from Nigeria National Broadcasting Commission recently imposed a fine 5 million naira (about R200,000) each to MultiChoice Nigeria Limited, NTA-Startimes and Telcom Satellites Limited for the broadcast of a BBC Africa Eye documentary titled Zamfara Bandit Warlords.
He said the documentary “glorified the activities of bandits and undermined national security in Nigeria”.
This imposed a fine of the same amount on Trust TV for broadcasting the documentary Nigerian Banditry: The Inside Story. The Conversation Africa has asked constitutional law expert Abiodun Odusote to weigh in on the implications of the commission’s action.
Are the fines compatible with the broadcasting code?
I see no justification for the Broadcasting Commission’s assertion that the documentary The Bandits Warlords of Zamfara glorified the activities of bandits and undermined national security in Nigeria.
The essence of the code is to ensure compliance with the minimum standard of broadcasting in Nigeria. And this standard aims to ensure that broadcasting serves the interests of the people through information, education and entertainment.
The documentary educated Nigerians by giving them insight into the factors behind insurgency, terrorism and banditry. These factors include ethnic rivalry, livelihood conflicts, poverty and corruption.
These insights confirm my search results on conflicts between farmers, herders and communities in West Africa.
My findings include that conflicts in northern Nigeria are driven by poverty. Conflicts manifest themselves in terrorism, banditry and kidnappings. Ranchers want pastures and cattle passages, while farmers seek to protect their farmlands, plantations and livestock products. I also discovered that ethno-religious connotations aggravated conflicts. I recommended that military intervention alone would not be enough to solve them. Credible legal and institutional frameworks are needed to promote peaceful coexistence.
The documentary also highlights deep-rooted issues of injustice and oppression that must be addressed for there to be reconciliation, forgiveness and peace. Furthermore, it addresses the devastating role corruption plays in fueling terrorism. It challenges the focus on religion alone as the root cause of conflict.
All of this supports the conclusion that the documentary informed and educated Nigerians. It in no way incites crime or glorifies terrorism. It does not shy away from public opinion and contains no offensive references to anyone. It is not likely to incite crime or conflict. This actually sheds light on the nature of the problems.
My conclusion is that the Commission’s action is inconsistent with its code and is highly provocative.
What options do the media have to seek redress?
There are a variety of judicial and non-judicial remedies that the media can pursue. One is to write a letter of protest to the Commission, demanding that it withdraw its letter.
In case of failure, they can contact the Public Complaints Commission to repair. If they are not satisfied with the result, they can challenge the imposition of the fine in court. They can then apply for a court order declaring the imposition of a fine illegal, null and void. They can ask the court to prevent the Commission from revoking or suspending their licenses because of this documentary. And they can seek exemplary damages.
Are the fines an attempt to muzzle the media?
Yes. In my opinion, this is a deliberate attempt to gag the media, to prevent and hinder freedom of expression in relation to insecurity. Any objective viewer knows that the media houses did no legal wrong.
They have not broken any laws, regulations or codes of conduct. They have simply embarked on risky investigative journalism and are to be commended and encouraged. The media has simply exposed the truth that the kidnappers are not ghosts, that the terrorists are known and can be reached, that our soldiers are not sufficiently equipped and that some government officials seem to be taking advantage of the crisis.
It has also been shown that there are other means of solving problems of insecurity apart from military engagement.
The documentary was precise, objective and fair. The media has a constitutional right to freedom of expression and the freedom to inform and educate the public. They should refuse the gagging sentence or the fine.
Are there not enough provisions in Nigeria’s constitution for the government to sanction errant media organisations?
Article 6(1) of the Constitution of Nigeria confers general decision-making powers on the courts to deal with this type of grievance. Chapter IV of the constitution protects fundamental rights, including the right to freedom of expression. The Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Proceedings) Rules 2009, under Chapter IV of the constitution, also allow anyone to go to court if they believe that their fundamental rights are or are likely to be violated.
We have seen cases in the past where the imposition of fines by regulators has been successfully challenged. Media houses can also seek judicial review or an injunction.