ECOWAS court bars NBC from censorship of political broadcasts
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice has barred the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) from censorship of political programmes by media houses in the country.
Its judgment was delivered on a matter brought before it by a Port Harcourt-based lawyer, Festus Oguche and Crownfield Solicitors, challenging NBC’s ‘Additional Regulations for Live Political Broadcast.’
The regulation, dated May 30, 2014, was contained in a letter to all broadcasting stations in Nigeria. The NBC’s directive was issued during the campaigns of the 2015 general elections, in which it raised concerns about the increasing cases of abuse of political programmes, and ensure that content that threaten the country’s unity and peace were not aired broadcast.
It, therefore, directed broadcasting stations to notify it in writing at least 24 hours before live transmission of political programmes. The NBC also charged broadcasting stations to abide by provisions of the NBC Code, while all broadcasters should take their social responsibility seriously.
But the plaintiffs wrote NBC asking for withdrawal of the Additional Regulation for Live Political Broadcast, which they described as tendentious, unnecessary and unacceptable in a democracy. Oguche also declared that NBC’s directive to broadcasters in May 2014 was inconsistent with provisions of Section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution regarding freedom of expression and free press, and inimical to the fundamental objective and principles of state policy as stipulated in section 22 of the Constitution.
However, when NBC failed to respond to Oguche’s correspondence, he approached the ECOWAS Court to challenge the commission and the Federal Government, which was named as the defendant.
The plaintiff backed his suit NO. ECW/CCJ/APP/10/15, with provisions in Article XIX of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.
More than three years after the matter went to court, the ECOWAS Court of Justice, in a judgment delivered on Tuesday by justices Edward Asante, Dupe Atoki and Januaria Moreira Costa, upheld all seven-point declarations sought by the plaintiff.
They include an order of perpetual injunction, restraining the Federal Government, its agencies, servants and proxies from further doing anything, either by official policy, directive, instruction or investigation that will impede free press under democracy.The court also held that the defendant’s directive that all live political broadcasts in Nigeria be referred to it, was tantamount to censorship of free press and 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, among others.
Reacting to the judgment, Oguche noted that it was significant to regulate broadcasting by law and not on the whims and caprices of the Federal Government and its agents.He added that the court has again proved that it will not allow government and its agencies to act arbitrarily and unilaterally in a manner that would curtail freedom of the press and expression. Meanwhile, the court ordered the NBC to retract the May 2014 directive in a letter to broadcasting stations and publish same in national newspapers.