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NGE urges police to investigate invasion of TV station

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NGE urges police to investigate invasion of TV station

The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has expressed its appreciation for the recent decision by Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of the Federal High Court, Abuja, to nullify certain provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

These provisions had previously granted the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) the authority to impose fines on broadcast stations for perceived violations of the Code.

In another development affecting press freedom, the NGE has strongly condemned the reported incident at ABN TV, where the Nigeria Police Force reportedly invaded the station to arrest a guest during a live program in Umuahia, Abia State.

In a case brought by the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against the NBC, stemming from the imposition of fines totaling N5 million on three television stations in 2022 for airing documentaries on banditry that were deemed to undermine national security, Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia ruled in favor of the MRA.

She concluded that the NBC had overstepped its authority by imposing the fines, as it is not a judicial body.

Additionally, the judge lauded the MRA’s legal challenge and issued a perpetual injunction restraining the NBC or any affiliated parties from imposing further fines on any media platform or broadcast station in Nigeria under the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia overturned the fines that had been imposed by the NBC on Multichoice Nigeria Limited (owners of DSTV), TelCom Satellite Limited (TSTV), Trust-TV Network Limited, and NTA Startimes Limited. These fines had been imposed for broadcasting a documentary on banditry and security in Zamfara State, with the judge deeming the regulator’s actions as unjustifiable in a democratic society.

In a statement issued by the NGE’s President, Mr. Eze Anaba, and the General Secretary, Dr. Iyobosa Uwugiaren, the organisation highlighted that Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia’s ruling aligns with their longstanding position that the NBC cannot simultaneously act as the accuser, the investigator, and the judge in matters related to alleged breaches of the Broadcast Code.

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“Our position has always been that an independent body, institution or competent court of law 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 NBC had arrogated judiciary power to itself by imposing fine arbitrarily without recourse to the law,” the Guild stated.

The editors reiterated their earlier resolution to engage President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the National Assembly and other stakeholders over the NBC Act and the Broadcast Code of Conduct – with the aim to amend and reform them to conform to the global best practices.

The MRA had filed a suit asking the court to hold, among other things, that NBC’s action of imposing a fine on each of the media platforms and the station for broadcasting a documentary about the state of banditry and security in Zamfara State is unlawful and unconstitutional and has a chilling effect on the freedom of media to impart information and ideas.

The pro-media rights group had contended that the NBC, not being a court of law and not having been constituted in a manner as to secure its independence and impartiality, has no power or competence to impose fines on broadcast stations as punishment or penalties for the commission of an offence as the competence to establish that an offence has been committed and to impose criminal sanctions or penalties belongs to the courts.

It, therefore, prayed the court to declare the fines unconstitutional, ultra vires, null and void, set them aside, and issue an order of perpetual injunction restraining the NBC, its servants, agents, privies, representatives or anyone acting for or on its behalf, from further imposing any fine on any of the media platforms or station, or any other broadcast station in Nigeria for any alleged offence committed under the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

In her judgment, Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia agreed with all MRA’s arguments and granted all the declarations and injunctions sought by the organisation.

Criticizing the reported invasion of ABN TV by a police team to arrest a guest during a live program in Umuahia, Abia State, recently, the Guild said that the action was unnecessary and uncalled for.

The Guild said that on Tuesday, January 16, 2023, policemen invaded the station during a live program, Youth Rendezvous, to arrest a guest, Mr. Udensi Donald, during the program, claiming that a senior brother of the guest had written a petition against him over a family matter.

The Guild added that despite repeated plead by the staff to the police officers to allow the program to come to an end before the guest could be arrested, the police still whisked him away while the live program was on.

“This action of the police is uncivilized, barbaric and confrontational. No matter the enormity of the alleged offence, the police officers could have without difficulty waited for the live programme to come to an end before swinging into action”, the NGE stated.

The Guild therefore called on the Nigeria Police Force to thoroughly investigate the matter to ensure that the affected officers are brought to book and the broadcast equipment belonging to the TV station, which were damaged in the course of the invasion, be replaced immediately.

However, we are encouraged by the Inspector-General of Police’s promise to thoroughly investigate the actions of the overzealous police officers.

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