ANTI-MEDIA BILLS: Media can't be cowed —Osoba, JODER, CMLA
Olusegun Osoba

•Attack on media’s attack on the people —Osoba

•Journalists must defy anti-free speech laws —JODER

•It’s onslaught against the media —CMLA

•Partner press, Caleb Varsity VC counsels govt

By Clifford Ndujihe, Dapo Akinrefon & Adesina Wahab

OUTRAGE continued to trail the proposed anti-media bills at the National Assembly, Thursday, with some stakeholders saying that the media cannot be cowed, and urged journalists to defy anti-free speech laws.

The House of Representatives is currently considering amendment bills to the Nigeria Press Council Act, and National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, Act, which contain anti-free speech and journalism practice proposals that media stakeholders are kicking against.

Read about the sponsor of the bill, who has no media background, HERE.

Osoba fumes

Speaking on the proposed anti-press freedom bills, Media Icon and former Governor of Ogun State, Aremo Olusegun Osoba, said the NPC amendment bill is ”a terrible draconian law. It has never happened in the history of Nigeria that a law as sweeping as this will be proposed. Not even under the military was this done.”

Arguing that, if passed into law, the proposed amendments would make the NPC Act worse than Decree 4 of 1984 because ”Decree 4 was restricted to the disclosure of sources of information

“The one they are proposing now includes obtaining a licence before you can build a press hub. You have to obtain a licence. It says before you can even begin printing a newspaper, you must obtain a licence. It is far-reaching and sweeping.”

Urging the media to continue to fight for press freedom, the elder statesman said: ”Press freedom is never awarded. Over the years, we have always fought for the right to practice.

“We have been fighting the press council issue for over 25 years. I remember what led to the Nigerian Press Organisation and the production of a code of conduct for journalists.

“It was because attempts were made in the 1970s to set up a regulatory body for the print media. We resisted it and we have to continue resisting it.

Osoba who said attempts to replicate the China model controlling the flow of information in Nigeria, urged the media: “Resistance, resistance, resistance and fight, fight and fight on our part is a struggle.

“The freedom that we enjoy today, to some extent, has been as a result of the sacrifices on the part of our journalists, many of whom suffered deprivation because of their belief in freedom and the rights of the individual. Let us emphasize that an attack on the media is an attack on the individual.

Defy anti-free speech laws, media group counsel journalists

Speaking in like manner, Nigeria’s pioneer media rights group, Journalists for Democratic Rights, JODER, urged media practitioners in the country to get ready to defy any anti-press laws the Nigerian authority may enact.

In a statement, yesterday, by its Executive Director, Mr Adewale Adeoye, JODER said said journalists in Nigeria are used to anti-media laws and that such have always been historically defied by journalists.

It said the proposed bill to regulate the media will create a one dimensional society where the government will only listen to itself leaving the citizens to resort to unconventional means to express themselves adding that suppression of public opinion is a violent assault on the people.

JODER urged Nigerians to continue to press hard against the plot by the Presidency to muzzle the press but added: “If we cannot stop the draconian laws, the tradition has always been to defy them. Rebellion against unjust laws is the duty of journalists.”

The group said the Nigerian Press Council Act and the National Broadcasting Commission Act violate the principles of democracy one of which is free speech without which Nigerian leaders cannot lay claim to representing the people that elected them.

READ ALSO: No hand in anti-media bills — PRESIDENCY

“Infringement on the right of expression is corruption of the worst variant. It is not only against the media, it is against the people. It is against the business and political class.

“It is against the masses. It is against expectations of the local and international community. It takes away the freedom of the electorates to express themselves and their right to question those elected to represent them.

“Nigeria is witnessing the emergence of dictatorship and a clear descent into anarchy. We are seeing disdain for the right of Nigerians to hold opinion contrary to the opinions of those in power. This has no place in representative government.

“The proposed bill empowers the NPC to suspend a journalist meaning that the NPC is to keep a ledger on the stories published by the media and employ the sledge hammer when interests of public officers are perceived to be threatened whereas most of the time, the interests of the people and public officials many of who are corrupt are not the same.

“Since 1859, when the first newspaper was published in Nigeria, journalists have fought hard and courageously to defeat anti-media laws. On this course, many have been either killed or disappeared.

“At each junction, the media have always won the battles. When the military came up with Decrees 4 and others that muzzle the press, the response was to defy the draconian laws. It is almost certain that history is about to repeat itself,” the group added.

JODER said the proposed bill is an attempt to reverse the gains of democracy since 1999 and to bring back a culture of anomie and siege on the society.

“The proposed bill negates Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and a reversal of the 1991 Windhoek Declaration by African journalists while it represents a retrogressive policy that reduces the democratic status of Nigeria in Africa.”

Onslaught against the media —CMLA

Also, the Centre for Media Law and Advocacy, CMLA, in a statement by its Director, Richard Akinnola, said the proposed amendments are planned onslaught against the media.

It said: ”Through subtlety, deceptively couched in the form of amendments to the statutes establishing the National Broadcasting Commission and Nigeria Press Council, the government is disingenuously trying to censor the media.

”Working in tandem with the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, the House of Representatives, last week, conducted a public hearing on the two amendments, which contained scandalous provisions meant to cow the media.

”It needs be noted that right from the colonial era, the Nigerian press had been quite resilient and whatever freedom it enjoys today has been a product of such resilience, advocacy and litigation.

“The successive military governments tried to gag the press, even at a period there was no social media, and such attempts failed. Any of such attempt under the current dispensation is also bound to fail.

”Despite the pendency of a suit at the Supreme Court on the Nigeria Press Council Act, the committee proceeded with the hearing on the amendments.

“’It is an irony of fate that a government that rode to power through the power of the social media, with Lai Mohammed leading the pack with disinformation, misinformation and propaganda, first as the spokesperson of ACN and later the APC, is the one leading the onslaught on the media

“What is playing out now is the reincarnation of General Babangida’s Newspapers Registration Decree 43 of 1993 and General Buhari’s Public Officers (protection against false accusations) Decree 4 of 1984.

“Just like how such attempts failed under the military dispensation, any of such disingenuous attempt under the current democratic dispensation, to cow and censor the press, is also bound to fail.”

Partner press, Caleb Varsity VC counsels govt

A communication  expert, who is also the Vice Chancellor of Caleb University, Imota, Lagos, Professor Owens Nosa Owens-Ibie, has admonished the government to help the media be more functional in the discharge of their constitutional responsibilities aimed at national growth.

Owens-Ibie, who noted that Section 2 of the 1999 Constitution gave the Press the duty to make the government  accountable to the people, said: “There is a lot of history behind media law and the last was a product of a level of consensus.

“Any attempt to update that would need to consider the views of various stakeholders . I believe that the government will benefit immensely by engaging the stakeholders in dialogue.

“It is by engaging the various stakeholders and knowing their views that would make any revision of the law help national growth.

“There is a lot of sensitivity around the media and the government should be wary of that if all we are looking for and seeking to achieve is national development.

“Government should partner the media, the civil society and others for the media to actualise and achieve their constitutional roles. At the end of the day, there must be a holistic understanding of the situation.”

Vanguard News Nigeria

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