Femi Falana, foremost human rights lawyer has cautioned the Nigerian Broadcast commission against breaching constitutional provisions for shutting down media organisations.
He made the call in a statement to newsmen of Friday in the wake of the comissions seeming repression of press freedom in the country; the most recent being the shutting down of AIT and Ray Power.
Falana said, “The closure of media houses was a common phenomenon under the defunct military dictatorship in Nigeria.
“Since the restoration of civil rule 20 years ago, the dangerous trend has continued under succesive regimes either through military invasion of media houses or seizure of copies of newspapers.
“The NBC has just lifted the suspension of the licences of AIT and Raypower FM Radio stations in compliance with the ex parte order granted by the federal high court.
“It is hoped that the authorities of the Nigeria Police Force and State Srcurity Service will withdraw the armed goons mounting siege in the compound of the AIT/Raypower FM stations without any delay.
“As far as democratic forces in the country are concerned, the battle for press freedom has been won, once again. But it is a temporary victory which should not be celebrated without caution.
“Even under the most vicious military junta in Nigeria the courts ordered the reopening of the premises of the National Concord and Punch newspapers which were illegally closed down and occupied for months by armed troops. And the court orders were complied with by the military dictators.
“No doubt, the NBC has been empowered by the NBC Act to regulate all broadcasting organisations in the country.
“But in exercising its wide powers NBC has to be made to appreciate that it can no longer operate outside the ambit of the Constitution as was the case under military rule.
“Since fundamental rights including freedom of expression can no longer be curtailed or abrogated except in a manner permitted by law the NBC ought to realise that it cannot suspend licences of media houses, ban radio houses from playing records of artists or impose fines on alleged offenders without a court order.
“Therefore, the NBC cannot suo motu charge a media house with engaging in inciting, inflammatory or false broadcast, try the charge, convict and proceed to impose fines on the alleged offender.
“But as no freedom is absolute the NBC may be compelled by unforseen circumstances to suspend a media house in the public interest.
“For instance, a broadcasting house that decides to announce fake result of a general election may be temporarily shut down. Even in such an emergency situation the NBC will be required, as soon as possible thereafter, to apply for a court order to legitimise the closure.
“Alternatively, the NBC may request the Attorney-General to charge a media house for breaching the provisions of the NBC Act or penal statutes.
“Otherwise, the powers of the NBC may be arbitrarily exercised to the detriment of law and order in the society.”
SaharaReporters, New York