Abuja — The Nigeria Press Organisation (NPO), Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) and other stakeholders in the media industry Monday formally presented 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 President of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, at a public hearing on the Nigerian Press Council Act 1992 (Repeal and Enactment Bill 2018), said the bill should be put 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, included the Chairman of BON, Mr. John Momoh; President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr. Waheed Odusile; President, Nigerian Guild of Editors (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 repealing 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 an 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 address 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 violates 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.
According to them, "The bill through some of its other obnoxious provisions seeks to indoctrinate Nigerians through the use and misuse of curricula in 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."
Media stakeholders present at the public hearing apart from the signatories included the Publisher of Vanguard Newspapers, Mr. Sam Amuka, and veteran journalist, Alhaji Isa Funtua.
Earlier in his opening remarks, Senate President, Dr. 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 the Chairman, 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, and 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.
"The bill is an attempt to correct existing deficiencies, revolutionise the NPC and promote high ethical and professional standards for Nigerian journalists," he explained.
On his part, the 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 democratic process "through the instrumentality of law making that will bring about meaningful legislations 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 promised that his committee would present the outcome of the public hearing to the plenary, saying: "We will be objective to say it as it is, whether the stakeholders want the bill or not."