Newspaper publishers in the country, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, BON; Editors and Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, have described the New Media Bill currently before the National Assembly as draconian, unconstitutional, anti-people, anti-business and anti-free speech.
Consequently, Nigerian Press Organisation, NPO, and other media stakeholders have asked the National Assembly to drop the bill.
They also asked the Senate to borrow from best practices in other jurisdictions that had expressly provided for and guaranteed press freedom without any form of government interference.
The NPO and others equally implored the Senate and, indeed, the National Assembly, to enable the media in the exercise of its constitutional obligations, as spelt out in section 22, by passing laws that will promote transparency, accountability and open government such as mandatory delivery of the State of the Nation address by the President and State of the State Address by governors on specified days of the year.
According to them, this can also ensure by law, Presidential and governorship election debates before elections; complete transparency in election funding, including public declaration of sources of election finance by all candidates and political parties and ensuring the integrity of our electoral process, etc.
Rising from a meeting in Lagos, weekend, NPO and media stakeholders in a communique signed by President of Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, NPAN, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena; President of Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mrs. Funke Egbemode, and President, Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Mr. Waheed Odusile observed that the bill was unconstitutional and contrary to the rule of law.
The communiqué, also signed by other media stakeholders such as Mr. Lanre Arogundade, Director, International Press Council; Akin Akingbulu, Executive Director, Institute for Media and Society, and Mr. Richard Akinola, Director, Media Law Centre, also noted that the bill was actually subjudice, given that a case on the subject matter was still pending in the highest court of the land— the Supreme Court— in view of which the bill should not have been drafted in the first instance.
It read further: “The meeting painstakingly studied the provisions of the proposed bill in the context of its implication for free speech, press freedom, media independence, the safety of journalists and the right to operate as a business in accordance with the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The meeting also took notice of the fact that a lawsuit instituted by Nigerian Press Organisation, NPO, on the same subject matters of the bill is pending at the Supreme Court.
“The meeting resolved that the bill is, for all intents and purposes, draconian and anti-press freedom, being an amalgamation of the obnoxious Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation Decree No. 4 of 1984 and Newspapers Registration Decree 43 of 1993, both vestiges of the dark days of military rule and, therefore, incurably and irreparably bad, is also inconsistent with values of our democratic society.
“That the bill seeks to criminalize journalism practice, despite the fact the laws of the country already have enough provisions and avenues for seeking legal redress.
“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.
“That the bill seeks for the Nigeria Press Council to usurp the powers of the courts by assuming extra-judicial powers.
“That the bill seeks 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.
“The section states as follows: ‘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.’
“That the bill violates the provisions of section 39 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) sections 1 and 2 which state as follows: ‘Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.’
“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.
“At the same time, it also violates Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement Act) No. 2 of 1983 to which Nigeria is a signatory and which is now part of the country’s laws.
“That the bill, through some of its other obnoxious provisions, seeks to indoctrinate Nigerians, through the use and misuse of curricula in training of journalists and usurp the powers of the regulatory bodies in the educational sector affecting media training, especially the National Universities Commission, NUC, and the National Board for Technical Education, NBTE.
“That the bill seeks to create the impression that the Nigerian media community does not take the issues of ethics and self-regulation seriously, whereas it is 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.
“Meanwhile, as responsible members of Nigerian society, we hereby state without equivocation that the media will continue doing all it can to further promote media ethics, professionalism, transparency, accountability and self-regulation, to ensure that the public interest is served at all times.”