which infringes on our rights as citizens to freedom of speech.