The Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has been barred from imposing fines on broadcast stations. This happened after a ruling in Abuja on May 10, 2023, which was presided over by Justice James Omotosho.
According to the ruling, NBC had no power to sanction broadcast organisations and while the NBC code grants the commission the power to impose a sanction, it conflicted with the constitution, which conferred judicial power in the court of law.
Other things the judge noted included the fact that the broadcasting commission had no power to conduct a criminal investigation that would lead to a criminal trial and imposition of sanctions. According to him, this goes against the doctrine of separation of powers, which is in place to prevent tyranny by concentrating too much power in the hands of one body.
“The action of the respondent qualifies as excessiveness,” Justice Omotosho said.
On March 1, 2019, NBC imposed a fine of ₦500,000 each on 45 broadcast stations in the country over an alleged violation of its code. This prompted the Incorporated Trustees of Media Rights Agenda to sue the regulatory body, calling the sanction a violation of the rules of natural justice.
That was not the last time NBC doled out hefty fines to broadcast organisations. In April, NBC imposed a ₦5 million fine on Channels TV for interviewing the vice-presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Datti Baba-Ahmed. According to NBC, the station was complicit in the “outburst” of the Baba-Ahmed, who advised the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) against swearing in President-elect Bola Tinubu.
NBC’s unfine history of fines
NBC also imposed ₦2 million fines on broadcast stations Arise News and TVC for alleged breach of national broadcasting codes in the countdown to the 2023 general election, saying that the stations allowed derogatory comments to be broadcast. The commission demanded that payment of the fines should be within two weeks of the receipt of the letters or the sanction would be graduated.
In 2020, three broadcast stations, AIT, Arise TV, and Channels were also fined ₦3 million for their “unprofessional” coverage of the ENDSars protest.
Popular Nigerian artistes have also met the fury of NBC as the commission has banned several songs and music videos for reasons like explicit videos or vulgar lyrics.
Media stakeholders and the general public have expressed their dissatisfaction with the actions of NBC for a long time now. The commission’s code has repeatedly been accused of being unconstitutional, arbitrary and unlawful. In a statement issued by the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), the NBC was condemned for acting as both “accuser and judge” and imposing an illegal fine on a broadcast station without employing all avenues to investigate the complaints nor give room for defence from the station accused.
Following this ruling, the NBC will henceforth have to engage the judicial system before sanctioning a TV or radio station, and both sides will be granted a fair hearing.