By Luka Biniyat & Tordue Salem
ABUJA â€” THE Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, the Nigerian Press Council and other media stakeholders yesterday called for the urgent removal of some clauses seeking government control of the media through various means from a Bill for Amendment to the Nigerian Press Council Act.
President of Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye and others, who gave detailed assessment of the Bill yesterday, described as â€œobnoxiousâ€ some of the clauses in the Bill, concluding that if passed into law, it will be setting the journalism practice in Nigeria decades backward.
The Bill sponsored by Abike Dabiri-Erewa(AC Ikorodu/Lagos) 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 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 Journalism and Media Houses in their Professional Capacity, or Complaints Emanating from Press About the Conduct of Persons, Organisation or Institutions of Government Towards the Press and for Matters Connected therewithâ€.
Former Minister of Information, Chief Tony Momoh in his 17-page presentation warned that stakeholders in the media should not be expected to support the piece of legislation, as it was unnecessary and its provisions superfluous.
â€œThe question still remains that whatever monitoring structures are put in place will be those that will help grow democracy, not undermine it. In this light, the NPO (Nigerian Press Organisation), has set up the office of ombudsman and has requested that those who have complaints against media performance should file reports to the ombudsman who is a retired judge of the Court of Appeal.
â€œThe media have promised to be bound by the decisions of the ombudsman. It is doubtful that they would be willing to cooperate in the operation of this bill, if it becomes lawâ€, he warned.
Professor Ralph Akinfeleye, Head, Department of Mass Communications, University of Lagos , in his presentation, kicked against the proposed change of the Nigerian Press Council name to the â€œNigerian Press and Practice of Journalism Councilâ€.
He also kicked against the proposed â€œInvolvement of the Minister of Information and Communications in the appointment of the Executive Security for the Councilâ€, he argued that that would be contradicting the 1999 Constitution that seeks clear â€œautonomyâ€ for the media.
But the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole who was represented by the Leader of the House at the public hearing, called on the stakeholders to close ranks with the supporters of the Bill, to modify clauses perceived as contentious by stakeholders.
â€œWe are of the strong belief that, at the end of this public hearing, all contentious areas that have been identified by some sections of the Nigerian Press Organisation would be satisfactorily addressed.
â€œFor instance, certain provisions in the existing act which some stakeholders have deemed as tantamount to censorship and the abridgement of press freedom would be amended. If eventually enacted, this Bill, which is essentially a consensus arrangement by all parties involved, would have addressed the concerns of the respective stakeholdersâ€, he stated.
Earlier, the Acting Chairman of the House Committee on Information, Mustapha Khabeeb, added that if passed, the Bill would â€œreposition the Nigerian Press Council in dealing with complaints emanating from the Members of Public about the conduct of journalism and Media Houses in their professional capacityâ€.
Committee set to modify Act
Meanwhile, a six-member committee has been set up to incorporate the views of stakeholders in the proposed amendment to the Nigeria Press Council Act.
The committee was set up yesterday in Abuja at the end of the one-day public hearing on the proposed Nigerian Press and Practice of Journalism Council Bill.
Vice Chairman of the Committee, Mustapha, said former Information Minister, Prince Tony Momoh, will head the committee.
The members will come from the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, NPAN, the Nigeria Press Council NPC and the Ministry of Information and Communications.
â€œThe committee will incorporate the views canvassed here and report back to us within two weeks,â€™â€™ Mustapha said.
Media personalities, including former Governor of Lagos State, Lateef Jakande; former Information Minister, Prince Tony Momoh; former Director-General of NTA, Dr Tonnie Iredia and former NAN Managing Director, Malam Wada Maida, attended the public hearing.
Others are NUJ National President, Mohammed Garba, NGE President, Gbenga Adefaye, Secretary of NPAN, Feyi Smith and Advertisers Practitioner Council of Nigeria, APCON, Registrar, Bello Kankanrofi.