A Bill at the National Assembly, which seeks to repeal the Nigerian Press Council Act No 85 of 1992, and replace it with the Nigerian Press Council Act 2018, has come to stakeholders with great shock and bewilderment.
Sponsored by Senator Suleiman Asonya Adokwe, PDP – Nasarawa State, the bill wants to impose additional regulations on the media and also sanction journalists over alleged breach of the Act.
We consider it absurd that the bill, which has passed the second reading at the Senate, is also attempting to encroach into the accreditation and setting up of curriculum for journalism institutes, with a view to determining the suitability of media practitioners.
We are constrained to state that proponents of the bill acted in bad faith by disregarding the functions of the existing Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), which incorporates the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigeria Guild of Editors, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).
It is in this regard that we align with the position of the NPO and its affiliates, which described it as “subtle crossbreed of obnoxious military decrees like the “Public Officers (Protection Against False Information) Decree No 4 of 1984,” enacted during the regime of the then Head of State, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, who incidentally is the sitting president in this democratic dispensation.
We are vehemently opposed to the proposed bill and demands that it be withdrawn in its entirety, especially as an appeal by the stakeholders against its promulgation is currently before the Supreme Court.
At a period when the industry has been burdened by several undue interferences, we see this bill as irrational and implore all well-meaning Nigerians and advocates of democratic freedom to rise against it. This is the only way that the media’s important role as the Fourth Estate of the Realm can be preserved.
We canvas that the media must be supported with enabling legislation to move the industry forward, rather than attempting to complicate the turf by introducing self-serving and obnoxious legislation to muzzle press freedom.
These attempts by the proposed Press Council Act to try journalists, fine or jail offenders are at variance with existing laws that guide the journalism profession. This bill, if allowed to succeed, would infringe on the rights of the media to hold government accountable, among other functions.
While it is widely speculated that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration influenced the bill to further stiffen press freedom, it is however reassuring that Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, had absolved the presidency of any involvement.
According to him, President Buhari would not compromise his “impeccable and untainted democratic credentials” by signing the bill into law, if passed, noting that it “violates the letter or the spirit of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The President’s open stand on the bill is encouraging and commendable. We hereby reiterate our call to all stakeholders to join in urging that the proposed amendment be stepped down so that the media’s constitutionally guaranteed protection under Sections 22 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), including the provisions of African Charter of Human and People’s Rights, are not abridged.
We implore the National Assembly to explore ways of expanding press freedom in the country, by creating an enabling environment for journalists’ optimum performance, including legislating against the appalling culture of poor remuneration for journalists coupled with months of unpaid salaries by media companies across the country.