Senate, media owners disagree on Press Council Act amendment bill
During the public hearing organised by its Committee on Information and National Orientation, the Senate insisted that it was repealing and reenacting the Act since it was created by a military regime.
But media stakeholders under the aegis of the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO) argued that if passed, the bill would restrict press freedom in the country.
The committee had argued that the new bill seeks to expunge perceived draconian provisions of the extant law, amend same to reflect current sensibilities and insert new clauses to situate journalism practice in line with global standards.
It further argued that it would grant autonomy to the NPC, while creating institutional frameworks for the enforcement of ethical codes and standards, as regulated by the practitioners.
However, President of NPO, Nduka Obaigbena, said rather than engage in regulating the media, the Senate should “exercise its constitutional obligations in Section 22 of the Constitution, by passing laws that will promote transparency, accountability and open government.”
Such laws, he explained, should include mandatory delivery of the State of the Nation Address by the President and State of the State by governors on specific days of the year.
“The Senate should ensure there is a law in presidential and governorship election debates before elections; complete transparency in election funding, including public declaration of sources of election funds by all candidates and political parties and ensuring the integrity of our electoral process,” he said.
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who was represented by its spokesman, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, said the Red Chamber was advancing the empowerment of NPC to deal with “adverse impacts of fake news on the polity and the potential of heightening tensions with regard to the various subnational conflict situations currently being experienced.
Saraki said a revived NPC, would be in a special position to safeguard Nigeria’s democracy from both extremes of the media spectrum.
“This is why we want to ensure that the guiding Act endows the Council with all the powers it requires to carry out its mandate without hindrance.
“To this end, the bill attempts to correct existing deficiencies, revolutionise the NPC and promote high ethical and professional standards for Nigerian journalists,” he stated.
The NPO, however, rejected Saraki’s position and that of sponsor of the bill, who doubles as chairman of the committee, Suleiman Adokwe, that its passage would be in the best interest of the press.
Obaigbena said since the case has advanced to the Supreme Court, Senate’s attempts to repeal and reenact the Act, would be hasty insisting that they decided to honour the committee’s invitation out of respect for parliament.
Media stakeholders at the hearing vehemently rejected attempts by Adokwe to explain the novelty of the bill.
The subsisting NPC Act was established through a military decree in 1992, when Ibrahim Babaginda was head of state.
Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Guild of Editors (NGE), Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), International Press Council (IPC), Institute for Media and Society and Media and Law Centre, were represented at the hearing.