By Sumaiya Musa
The Nigerian Press Organisation has raised objections against the Nigerian Press Council Bill pending at the National Assembly saying it is against the Practice of journalism in Nigeria.
A public hearing on the bill is already billed to hold today, but there seems to be a consensus among the umbrella body for media owners, operators and regulators that NPC Bill has a sinister motive behind it and should be kept in abeyance.
The media stakeholders comprising the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigeria Guild of Editors(NGE) and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), along with other media stakeholders, observed in a statement yesterday that the proposed bill is unconstitutional as it runs against the principles and tenets of the rule of law and is actually subjudice given that a case on the subject matter is 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.
The statement said 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 the Newspapers Registration Decree 43 of 1993, both vestiges of the dark days of military rule and therefore incurably and irreparably bad, being also inconsistent with values of our democratic society.
It said that the bill seeks to criminalize journalism practise despite the fact the laws of the country already have enough provisions and avenues for seeking legal redress.
According to the statement, 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.
The bill seeks for a The Nigeria Press Council to usurp the powers of the courts by assuming extra-judicial powers, the statement said.
Other observations of the statement include:
“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 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”
“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 and the National Board for Technical Education.
“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.
The NPO consequently makes the following demands:
“That the bill should be dropped forthwith until the determination of a similar case in the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
“That the Nigerian Senate should borrow from best practices in other jurisdictions that has expressly provided for and guaranteed press freedom without any form of government interference.
“That the Senate and indeed The National Assembly should 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; ensuring 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, etc.”