The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has stated that the media industry is not a political opponent or enemy of the Federal Government, saying that many of the political elite’s attacks on the media are not habitually envisioned to win an argument on journalistic or legal values but designed to bully media organizations.
Reacting to what it described as “draconian provisions’’ in the two bills – to amend the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) Act, and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act – that are currently before the National Assembly, which the sponsors said were aimed at moderating the “recklessness’’ of the media, the Guild said that the bills were actually meant to criminalise journalism practice in the country.
In a statement issued by the umbrella body of all editors in Nigeria and signed by Mustapha Isah (President) and Iyobosa Uwugiaren (General Secretary), on Tuesday, June 22, the Guild stated that the “oxygen of democracy’’, the media, would be strangulated if the bills were passed in their present forms.
“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 governments and other influential actors to improve the policy, funding, and enabling environment for independent professional journalism, we see the proposed legislations as unhelpful.
“While we are not opposed to an Act that will promote media stakeholders-driven regulatory council, the many draconian provisions in the Hon. Odebunmi Olusegun’s sponsored bills are actually aimed at criminalising media practice in Nigeria. While the intention of the sponsor of the bills is suspicious, the bills negate all known features of media regulatory bodies in the world’’, the Guild stated.
For example, 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 Act restricts the council board to “advisory capacity on a part-time basis without direct interference in the day to day administration of the council’’ and gives the Executive Secretary all the power.
‘’While the proposed NPC Act says the Board shall consist 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, the board is a mere advisory body.
‘’The Bill also says that the Chairman of the Board shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Minister in charge of Information. And that all other members of the Board shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation by the Minister of Information. The intension of this kind of Council is suspicious”, the Guild said.
The body of editors believes that the professional body doesn’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 approve penalties and fines against violation of the press code, as provided for in the Bill.
“The Guild is 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 disseminated after approval by the Minister of Information, and that the code shall be binding on every media houses and journalists.
“Again, apart from the fines for journalist or media houses that violate the Act, the Bill also says that in an extreme case, 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; as may be specified in the directive.
“This kind of media regulatory council will neither serve the interest of the media industry, strengthen its constitutional role – of holding public officers accountable to the people – nor serve the general interest of the public – who are the original trustees of the media’’, the Guild explained.
The NGE noted that in the proposed NPC legislation, 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 N5million 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 whom the news was carried against.
According to the NGE, the bill also states 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 N20million to the person, group, corporate body, government or any of its agencies, whom the news was carried against.
On the proposed NBC amendment legislation, the Guild said that section 23 of the Bill, which gives the Minister of Information powers to participate in making regulations is unhelpful, adding that the participation of the Minister would turn NBC into a tool for political interference.
The Guild noted that the provisions of the two bills give the impression that the Federal Government is out to crush its enemy and pointed out that the media is not an enemy of the state.
The NGE warned that if the two bills are passed, they would compound the nation’s negative image in the global community.
“Nigeria comes in at No. 120, the rough equivalent of a D+ in this year’s index by Reporters Without Borders. You’ll find similar results on the Democracy Index where Nigeria is ranked No. 110 – the lowest-ranking Hybrid Regime, one slot away from Authoritarian,” the editors said.
They noted that the bills were being seen by many as attempts to further stifle the democratic space in the country that is currently having challenges in all fronts.
The editors said they are also opposed to heavy involvement of the President and the Minister of Information in the composition of appointments into the boards of NBC and the NPC, saying the board members should appoint their own chairmen.
The Guild maintained, “The NPC and NBC should be truly independent, and shouldn’t be under the supervision of the Minister of Information, who is a political office holder and affiliated to a political party.
‘’The Ghana model comes to mind here. Nigeria should be seen to be moving with time, instead of taking retrogressive steps in media freedom.’’ The Guild therefore called on the National Assembly to remove those obnoxious provisions in the two bills that make it look as if they are meant to strangulate, instead of regulate, the media.