ContentETC briefing prompts campaign to reform libel in Nigeria

A leading Nigerian media company plans to launch a campaign in Nigeria to reform Nigeria’s libel laws.  Media Trust, a newspaper, internet and magazine publisher in the Nigerian capital, plans to lobby other publishers and journalists to mount this campaign.  The aim is to reform the complicated libel laws to win more freedom of speech.

ContentETC briefing

This plan follows a briefing in London this week for Media Trust’s company secretary and legal advisor, Kabiru Bala, by ContentETC on libel laws.

Kabiru Bala said the need for change was driven by both public interest and private interest.  The public interest is to develop the range of free speech in media in Nigeria.  The private interest of media owners is to shield themselves from expensive libel claims.

More hurdles for claimants; more defences

Bala was impressed in the briefing by the changes in English and Welsh libel introduced in the 2013 act.   This act introduced more points a claimant in a libel action has to prove.  They now are:

  • What content was published, how it was published and how far it was published;
  • That they were identified;
  • That it defames them;
  • If a person, that their reputation was seriously damaged or was likely to be seriously damaged;
  • If a profit making operation, that they were or were likely to be seriously financially damaged; and
  • That England and Wales is the right place to hear this case.

The last 3 of these raises the bar for the claimant.  And then there are defences added which make libel less likely in England and Wales.

The defences are now:

  • The content is substantially true;
  • It is an honest comment;
  • It was in the public interest;
  • It was in a peer-reviewed journal; and
  • It was a review.

Appeal to Nigerian constitution

News Trust will try to take these higher levels of proof and deeper defences into Nigerian law.  The Nigerian constitution says: Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.

This statement in the constitution will be part of the appeal for reform which Media Trust will launch.  Nigeria is a federal republic of states: some issues are at the national level; some are both national and state level; and some at state level.  Libel is set at both national and state levels.

Getting publishers and journalists on board

Media Trust will try to persuade the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria and the Nigeria Union of Journalists to get the campaign for reform going.

Media Trust is well placed to spark this campaign.  It is based in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.

Good luck to their planned campaign.  Only by initiatives like this can the restrictive libel laws of the world be loosened.

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