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Media not political enemy of FG, says Guild of Editors

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•‘Proposed media bills draconian’

Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has said that the media industry is not a political opponent or enemy of the Federal Government, saying many of the political elite’s attacks on the media are habitually not envisioned to win an argument on the values, journalistic or legal; but designed to bully media organisations.

Reacting to what it described as “draconian provisions” in the two bills – to amend the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) Act, and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act that are currently before the National Assembly, which the sponsors said were aimed at moderating the “recklessness” of the media, the Guild said that the bills are actually meant to criminalise journalism practice in the country.

In a statement issued by the umbrella of all editors in Nigeria and signed by Mustapha Isah (President) and Iyobosa Uwugiaren (General Secretary), on Tuesday, the Guild said that the “oxygen of democracy”: the media, will be strangulated if the bills are passed in their present forms.

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“At a time there is a popular ongoing global conversation about the need for a #NewDealForJournalism” – for immediate and sustained action from, and collaboration between governments and other influential actors to improve the policy, funding, and enabling environment for independent professional journalism, we see the proposed legislations as unhelpful.

“While we are not opposed to an Act that will promote media stakeholders-driven regulatory council, the many draconian provisions in the Hon. Odebunmi Olusegun sponsored bills are actually aimed at criminalising media practice in Nigeria. While the intention of the sponsor of the bills is suspicious, the bills negate all known features of media regulatory bodies in the world,” the Guild stated.  

For example, the Guild said while the NPC Act. CAP N128, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1992, created by the military dictatorship, gives the Council Board full responsibility to administer the council, the proposed Act restricts the council board to “advisory capacity on a part-time basis without direct interference in the day to day administration of the council”, and gives the Executive Secretary all the power.

“While the proposed NPC Act says the Board shall consist of one representative each from the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ); Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE); Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN); Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON); Ministry of Information; two representative of the general public, one of whom shall be a legal practitioner and a woman and Executive Secretary of the council, who shall serve as the secretary to the Board, the board is a mere advisory body.

“The bill also says that the Chairman of the Board shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Minister in charge of Information. And that all other members of the Board shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation by the Minister of Information. The intension of this kind of Council is suspicious,” the Guild said.

The body of editors is of the view that the professional body doesn’t need the approval of the Minister of Information to establish and disseminate a National Press Code and standards to guide the conduct of print media, related media houses and media practitioners and approve penalties and fines against violation of the press code, as provided for in the Bill.

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The NGE noted that in the proposed NPC legislation, the sponsor mischievously smuggled in the controversial “fake news” provision by stating that any person who carries news, established to be fake thereafter, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N5million or a term of two-year imprisonment or both, and a compensation of N2million payable to the person(s), group(s), corporate bodies, government or any of its agencies whom the news was carried against.

According to the NGE, the bill also states that any print media house whose medium was used to carry such news is liable on conviction to a fine of N10million or closure of such media house for a period of one year or both and compensation of N20million to the person, group, corporate body, government or any of its agencies, whom the news was carried against.

On the proposed NBC amendment legislation, the Guild said that the section 23 of the Bill, which gives the Minister of Information powers to participate in the making of regulations, is unhelpful, saying the participation of the Minister will turn NBC into a tool for political interference.

The Guild noted that the provisions of the two bills give the impression that the Federal Government is out to crush its enemy, saying that the media is not an enemy of the state. The NGE added that the two bills if passed, would compound the nation’s negative image in the global community.

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NGENPCOdebunmi Olusegun
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