We join the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO) and the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) in vehemently rejecting the proposed Nigerian Press Council Bill 2018 as an unconstitutional piece of legislation meant to muzzle free speech. After a careful perusal of the provisions of the proposed bill in the context of its implications for free speech, press freedom, media independence and safety of journalists, the NPO has dismissed it as an unnecessary interference. Since there are already sufficient laws in the statute books for any legal redress for aggrieved persons, we agree that this is a needless bill.
Sponsored by the Senate, the NPC 2018, which has gone through second reading, seeks to repeal the Nigerian Press Council Act of 1992 and create an oversight body that will regulate media practice in Nigeria. But already there is a groundswell of opposition from the media stakeholders against the bill. Aside the NPO and BON, the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) voiced their objection to the bill they perceive as a smokescreen to curb their role as the watchdog and limit their ability to hold the organs of government accountable.
There are also legal matters that are being ignored. The proposed bill is unconstitutional as it runs against the principles and tenets of the rule of law. Besides, the proposed bill is also sub judice, given that a case on the subject matter is still pending at the Supreme Court. “That the bill is, for all intents and purposes, draconian and anti-press freedom, being an amalgamation of the obnoxious Public Officers (Protection Against False Accusation) Decree No. 4 of 1984 and Newspapers Registration Decree 43 of 1993, both vestiges of the dark days of military rule and, therefore, incurably and irreparably bad, being also inconsistent with values of our democratic society,” the NPO statement said.
One of the most annoying provisions in the proposed bill is the attempt to criminalise professional conduct by jailing journalists found to have breached the code, rather than discipline them in line with the ethical codes of the profession. The federal government is also accused of overtly scheming to dominate the composition of the NPC by nominating the chairman, secretary, in addition to the council representatives from BON, the Federal Ministry of Information and other professional bodies. The lopsidedness that will arise from that composition where government appointees will outnumber media stakeholders was, indeed, one of the grounds for the legal proceedings instituted against the federal government by the NPO as the proposed bill contradicts section 22 of the 1999 Constitution. It runs against the grain of logic that the government is scheming through the backdoor to regulate the same gatekeepers that ought to keep public officials on their toes and hold them to account.
We align ourselves with the position of the NPO and indeed wonder when it has become the duty of government to regulate the media by sponsoring draconian, unconstitutional, anti-people and anti-free speech bill. While we agree that there is no freedom without responsibility, our opposition to the NPC bill stems from the fact that it will create undue interference in the operations of the media in Nigeria. In addition we believe that self-regulation subject to the existing laws of the land is the best guarantee for media freedom in a democratic society. Therefore, making government enforce codes and standards for all journalists under whatever guise will subjugate their autonomy. We urge the National Assembly to throw away the NPO Bill