Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has rejected the proposed National Press Council (NPC) Act Amendment Bill before the House of Representatives and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act amendment Bill, describing them as draconian and an orchestrated move to stifle the press.
It also said provisions of the NPC and NBC amendment Bills give the government away as seeing the media as an enemy and therefore wants to use obnixious laws to gag it.
“The media is not an enemy of the Federal Government and should not be seen as such by agents of government. Attacks by political elite on the media, which may have prompted the NPC amendment Bill and the NBC amendment Bill, are habitually not envisioned to win an argument on the values of journalism, but designed to intimidate media organisations,” the Guild said.
In a statement signed by Mustapha Isah (President) and Iyobosa Uwugiaren (General Secretary) on Tuesday, the NGE said the federal government is trying to remove the ‘’oxygen of democracy’’ by attempting to strangulate the media with laws which are against the tenets of democracy.
According to the Guild, the ‘’draconian provisions’’ in the NPC amendment Bill and the NBC Act amendment put a lie to the sponsors’ claim that they are aimed at moderating the ‘’recklessness’’ of the media, insisting that it was “a clear move to criminalise journalism practice in the country.
The Guild said: “At a time there is a popular ongoing global conversation about the need for a #NewDealForJournalism – for immediate and sustained action from, and collaboration between government and other influential actors to improve policy, funding and enabling environment for independent professional journalism, the proposed legislations will be unhelpful.”
The umbrella body of Nigerian editors said while it is not opposed to any law that will promote media stakeholders’ driven regulatory council, the many harsh and anti- democracy provisions in the Hon. Odebunmi Olusegun sponsored NPC amendment Bill are actually aimed at criminalising media practice in Nigeria.”
Saying that the NPC Act amendment Bill and NBC Act amendment Bill negate all known features of media regulatory bodies in the world, the Guild said “while the NPC Act. CAP N128, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1992, created by the military dictatorship, gives the Council Board full responsibility to administer the council, the proposed amendment Bill reduced the council board to ‘advisory capacity’ on a part-time basis and gives the Executive Secretary all the powers.”
Outlining the faults in the NPC Act amemdment Bill, the Guild said although the Bill provides for a Board consisting of one representative each from the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), Ministry of Information; two representatives of the general public, one of whom shall be a legal practitioner and a woman and Executive Secretary of the council, who shall serve as the secretary to the Board, it still makes the board a mere advisory body.”
It described as suspicious the provision in the Bill for the Chairman of the Board to be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Minister in charge of Information as well as all other members of the Board being appointed by the President on the recommendation by the Minister of Information, saying such set up makes the board an organ of government.
The Guild said: “The professional body doen’t need the approval of the Minister of Information to establish and disseminate a National Press Code and standards to guide the conduct of print media, related media houses and media practitioners and approves penalties and fines against violation of the press code, as provided for in the Bill.
“We are not aware of any media regulatory council in the world, which says that media regulatory council shall establish a National Press and Ethical Code of Conduct for media houses and media practitioners, which shall come into effect and be inaugurated after approval by the Minister of Information, and that the code shall be binding on every media houses and journalists.
“We reject the provisions that apart from the fines for journalists or media houses that violate the Act, the council shall order the striking out of the name of the journalist from the register; and suspend the person from practice by ordering him not to engage in practice as a journalist for a period not exceeding six months.
“This kind of media regulatory council will neither serve the interest of the media industry, strengthen its constitutional role – of holding public officers accountable nor serves the general interest of the public – the original trustees of the media.”
The NGE noted that in the proposed NPC Act amendment Bill the “sponsor mischievously smuggled in the controversial ‘fake news’ provision by stating that any person who carries news established to be fake thereafter, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N5 million or a term of two-year imprisonment or both, and a compensation of N2million payable to the person(s), group(s), corporate bodies, government or any of its agencies who the news was carried against. Who determines what is fake news?”
It described as absured the provision that any print media house whose medium was used to carry such news is liable on conviction to a fine of N10million or closure of such media house for a period of one year or both and compensation of N20 million to the person, group, corporate body, government or any of its agencies, whom the news was carried against, saying “this is a ticket for the government to stifles the media and close those they perceive as critical.”