The Minister for Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria threatened to sanction CNN over its reportage of the Lekki Massacre on the 20th of October, 2020. He referred to their investigation and consequent news report on the issue as poor stating that it was “fake news”, “misinformation” and “balatantly irresponsible”.
The CNN has said that it stands by its news reportage and investigation of the incidence in response to the Minister’s statement. The Nigerian Government has not yet given any evidence disproving the report.
The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) setup on the 24th of August 1992 is the Commission charged with the regulation of the operations of Media Houses in Nigeria and operates under the National Broadcasting Commission Act, CAP N11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
The NBC has jurisdiction over only Nigerian media companies and as such no sanctions against the CNN are applicable under the available Nigerian Broadcasting laws. Section 9(1a) provides that the Commission may only give licence to an applicant, if it is satisfied that the applicant media house is a body corporate registered under the Companies and Allied Matters Act and whose majority shares are owned by citizens of Nigeria.
Some of their activities recently include the fining of some Television Stations like Arise Television, AIT and Channels Television in Nigeria for their reportage of the #Endsars Protests and surrounding events.
Some of these sanctions and fines leave people wondering about the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Nigeria. It is important to note that these rights are not without restrictions. Let’s see what the law says.
Section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides for freedom of expression as a fundamental human right. It states as follows:
“39. (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions:
Provided that no person, other than the Government of the Federation or of a State or any other person or body authorised by the President on the fulfilment of conditions laid down by an Act of the National Assembly, shall own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for, any purpose whatsoever.
(3) Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society –
(a) for the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films; or
(b) imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of the Nigeria Police Force or other Government security services or agencies established by law.”
The right to freedom of press is derived from the fundamental right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under the Constitution.
Section 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) provides that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”
Ademola, CJ had this to say in the case of Director of Public Prosecution v Obi (1961) 1 All NLR 186 where he stated that:
A person has every right to discuss any grievance or criticise, canvass and censor the act of government and their public policy. He may even do this with a view to effecting a change to the party in power or to call attention to some of the weaknesses of the government so long as he keeps within the limits of fair criticism. It is clearly legitimate and constitutional, by means of fair argument, to criticise the government of the day. What is not allowed is to criticise the government in a malignant manner as described in this case. For such attacks, by their nature, tend to affect the public peace.