The media along with other media stakeholders in the country again re-emphasize on Monday, it opposition to the Nigerian Press Council bill 2018, pointing out that the bill is anti-people, draconian, a carry-over from the military, unconstitutional and subjudice
President of the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) who is also the President, Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), which comprises of the NPAN, the Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE), the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, reaffirmed this at the Public Hearing on the Nigerian Press Council Bill 2018.
The hearing was organised by the Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation, chaired by Senator Sulaiman A. Adokwe and was declared open by the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who was represented by the the Senate’s spokesman, Dr Aliu Sabi Abdullahi.
Mr. Obaigbena spoke even as the Life Patron of the NPAN, Mal. Ismaila Isa mni, clarified that the media community turned out overwhelmingly for the hearing, out of utmost respect for the National Assembly, the Senate and the Committee. Also present was the Publisher of Vanguard Newspapers, Mr. Sam Amuka.
Mal. Isa, noted that the matter on the Press Council, 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.
The media stakeholders who took turn to speak and raised a common objectiofroth the bill at Monday’s hearing, were Mr. John Momoh, Chairman, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) who was represented, Mrs Funke Egbemode, President, Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Mr. Waheed Jinadu, 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 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.
He assured the the nation that as responsible members of 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 the objection of the media to the bill as it’s being unconstitutional as it runs against the principles and tenets of the rule of law, being draconian and anti-press freedooffs, 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 our democratic society.
He noted that the bill seeks to criminalize 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 a the Nigeria Press Council to usurp the powers of the courts by assuming extra-judicial powers.
Most especially, he 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 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”
Also, he said 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”
The chairman of the committee, Senator Adokwe, 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 Senator Ben Bruce and Dino Melaiye , were strong believers in Press freedom and would do nothing to abridge the freedom adding that on hearing on Sunday that the Press Council matter was even before the court, he took his time study the the court documents to ensure that the committee acted within the law by proceeding with the hearing.
Declaring the public hearing open , Dr. Saraki had 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.