Judgement on censoring political broadcast is double edged sword
The court also ordered the NBC to retract circular demanding 24 hrs notification for live broadcast.
The ECOWAS Court’s verdict which was delivered a fortnight ago in Abuja came more than three years after a Port Harcourt-based legal practitioner, Mr Festus Oguche, and Crownfield Solicitors, dragged the NBC before the community court, challenging what the NBC called “Additional Regulations for Live Political Broadcast.”
The said regulation dated May 30, 2014, was contained in a letter to all broadcasting stations across the country directing that it must be notified by broadcasting stations in writing, at least 24 hours, before a live transmission of a political programme.
Delivering judgment in the matter, the three-man panel led by the ECOWAS Court of Justice President, Justices Edward Asante, upheld all seven points’ declarations sought by the plaintiff.
The plaintiff in the suit had sought for “an order of perpetual injunction, restraining the Federal government, its agencies, servants and proxies from further doing anything, either by way of official policy, directive, instruction and/or investigation that will in anyway impede against the existence and operations of free press in a democratic society, which is guaranteed as fundamental freedom.
The court also held that the action of the defendant in directing that all live political broadcasts by broadcasting stations in Nigeria be referred to it was tantamount to censorship of free press and it was contrary to the fundamental freedom enshrined and guaranteed under African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.
Other declarations upheld by the Court include that the NBC’s directive was against the provisions of the fundamental freedom enshrined and guaranteed under Sections 22 and 39(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Court reportedly declared that it was reckless by National Broadcasting Commission to have issued such instruction to broadcasting stations and subsequently ordered that the NBC make a retraction of the May 2014 directive in a letter to all the broadcasting stations in the country and publish same in national newspapers.
Other Justices in the panel are Dupe Atoki and Januaria Moreira Costa.
Some, the judgement is victory for freedom of expression as they believed that censorship is suppression of speech, public communication, or other information.
On the other hand, censorship in a fledgling democracy like Nigeria may be necessary on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful and sensitive.
For instance, in a fragile country, the misuse of political information is capable of fanning the embers of disunity.
For this, the NBC is better placed to consider whether something is strictly legal or not.
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