President, Nigeria Guild of Editors, Funke Egbemode, Managing Editor, Northern Operations of The Nation, Yusuf Alli, Publisher of THISDAY and chairman of Newspaper Proprietors? Association of Nigeria, Nduka Obaigbena.

The Senate stirred the hornet’s nest when it introduced a bill for the repeal of the Nigeria Press Council Act 1992 as media stakeholders described the lawmakers’ action as repressive, writes Deji Elumoye

The controversy surrounding the Nigeria Press Council (NPC) dates back to its establishment 26 years ago. The Council, which was created through an Act in 1992, seeks to regulate media practice in Nigeria.

But upon its establishment in December 1992, the functions and composition of the Council became contentious among media practitioners and when the controversial issues could not be amicably resolved, the Nigeria Press Organisation (NPO) made up of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN); Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) approached the law court for the proper interpretation of the provisions of the NPC Act.

The case, which had been decided at both the High Court and Appeal Court, is now before the Supreme Court for final adjudication. It was therefore shocking to the leadership and members of the NPO when the Senate recently embarked on an exercise to repeal the NPC Act 1992 with the Nigeria Press Council Bill 2018.

The bill had passed through both the first and second readings on the floor of the Senate and remaining the mandatory public hearing for the bill to be passed into law. The Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation, which was responsible for holding the public hearing sent the invitation to all media stakeholders for the public hearing which held on Monday.

At the public hearing, stakeholders were unanimous in rejecting the bill. The Nigeria Press Organisation (NPO), Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) and other stakeholders in the media industry used the public hearing to formally present a position paper asking the Senate to drop forthwith the ‘Nigerian Press Council Bill 2018’.

The media stakeholders in a three-page position paper presented by the NPAN President, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, at a public hearing on the Nigerian Press Council Act 1992 (Repeal and Enactment Bill 2018) said the bill should be kept on hold “until the determination of a similar case in the Supreme Court”.

Those who signed the position paper rejecting the Bill apart from Obaigbena, include Chairman of BON, Mr. John Momoh; President of NUJ, Mr. Waheed Odusile; President of NGE, Mrs. Funke Egbemode; Executive Director, Institute for Media and Society, Dr. Akin Akingbulu; Director, Media Law Centre, Mr. Richard Akinnola and Director, International Press Centre, Mr. Lanre Arogundade.

According to the stakeholders, the Senate, rather than repeal the NPC Act should borrow from best practices in other climes, which expressly provided for and guaranteed press freedom without any form of government interference.

They further urged the National Assembly to provide enabling environment for the media to thrive in the exercise of its constitutional obligations as spelt out in Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) “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 by the Governor on specified days of the years”.

Describing the bill as unconstitutional, draconian and anti-press freedom, the stakeholders emphasised that the bill seeks to criminalise journalism practice despite the fact that laws of the country already have enough provisions and avenues for seeking legal redress.

They added that provisions of the bill also violate 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 now part of the country’s laws.

“The bill through some of its other obnoxious provisions seeks to indoctrinate Nigerians through the use and misuse of curricula in the training of journalists and usurp the powers of the regulatory bodies in the educational sector affecting media training especially the National Universities Commission and National Board for Technical Education.

“The bill seeks to create the impression that the Nigerian media community does not take the issues of ethics and self-regulation seriously whereas the mechanisms actually exist including the Code of Conduct for Journalists in Nigeria, the Ethics Committees of the NUJ and NGE and the recently launched Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage endorsed by stakeholders,” they argued.

Media stakeholders present at the public hearing apart from the signatories, including the publisher of the Vanguard Newspapers and veteran journalist, Alhaji Isa Funtua.

Earlier, in his opening remarks, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said the bill was being introduced with a view to casting off the vestiges of military-era approach to the media. Saraki, who was represented by Chairman of Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Shabi Abdullahi (Niger North), added that the bill seeks to expunge perceived draconian provisions of the extant law to fit current sensibilities “and insert new clauses to situate the practice of journalism in a modern context in line with global standards.”
According to him, the NPC is in a better position to safeguard the nation’s democracy from both extremes of the media spectrum.
He added, “The bill is an attempt to correct existing deficiencies, revolutionise the NPC and promote high ethical and professional standards for Nigerian journalists.”

On his part, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation, Senator Suleiman Adokwe (Nasarawa South), expressed the commitment of the 8th Senate towards the advancement of the democratic process “through the instrumentality of law-making that will bring about meaningful legislation that will impact positively on the lives of every Nigerian.”
He attributed the decision of his committee to organise the public hearing to the need to seek stakeholders’ views on the merits of the proposed legislation for possible enactment into law by the National Assembly.

Adokwe assured the media operators that his committee would present the outcome of the public hearing to the plenary, adding, “We will be objective to say it as it is, whether the stakeholders want the bill or not.”