The Nigeria Press Organisation has called on the Senate to drop the Nigeria Press Council Repeal and Re-enactment Bill 2018, saying it seeks to criminalise journalists and journalism in the country.
Presenting NPO’s position at a public hearing in Abuja, its President, Nduka Obaigbena, said the bill was seeking to position the Press Council to usurp the powers of the courts by assuming extra-judicial powers.
The NPO comprises the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria, Nigeria Guild of Editors, Nigerian Union of Journalists and other media stakeholders.
The hearing was organised by the Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation.
Obaigbena said that the bill, if passed, would stifle the media, adding that duties and obligations conferred on them by Section 22 of the Constitution to monitor governance and hold government accountable to the people would be tampered with.
He said the bill was unconstitutional and a violation of the principles of law.
He added that it would have negative implications for free speech, press freedom, media independence, safety of journalists and the right to operate as a business in accordance with the laws of the country.
Obaigbena, who is also President, NPAN, said the bill was subjudice because a case on it was still pending at the Supreme Court.
He stressed that it was a misdirected priority to have proposed the legislation in the first place.
He said: “This proposed bill is unconstitutional as it runs against the principles and tenets of the rule of law.
“It is actually subjudice given that the case on the same subject matter is still pending before the highest court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Supreme Court.
“In view of this, we believe this bill should not have been drafted in the first place, seeking to oust the Supreme Court from something very significant.
“The bill, for all intents and purposes, is draconian and anti-press freedom, anti-free speech. It is an amalgamation of the draconian.”
Obaigbena said it was an amalgamation of the obnoxious Public Officers Protection against False Accusation Decree No. 4 of 1984 and the Newspapers Registration Decree 43 of 1993.
He said: “It is an amalgamation of Decree No. 4 of 1984 and Decree 43 of 1993, all vestiges of the dark days of military rule, where we had to fight for the freedom of the press and freedom of expression of the people of Nigeria.
“More importantly, this bill seeks to criminalise journalists and journalism. The bill is undue interference in registered businesses. The bill gives the Press Council extra-judicial powers.
“The bill more importantly, incapacitated the media in exercise of its duties and obligations imposed on it by Section 22 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to hold government accountable to the people.
“Well, we are asking that this bill be dropped forthwith. You say that it is repeal and re-enactment; it should be ‘repeal and no replacement’.
“We are waiting for the determination of the Supreme Court. The Nigerian Senate is an institution that we respect, and that is why we are here.
“We therefore ask the Senate to borrow from the practices in other jurisdictions that have expressly provided and guaranteed press freedom without any form of government intervention.
“Press freedom with government intervention is no freedom. Press freedom as guaranteed in the Constitution is for the people.”
However, the President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, in his remarks, pointed out that the bill was designed to cast off the vestiges of military era approach to the media.
He said it was done through the removal of “draconian provisions in the extant law, to situate the practice of journalism in a modern context in line with global standards”.
Saraki, represented by Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Abdullahi Sabi, noted that the disenchantment in the industry had led to protracted litigations and other implications, which had impeded the NPC’s effectiveness.
He said the intention of the bill was to guarantee press freedom and place the nation’s media industry on the lane of global standards and best practices.
Saraki recalled that NPC Act 1992 was a creation of military dictatorship, which sought to clampdown on the press, leading to considerable degree of disenchantment among key stakeholders in the media industry, particularly journalists.
Declaring the public-hearing open, he said contrary to the position of the NPO, the bill was designed to remove all encumbrances in the industry.
He said: “It is in order to cast off the vestiges of military era approach to the media that we have drafted the new bill.
“Today’s public hearing therefore seeks additional input on the repeal and re-enactment of the Nigeria Press Council Act 1992.
“The bill expunges perceived draconian provisions of the extant law, amends some to fit current sensibilities, and inserts new clauses to situate the practice of journalism in a modern context in line with global standards.
“It would also grant autonomy to the NPC, while creating an institutional framework for the enforcement of ethical codes and standards, as regulated by practitioners themselves.”
The Chairman of the Committee, Senator Suleiman Adokwe, assured stakeholders that the committee would look into the submissions with a view to coming up with what would best serve the interest of the media in a democracy.
Some of the media stakeholders present at the hearing included the President, NGE, Funke Egbemode; and President, NUJ, Waheed Odusile.
Other signatories to NPO position paper were Chairman, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, John Momoh; and Director, International Press Centre, Lanre Arogundade.
Executive Director, Institute for Media and Society, Akin Akingbulu; and Director, Media Law Centre, Richard Akinnola, were also there.