The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) have slammed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari, asking the court to declare arbitrary and illegal the N5 million imposed on Trust TV, Multichoice Nigeria Limited, NTA-Startimes Limited and Telcom Satellite Limited, over their documentaries on terrorism in the country.
Joined in the suit as defendants are Mr Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).
NBC had last week imposed fines on the media houses, claiming that their documentaries “glorified the activities of bandits and undermines national security in Nigeria”, and contravened the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
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But in the suit filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Lagos, SERAP and CJID are seeking;
An order setting aside the arbitrary and illegal fines of N5 million and any other penal sanction unilaterally imposed by the NBC on these media houses simply for carrying out their constitutional duties.
According to the statement issued by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, on Sunday, August 8;
The NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed have not shown that the documentaries by the media houses would impose a specific risk of harm to a legitimate State interest that outweighs the public interest in the information provided by the documentaries.
The documentaries by these independent media houses pose no risk to any definite interest in national security or public order.
The plaintiffs further stated that;
It is inconsistent and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] to invoke the grounds of ‘glorifying terrorism and banditry’ as justifications for suppressing access to information of legitimate public interest that does not harm national security.
It argued that the documentaries by the independent media houses are in the public interest, and punishing the media houses simply for raising public awareness about these issues would have a disproportionate and chilling effect on their work, and on the work of other journalists and Nigerians.