Illegal fines: NBC to appeal court judgment, says DG

 

The National Broadcasting Commission on Friday said it would appeal an order of perpetual injunction granted by Justice James Omotosho of a Federal High Court in Abuja restraining it from imposing fines on broadcast stations in the country, although it was yet to see the judgment.

The commission said the decision became necessary if found to be in conflict with previous judgments.

It is reported that the judge had in a judgment held that not being a court of law, NBC had no power to impose sanctions as punishment on broadcast stations.

He had made the pronouncement while ruling on a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1386/2021, filed against the NBC by the Incorporated Trustees of Media Rights Agenda.

Justice Omotosho set aside a fine of N500,000 each imposed by NBC on 45 broadcast stations on March 1, 2019.

He said that the NBC Code, which gives the commission the power to impose sanctions on broadcast stations, was in conflict with Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution that vested judicial powers in the court of law.

Omotosho held that the court would not sit idle and watch a body imposing fine arbitrarily without recourse to the law.

He agreed with the plaintiff that the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, being a subsidiary legislation that empowers an administrative body such as the NBC to enforce its provisions, cannot confer judicial powers on the commission to impose criminal sanctions or penalties such as fines.

“The action of the respondent qualifies as excessiveness”, he held.

But the NBC Director General, Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, in its first official statement on the judgment, said the organization would appeal the verdict.

He said, “The attention of the National Broadcasting Corporation has been drawn to a ruling by the Federal High Court, Abuja nullifying the powers of the commission to impose fines on broadcast stations that violate the provisions of the National Broadcasting Code.

“In view of the foregoing, the commission has applied for a Certified True Copy of the judgment. It is global best practice and the ethics of the legal profession, that no party to a suit can freely comment on a judgment it has not seen or read.

“The commission will appeal against the judgment when found to be in conflict with previous judgments of the court which empowers the commission to regulate broadcasting in Nigeria.”

Reacting to the court judgment, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, in a statement by its President, Mustapha Isah, and General Secretary, Dr. Iyobosa Uwugiaren, saluted the MRA for mustering the courage to test “the draconian NBC Act.”

The NGE said the judgment vindicated the position of the editors that NBC could not appropriate the constitutional responsibility of the judicial arm of government.

“Justice Omotosho’s ruling on Wednesday vindicated our consistent position over the years that the NBC cannot be the accuser, the investigator, and the judge on matters relating to the alleged breach of the Broadcast Code.

“Our position has always been that an independent body or institution should be the one to examine any perceived infraction by the broadcast stations, which should be given the opportunity to defend themselves.

“The court is right in its ruling by saying that it would not sit idle and watch a body imposing fine arbitrarily without recourse to the law”, the NGE said.

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