Premium Times (Abuja)

25 March 2014

Nigeria: National Conference Amends 'Offensive' Rule Against Media

The National Conference, on Tuesday, amended a controversial section of its draft rules, which would have empowered its leadership to expel any journalist covering its proceedings for writing offensive reports.

The amendment was sequel to a complaint by the publisher of ThisDay Newspaper, Nduka Obaigbena, during the conference's debate on its Draft Rules.

Mr. Obaigbena is the chairman of the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, NPAN, and he is one of its two delegates to the confab.

PREMIUM TIMES had exclusively reported that journalists whose reports were considered offensive and unfair to the leadership of the 492-member Conference would be kicked out.

The report was based on Order 14 (7) of the National Conference Procedure Rules, 2014, which was distributed to delegates on Thursday, but which this newspaper obtained exclusively.

The controversial rule read, "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 was interpreted by many to 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 did not properly define what constituted an unfair and offensive report, it was also surmised that journalists may be barred from the Conference on frivolous grounds.

The rule is also believed to violate 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."

Mr. Obaigbena, who spoke on the floor of the Conference for the first time, drew the attention of the delegates to the section and called for it to be expunged.

"I hereby move that Order 14 (7) that empowers the leadership to chase out journalists who write unfair reports from the Conference be expunged," he said.

He argued that the Rule violated the 1999 Constitution and should not be allowed to remain in the Conference books.

The delegate, who said the current conference was the third he would be attending, reminded his colleagues that a conference was as good as its report.

He reminded the conference that it was not every decision reached that would eventually be incorporated into the constitution.

Although, no action was immediately taken on the issue, another delegate, Festus Okoye, brought it back and demanded that the section be amended by removing the offensive proviso.

Mr. Okoye, a lawyer who was nominated in the category of the Civil Society Organisations, asked the conference to expunge the clause: "... 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 delegates agreed to the suggestion through voice vote when the Conference Chairman, Idris Kutigi, put it to question.

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