The management of the National Assembly has published “new guidelines” for the accreditation of media organisations and their correspondents to cover legislative proceedings. They come into effect on June 11. Accreditation is either permanent or temporary. The requirements for permanent accreditation include “evidence of certificate of incorporation” and proof of membership of professional bodies as well as registration number of membership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ). Media houses are also required to provide code of certification from the National Library. They must have “functional bureaus” in Abuja, each having “not less than 5 editorial staff”. Each newspaper (print) organization is expected to show evidence of daily circulation of 40,000 copies. The media organization concerned must have experience of covering proceedings of the National Assembly for at least two years before applying for permanent accreditation.
All media organizations must each “submit a copy of its income tax return for the last two years.” The guidelines say “only journalists and correspondents whose media organisations meet the requirements for permanent accreditation will be entitled to carry National Assembly identity card/membership of the respective press corps” of the two chambers. Those that fail to meet the requirements “will be captured under the temporary accreditation status and they will not be entitled to carry the National Assembly identity card/membership of the press corps of the Senate and House of Representatives.”
As for media houses and journalists that have temporary accreditation, they will be allowed to cover the National Assembly for a period “not exceeding one week in the first instance and not more than twice in a month.” Foreign media houses are required to “abide by diplomatic protocols established by the ministry of foreign affairs for foreign media organizations and the Code of Ethics for Nigerian Journalists. They must also obtain security clearance and a recommendation by the ministry of foreign affairs.
These harsh accreditation guidelines have expectedly stirred the hornet’s nest, particularly in the media. The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) , for example, has rejected them, saying they are “primitive, undemocratic and blatantly anti-press and anti-people.” General Secretary Mary Atolagbe said Monday: “These guidelines run contrary to the grains of reason, democratic ideals and they are a clear affront on the letter and spirit of the Nigerian constitution which empowers journalists to freely practice their profession without any gag, muzzling and restriction.” The Guild said it was disappointed by “the same 8th National Assembly which benefited immensely from free press in its moments of trial.” Today it has “turned around to put the same press in shackles and chains. We reject this crude abrasion of our constitutional rights to freely disseminate information. It cannot stand.” The Guild called on all media houses to rise up and reject what it called “this medieval intrusion into the media space in the 21st century, what more in a democracy which Nigerian media doggedly fought for and for which some journalists paid the supreme price.”
The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), on its own part, has described the guidelines as “satanic”. National President Chris Isiguzo has given a 24-hour ultimatum to the management of the National Assembly “to rescind the satanic decision or face the wrath of the union.” He said if the ultimatum was ignored, more punitive measures would be taken to drive home the union’s point.
No, these guidelines cannot stand, not only because they undo the nice work the National Assembly did in passing the Freedom of Information Law to ease access to and dissemination of information. Another reason is that some of them simply are not implementable. Take the requirement that newspaper houses, each show evidence that they print 40,000 copies daily. These days when rising production costs are forcing newspapers into online publishing it is hard to find any that prints that number of hard copies daily. We want to believe the publication of these vexed guidelines was the handiwork of an overzealous NASS management. We demand that senators and House members, who should know better, throw them in the trash-bin where they belong.