What qualifies for a plot to test the resolve of media practitioners in Nigeria was hatched when some members of the National Assembly sat to conduct a public hearing on a draft press council bill.
Tagged ‘Nigerian Press Council Amendment Bill’, the bill seeks to regulate the practice of journalism in Nigeria.
A careful study of the bill shows that it is nothing but a clear amalgamation of the obnoxious Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation Decree No. 4 of 1984 and the Newspapers Registration Decree 43 of 1993, both of which are at variance with the values of democratic society.
Although proponents of this bill want Nigerians to believe that it is done without any ill motive, there are clear signs that it is yet another attempt to stifle the media.
The bill, among other things, seeks to create the curricula for the training of journalists and, in so doing, appropriate the powers of the regulatory bodies in the educational sector.
No doubt, the bill has negative implications for free speech, press freedom, media independence and, to a large extent, safety of journalists.
The Senate pushed the controversial bill through second reading earlier this year.
Of course, it drew strong suspicion and denunciation from critical stakeholders, especially key players in the media industry.
Those championing the bill insisted that it was necessary to have a body that would arbitrate between the media and the public without necessarily gagging or regulating independent media practitioners out of business.
They contend that it is impossible to allow the media to regulate itself.
While not oblivious of the fact that there is the need to regulate activities of the media, we believe any attempt to use other draconian measures as clearly demonstrated by this bill under the guise of media regulation must be resisted by all people of goodwill.
Indeed, the promoters of this bill need to be reminded that the 1999 constitution, as amended, and other binding statutes such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights forbid state regulation of journalism practice.
Expectedly, key stakeholders in the industry like the Newspapers’ Proprietors of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigeria Union of Journalists and the Guild of Editors have hit out at the proposed bill, describing it as deliberate attempt to gag the press.
“The bill is, for all intents and purposes, anti-press freedom. The bill should be dropped forthwith until the determination of a similar case in the Supreme Court of Nigeria,” the stakeholders demanded.
Indeed, the Nigerian Senate needs to borrow from best practices in other jurisdictions that have expressly provided for and guaranteed press freedom without any form of undue government interference.
As a newspaper, we strongly condemn and advise against any attempt to gag the media under whatever guise. This is yet another attempt by Nigerian lawmakers to regulate free speech.
And like previous attempts, the latest attempt to stifle the media through the Press Council Bill will fail, too.
It is quite ironic that those who claim to be democrats would be hatching up a plot to stifle the media which was, and has been , at the forefront of the struggle to restore, sustain and deepen democratic culture in Nigeria.
There can be no democracy without a free press as the level of freedom in a democracy depends largely on the extent to which the press is free to perform its constitutionally guaranteed role of educating the public and holding government and indeed all those occupying elective and appointive positions accountable to the people.
Undoubtedly, should such an ill-advised bill be allowed to see the light of the day, Nigeria and Nigerians would be the worse for it.
Rather than waste time, energy and other vital resources on an obviously anti-people legislation, the lawmakers should channel their efforts towards promoting laws that will engender public accountability and good governance for their long suffering constituents.
Perhaps it is necessary to remind the Senate and indeed the National Assembly that it is in its best interest for the media to exercise its constitutional obligations as spelt out in section 22 of the 1999 constitution, as amended.
Hence, Nigeria should be spared another needless attempt to stifle media practice under any guise.