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Nigerian press council Bill 2018, a travesty

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The audacity of the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO) comprising the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigeria Guild of Editors and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) as well as other media stakeholders in rejecting the Nigerian Press Council Bill 2018, the other day at a National Assembly’s public hearing on the obnoxious bill is remarkable to all lovers of (press) freedom.

The NPO has consistently described the bill that seeks to curtail press freedom in Africa’s most populous country as “draconian, unconstitutional and against the rule of law.”

Even before the well-attended public hearing in Abuja there had been some consensus by not only the NPO but all stakeholders in the news media including the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON).

For instance, in a communiqué issued at the end of their meeting held on July 19, 2018 to deliberate on the bill, the stakeholders stated that they “painstakingly studied the provisions of the proposed bill in the context of its implication for free speech, press freedom, media independence, safety of journalists and the right to operate as a business in accordance with the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria” and so declared that the bill is evil and should be spiked by the federal legislature.

In the same communiqué, the media stakeholders reminded promoters of the hateful draft law of the fact that a law suit instituted by the NPO on the same subject matter (of the bill) is pending at the Supreme Court and so it is subjudice.

According to the stakeholders, the content of the amendment bill to the 1992 NPC law that is unworkable is “draconian and anti-press freedom, being an amalgamation of the obnoxious Public Officers Protection Against False accusation Decree No. 4 of 1984 and the Newspapers Registration Decree 43 of 1993, both vestiges of the dark days of military rule and therefore incurably and irreparably bad, being also inconsistent with values of our democratic society.”

In unequivocal terms, the communiqué, which set the tone for the public hearing rejection, also noted that the bill “seeks to criminalise journalism practice despite the fact that the laws of the country already have enough provisions and avenues for seeking legal redress.”

This newspaper agrees with the NPO and the other media stakeholders who have noted clearly that the bill is indeed another futile attempt to interfere in the operations of the news media in Nigeria, which are businesses registered under the relevant laws of the federation.

And so, the toxic bill should be rejected outright.

The reasons should not be too far to seek by members of the public.

First, the bill seeks for the Nigeria Press Council (NPC) to usurp the powers of the courts by assuming extra-judicial powers. Specifically, the bill seeks to incapacitate the media in the exercise of the duties and obligations imposed on it by Section 22 of the constitution to monitor governance and hold government accountable to the people.

The Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution states as follows: ‘The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.’

Besides, the objectionable bill violates the provisions of Section 39 of the 1999 constitution (as amended), sections 1 and 2 of which state as follows:

“(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,” the communiqué stated.

What is more, the bill violates Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement Act) No. 2 of 1983 to which Nigeria is a signatory and now part of the country’s laws.

It is also ridiculous that the same hateful bill through some of its other obnoxious provisions seeks to indoctrinate Nigerians, through the use and misuse of curricula reform in training of journalists and thus usurp the powers of the regulatory bodies in the educational sector affecting media training especially the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the National Board for Technical Education (NBTC).

What is worse, the bill also seeks to create the impression that the Nigerian media community does not take the issues of ethics and self regulation seriously, whereas it is a well known fact that the mechanisms actually exist including the Code of Conduct of Journalists in Nigeria, the Ethics Committees of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the recently launched Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage endorsed by media stakeholders.

The media stakeholders have articulated all the aforementioned to justify reasons the bill should be discarded.

This newspaper would like to reiterate to those who are afraid of the news media and do not know the role of the media that the role is a constitutional creation, hence it is called the Fourth Estate of the Realm, to watch over the three other Estates, the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary, according to the UNESCO’s Many Voices, One World” (MacBride Commission Report (1980) “…whenever there is abuse of power, incompetence, corruption and other deviations….”

So, the National Assembly should leave the media alone to exercise its constitutional obligations as spelt out in Section 22 of the Constitution as amended.

In the same vein, we believe in the groundswell of opinions that Nigeria’s federal legislature should at this time concentrate on passing laws that will promote transparency, accountability and open government.

Such expected laws should be on issues such as mandatory delivery of the State of the Nation address by the President and State of The State Address by Governors on specified days of the year; ensuring by law, Presidential and Governorship Election Debates before elections; complete transparency in election funding including public declaration of sources of election finance by all candidates and political parties and ensuring the integrity of our electoral process as the media stakeholders have stated too.

Members of the public should note that there is no altruism in the action of the promoters of this bill.

It should be noted therefore that across the globe, one of the major talking points in politics and diplomacy is the emerging era of strongmen in office and power.

And so, regulation of the media industry, which has come with resistance as it is viewed as an attempt to crush opinions, views and perspectives to government policies or corporate actions against the strongmen in power, has curiously become a fundamental objective of state policies, in global context.

Yes, strongmen, rogue regimes, corrupt and clueless powers would like to muzzle the news media.

And if they succeed, the fist casualty is the majesty of democracy – freedom of expression, where free press too derives its strength and significance.

So, specifically, the people and public intellectuals should note the following elements in the unfolding scenario:

The Bill seeks to regulate journalism practice by establishing a statutory body to arbitrate between the media and members of the public.

This is opposed to the insistence of media practitioners that self- regulation subject to the existing laws of the land is the best guarantee for media freedom in a democratic society.

In the United Kingdom there are two regulatory bodies who are guided by the Royal Charter namely the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) and IMPRESS the press regulator recognized by Press Recognition Panel in the country.

Norway has its media authority that mediates in cases where press freedom and media neutrality are threatened in the country.

For the United States of America there is nothing like regulation of the media, the only role of the Federal Communication Commission is to wade into instances where broadcasting provisions are violated.

It is sadly remarkable that there is a consistency in the convergence between the executive and the legislature in this conspiracy against press freedom.

They have been steadfast in the way they had earlier come up with Social Media Regulatory and Hate Speech Bills, which have also been scotched in the same way at public hearing stages.

There is but one mind in all these politicians in Abuja, all bent against free and safe press. This is sad.

In the main, the NPC Bill 2018, which seeks to repeal the Nigerian Press Council Act of 1992, is another blight on the Majesty of Democracy and the Rule of Law.

It should be allowed to wither away as its offspring, notably the Hate Speech and Social Media Bills.


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