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Anti-press bill is attempt to curb freedom of expression, says Oloja

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[FILES] Martins Oloja


The current attempt to review the practice of journalism in Nigeria targets not only the press but also freedom of expression of the citizens, said Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian, Martins Oloja.
   
Speaking on Arise TV, yesterday, Oloja said Nigerians must rise in unison to resist the obnoxious media censorship bill. He said taking away the freedom of expression of Nigerians would stifle expression of opinion and stunt the country’s development.

“Members of the public need to know that the freedom of the press does not exist on its own. Freedom of the press is derived from freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is what gives vein to the freedom of the press. What the government wants to take away is not only the freedom of the press but also the freedom of expression of Nigerians, which is a core value of every democracy in the world.

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“If the government takes away the freedom of expression, people will not be well informed to make the choices they need to make to elect good people. We will not be in a position to examine deviations and every wrong policy of the government.”
   
Oloja maintained there is no need for government to fear a free media. But R\rather, journalism that can strengthen democracy through investigation. 
   
According to him, “The most fearful aspect of what government wants to do is ensure that journalists cover-up instead of covering events and decisions of government. Our responsibility as journalists is covering events and exposing corruption and not covering up.”

Why should we not cover according to Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution? Our job is to monitor governance and hold public institutions to account. That responsibility cannot be criminalised. No subsidiary legislation can take that away.”

Noting that the latest move to gag the press is not a new development, Oloja said: “Nigeria as a country witnessed this even during the colonial administration and the media survived. We will survive this. We need to tell the people in authority that this adventure will not succeed.
   
“On August 16, 2018, when the United States faced some existential threats, 350 newspapers and magazines in that country wrote the same editorial on the actions of their Commander-in-Chief. President Donald Trump was talking about fake news. The United States survived. Where is that Commander-in-Chief today? So, what the Nigerian media did on Monday and Tuesday of this week was not new. The government needs to learn lessons from that. Government should know that the Nigerian media would not tolerate this.

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“To the people that are sponsoring and suspending the bill, they don’t have to suspend it. They need to know that the ministry of information is not needed anymore. What is needed is the ministry of communication. In 2014, the Ghanaian government merged information and communication ministries. Also, in South Africa, they have the ministry of communication and digital technology.”
   
He further stressed the urgent need for government functionaries to seek new knowledge and embrace criticism.
   
“Government must draw lessons from the happenstances in the 21st century in order not to be illiterates. They should know that the illiterates of the 21st century will not be those that did not go to school, but those who cannot learn, re-unlearn and relearn.”
   
Oloja denied the erroneous claim by some government functionaries that the press is averse to regulation. “It is not true that the press does not want to be regulated,” he said: “The truth is that the Nigeria Press Council law they are trying to amend now will give the President power to appoint everyone on the board; even representatives of the media will be nominated by the President. While we are not averse to regulation, we do not want a regulation that will take away the freedom of expression that is granted to the Nigerian people by the constitution.”

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