Media practitioners and stakeholders in the media industry rose on Monday in unison to tell the Senate that the proposed Nigerian Press Council bill 2018 will do the industry no good, but rather criminalise journalism practice and see the Nigeria Press Council usurping the powers of the courts by assuming extra-judicial powers.
The media practitioners under the aegis of Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), comprising the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), said this on Monday at the Public Hearing on the Nigerian Press Council Bill 2018 at the Senate.
The President of NPO, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, who is also the President of the NPAN, who spoke on behalf of the organisation, re-emphasised its opposition to the Nigerian Press Council bill 2018.
He also pointed out that the bill is anti-people, draconian, a carry-over from the military, unconstitutional and subjudice.
He noted that the bill seeks to criminalise journalism practise despite the fact that the laws of the country already had enough provisions and avenues for seeking legal redress and that the bill smacks of an attempt at undue interference in the operations of the media in Nigeria as businesses registered under the relevant laws of the federation.
More so, he said the bill sought for Nigeria Press Council to usurp the powers of the courts by assuming extra-judicial powers.
The public hearing, which was organised by the Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation, chaired by Senator Sulaiman A. Adokwe and declared open by the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who was represented by the Senate’s spokesman, Dr. Aliu Sabi Abdullahi, was also attended by the Life Patron of the NPAN, Mallam Ismaila Isa. Also present was the Publisher of Vanguard Newspapers, Mr. Sam Amuka.
The NPO President noted that the bill sought to create the impression that the Nigerian media community did not take the issues of ethics and self regulation seriously, whereas it was a well known fact that the mechanisms actually exist, including the Code of Conduct of Journalists in Nigeria, the Ethics Committees of the NUJ and NGE and the recently launched Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage endorsed by media stakeholders.
Obaigbena assured that as responsible members of the Nigerian society, the media without equivocation “will continue doing all it could to further promote media ethics, professionalism, transparency, accountability and self-regulation, to ensure that the public interest is served at all times”.
He listed other areas of objections of the media to the bill as its being unconstitutional as it runs against the principles and tenets of the rule of law, its being draconian and anti-press freedom, as it is 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, inconsistent with values of democratic society.
Most especially, Obaigbena said the bill sought to incapacitate the media in the exercise of the duties and obligations imposed on it by section 22 of the constitution which is to monitor governance and hold government accountable to the people as encapsulate thus:
“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”.
He also added that the bill also 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”
Also speaking at the hearing, the Life Patron of the NPAN, Mallam Isa, clarified that the media community turned out overwhelmingly for the hearing, out of utmost respect for the National Assembly, the Senate and the Committee.
Mallam Isa noted that the court case on the Press Council, which was instituted several years ago, is still pending before the Supreme Court, and that one would have expected that the National Assembly would have allowed the justice system to run its full course before any other thing.
Other media stakeholders who took turn to speak and raised a common objection to the bill at the hearing include Mr. John Momoh, Chairman, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), who was represented by Mrs. Funke Egbemode, President, Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE);
Mr. Waheed Odusile, President, Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ); Mr. Edeatan Ojo, Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA); Mr. Lanre Arogundade, Director, International Press Centre (IPC);
Akin Akingbolu PhD, Executive Director, Institute for Media and Society (IMS); and NPAN legal team led by Ms. Mobisola Akerele and Paul Ngbeoma of the Tayo Oyetibo and Co Chambers.
The chairman of the committee, Senator Adokwe, however said that the National Assembly had no intention to cripple the press but to make it vibrant.
He said he, along with members of the committee which included Senators Ben Bruce and Dino Melaiye, were strong believers in press freedom and would do nothing to abridge same,
adding that on hearing through various news channels on the eve of the public hearing that the Press Council matter was before the court, he himself being a lawyer and a former commissioner for Information, took his time to study the court documents to ensure that the committee acted within the law by proceeding with the hearing.
Declaring the public hearing open, Saraki said the objective was to bring the media along global best practices and clean the existing press council law of the vestiges of the military, which in the first instance made the law.