Premium Times (Abuja)

23 March 2014

Nigeria: National Conference Leadership to Expel Accredited Journalists Who Write "Offensive" Reports

The accreditation of any journalist whose reports are considered offensive by the leadership of the National Conference will be withdrawn.

Journalists whose reports are considered offensive and unfair by the leadership of the National Conference will be kicked out of the Conference, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report today.

This is based on Order 9 (7) of the National Conference Procedure Rules 2014, which was distributed to delegates on Thursday.

The controversial Rule reads, "The Conference may grant approval to the representative of any media to attend the sitting of the Conference provided that if the media publishes a report of the proceedings which the Conference considers unfair, offensive and not a true reflection of what transpired, such permission may be revoked."

The provision may be a subtle attempt to gag the press and prevent Nigerians from knowing what happens inside the plenary and committee seasons of the Conference.

Since the document has not properly defined what constitutes an unfair and offensive report, there is a possibility that journalists may be barred from the Conference on frivolous grounds, analysts say.

The rule also violates the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which empowers the media to hold government accountable to the people.

Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states, "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.

Again, Section 39(1) of the same Constitution states, "Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression; including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference."

The Secretary General of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Usman Leman, said the rule is undemocratic and a clear violation of the provisions of the Constitution that has granted the media to right to hold government accountable to the people.

Mr. Leman, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES in an interview, said the union decided to participate in the Conference with the hope that its proceedings would be open to public scrutiny.

He said, "The Conference cannot bar journalists from covering its proceedings under any guise. We decided to be involved because we thought that it would open its proceedings to public scrutiny and allow Nigerians to freely express their opinions.

"But with such a rule, we are not convinced that the Conference will open itself to public scrutiny. We will resist any attempt to gag the press under any guise and will ensure journalists are not barred from the Conference.

In the same vein, Edetan Ojo of Media Rights Agenda said the controversial National Conference rule violates the Constitution which granted the right to freedom of expression to Nigerians, including members of the press.

In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Ojo noted that by conferring on itself the right to decide what is unfair and offensive and barring journalists at the same time, the Conference has arrogated to itself the roles of the complainant and the judge.

"The Conference cannot by itself decide what is unfair and what is offensive and go ahead to bar any reporter from covering its proceedings without recourse to the court of law.

"This is unlawful and a gross violation of the Constitution and should be resisted strongly by the media and civil society community."

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