Storm Abuja in protest
LAGOS â€” EDITORS of various media organisations across the country, who are presently in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory have called for the withdrawal of the new Press Council Bill, expected to be tabled for debate on the floor of the House of Representatives today.
The Editors who are expected to take their protests to the doorsteps of the lawmakers have criticised the bill and described it as discriminatory and designed to stifle the media in Nigeria.
The bill sponsored by Abike Dabiri-Erewa, formerly with the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, is generating ripples among media practitioners and non-practitioners alike.
The Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, in a statement by its president, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye, entitled: â€œThe Nigeria Guild of Editors rejects poison- journalism billâ€ made available to Vanguard, yesterday, said the bill seeks to legislate ethics for the media and put it under control.
The Editors said: â€œThe Nigerian Guild of Editors condemns, in the strongest terms, the bill before the National Assembly that purports to enhance the practice of journalism. The Bill, roughly titled, â€œAn Act to provide for the repeal of the Nigerian Press Council Act 1992 and establish the Nigerian Press and Practice of Journalism Council,â€ is the kind of predatory legislation which neither the profession nor the public needs.
â€œThere is hardly any redeeming value in its 12 parts and 79 Sections. The Guild is shocked that this travesty carries the name of a distinguished journalist, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, as sponsor.
â€œSpecifically, the bill intends to create a Council whose chairman will be appointed or dismissed at the pleasure of the President on the recommendation of the Minister of Information and Communications. How can the independence of such an appointee be guaranteed?
â€œThe Guild recalls that the media industryâ€™s principled opposition to the nature of the composition of the Nigerian Press Council, including the appointment of its Chairman, remains not only a subject of litigation but also one of the main reasons for the ineffectiveness of the NPC.
â€œYet, the new bill insists on rubbing this insult on the professionâ€™s festering wound.â€
The Guild noted that â€œSection 10 of the bill requires members of the Council to swear to an oath of secrecy. This may be a standard ritual in government offices, but journalism is about revelation and conflict. We therefore reject any ritual that goes against the grain of transparency and openness in public affairs, which such oath-taking obviously seeks to encourage and perpetuate.
â€œSection 16 of the bill sets up a Media Practitioner Complaint Commission in all the states. This section may be the answer to the prayer of those who have sort to criminalize libel, but it hardly does the profession â€” or even the public â€” any good. It imposes fines ranging from N50,000 on the journalist to N100,000 on the media organisation or even suspension of the journalist or media house from practice!
â€œThis punitive position is unacceptable, especially at a time when the industry has set up a self-regulatory mechanism â€” the Press Ombudsman â€” to deal with press complaints. The Press Ombudsman should be given a chance to work.
â€œOther obnoxious provisions (Sections 26 â€“ 28) in the bill include the licensing of journalists and the pre-qualification examinations. In an age where the profession continues to be enriched by cross-disciplinary knowledge and increasing specialisation, it is ridiculous that the bill intends to return the profession to a closed-shop. This is unacceptable.
â€œIf the bill is a practitionerâ€™s nightmare, the Guild notes that it is, in every respect, an investorâ€™s waterloo. We are at a loss as to where the sponsors found their model â€” a model that seeks to criminalise both the practice and business of journalism.
â€œIt recommends that every media house â€” irrespective of scale of operation â€” should pay 20 per cent above the national minimum wage; and 120 per cent more if the publication covers at least two-thirds of the country. In a country where businesses are virtual governments, providing their own electricity, roads and water (and yet facing the jeopardy of double taxation and high tariffs) this provision will surely do more harm than good. Employers who cannot pay will be forced to close. And this is a clear and present danger.â€
While appreciating the need for the profession to clean its own house, which it said is undergoing reforms, NGE said it is working with other stakeholders to raise the ethical bar, ensure compliance and strengthen reportorial capacity.
It said employers have a duty to treat their staff fairly and in accordance with their contracts of employment.
â€œThe Guild, however, rejects the Bill in its entirety and is surprised that rather that devoting its efforts to the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill, which will have a more profound impact on accountability and transparency, the House is dissipating its energy chasing shadows.â€
The bill is entitled, â€œA bill for an Act to provide for the repeal of the Nigerian Press Council Act, 1992 and establish the Nigerian Press and Practice of Journalism Council, to promote high professional standards for the Nigerian press, and deal with complaints emanating from members of the public about the conduct of journalists and media houses in their professional capacity or complaintsÂ emanating from the press about persons, organisations or institutions of government towards the press and for matter connected therein 2009.â€
The highlights of the obnoxious bill includeâ€“
â€¢The establishment of a Nigerian Press and Practice of Journalism Council and,
â€¢The establishment of a Means Practitioners Complaints Commission (MPCC).
The lawmakers seek to confer on the proposed Press and Practice of Journalism Council, the power of â€œmonitoring the activities of the press with a view to ensuring compliance with the code of professional and ethical conduct,â€ and â€œreceiving application from, and documenting the print media and monitoring their performance to ensure that owners and publishers comply with the terms of their mission statements and objectives in liaison with the NewspaperÂ Proprietors Association of Nigerian (NPAN).â€
Besides, the Council will be the authority to approve a code of professionalÂ and ethical conduct of the Nigerian Union of Journalists and ensure compliance.
In addition, the Council is to be empowered to impose fine on any erring journalist orÂ media house.
Sections 19 (1) and 27 (5) of the bill provide for the creation of a register of accredited journalists, while section 27 (1) seeks to establish a National Examination and Accreditation Board to â€œconduct examination for would- be journalists or graduatesÂ of mass communication in Nigeria in the Nigeria Institute of Journalism.â€
Section 27 (5) prescribes a Journalistsâ€™ Registration Board to issue certificate of practice to every registered journalist in Nigeria while Section 28 wants the council to approve training programmes and institutions for journalists.
The Mass Media Practitioner Complaint Commission, according to industry operators, is intended to render ineffective the Ombudsman mechanism recently established by the NPAN to mediate complaints against the press on ethical conduct and recommend redress.