By Tuned Opalana, Abuja
The National Assembly has issued stringent accreditation guidelines for journalists covering the legislative arm of government in a move aimed at gagging the media.
In the guidelines issued by the National Assembly management and made public on Monday, it outlined the process of fresh accreditation for journalists to consist of 19 new conditions to be met by media houses before they can be accredited to cover the activities of the National Assembly.
The new guidelines specify the number of journalists, photo journalists and cameramen, mode and class of accreditation and other unimaginable requirements from media organizations.
Titled: “New guidelines for the accreditation of media organizations, journalists/ correspondents covering the National Assembly,” the circular classified accreditation as permanent, temporary, foreign/ international media houses and freelance while permanent accreditation entails evidence of certificate of incorporation of the media organizations, evidence of membership of professional bodies, proof of membership of NUJ with registration number, code of certification from the National Library for the media organization.
Other requirements include, functional bureau in Abuja, with staff strength not less than five editorial staff and daily circulation of 40, 000 copies for the print media with evidence to support the claimed circulation figure with media houses publishing daily and on weekends (also applicable to online media).
It added that the re-certification form must be signed and endorsed by the chief executive officer of the media organization, bureau chief or city editor as the case may be, that the media organization must have two years experience of covering National Assembly proceedings before applying for permanent accreditation.
“All media organization will submit a copy of its income tax return for the last two years, all online media must have at least 5, 000 viewership per day, the site must have been in operation for five years and provide satisfactory evidence to this effect with clippings of the news utilized (especially parliamentary news).
“Only television stations with national coverage and specific independent producers with current running programmes on the National Assembly will be allowed access into the chambers on a permanent basis (all the production crew will be accredited at entity).
“All correspondents must attach photocopy of letter of appointment of the media organization on whose behalf request has been received for grant of accreditation.
“All freelance journalists seeking permanent accreditation must show evidence of not less than five years coverage of the National Assembly proceedings/full editorial focus and publication on parliamentary reportage,” the guidelines further stipulate.
The management therefore, warned that it is only journalists and correspondents whose media organizations meet the above requirements for permanent accreditation that will be entitled to carry National Assembly identity card/membership of the respective press corps as all other media organization who do not meet the above requirement will be captured under the temporary accreditation status and will not be entitled to carry National Assembly identity card/membership of the press corps of the Senate and House of Representatives.
It stated further that all temporary accredited media houses, journalists/correspondents shall be allowed permit into the National Assembly for specific coverage not exceeding one week in the first instance and not more than twice in a month while foreign/international media houses seeking accreditation shall abide by all the diplomatic protocols established by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for foreign media organizations, the code of ethics for journalists and security clearance before accreditation will be considered upon the recommendation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The management advised all permanently accredited journalists/correspondents to submit re-certification letter from the chief executive officer of their media organizations on a sessional basis failure to which accreditation shall be withdrawn forthwith.
The new accreditation guidelines come into effect from June 11.
Meanwhile, journalists covering the National Assembly have kicked against the guidelines, describing it as an attempt to muzzle the press and suppress its freedom.
In a letter addressed to the Clerk to the National Assembly, Sani Omolori and signed by the Chairman of the Senate Press Corps, Ezrel Tabiowo, the media cautioned the NASS management not to swim against the tide.
He stated categorically that the guidelines “suppress press freedom and the ethos of parliamentary democracy which the press corps of both chambers have over the years strive to uphold.
“In our assessment, we believe the recent move by the management poses an act of intimidation against journalists assigned to cover the National Assembly.”
He informed the management that Section 22 of the constitution (as amended) empowers the media to hold government and its institutions accountable to the people.
Tabiowo, who doubles as the secretary general, West African Parliamentary Press Corps, said the press corps as a body has over the years ensured that only credible media houses and professional journalists are accredited to be members of the body, so as to shut out quacks that may give the profession a bad name.
The body therefore, asked the management to liaise with the leadership of the press corps to obtain a list of members who meet the requirements for membership as provided in the press corps bye-laws.