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NPO, BON reject Press Council Bill

NPO, BON reject Press Council Bill

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The NPO said 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…

Emma Njoku

The Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), comprising the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigeria Guild of Editors and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) as well as other media stakeholders, has rejected the “Press Council Bill”, describing it as unconstitutional and against the principles and tenets of the rule of law.

READ ALSO: Guild of Editors condemns Press Council Bill

It noted that a case on the bill is still pending in the Supreme Court and should not have been drafted in the first instance.

These were contained in a statement issued by the organisation, after its meeting, on Thursday, to deliberate on “The Nigerian Press Council Bill 2018”.

The NPO said 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 the 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.”

It said it rejected the bill after painstakingly studying the provisions of the proposed bill in the context of its implication for free speech, press freedom, media independence, safety of journalists and the right to operate as a business, in accordance with the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

According to statement, other resolutions taken at the meeting were:

“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 the 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.

“That the bill seeks to criminalise journalism practice, despite the fact the laws of the country already have enough provisions and avenues for seeking legal redress.

“That the bill smacks of an attempt at undue interference in the operations of the media in Nigeria, as businesses registered under the relevant laws of the federation, and that it seeks the Nigeria Press Council to usurp the powers of the courts, by assuming extrajudicial powers.”

The statement further alleged that, “the bill seeks to incapacitate the media in the exercise of the duties and obligations imposed on it by Section 22 of the Constitution to monitor governance and hold government accountable to the people. The section states that, “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.”

The NPO also said the bill violates the provisions of section 39 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) sections 1 and 2 of which state: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.

“Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.”

The organisation said the proposed 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 which is 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 training of journalists, and usurp the powers of the regulatory bodies in the educational sector affecting media training, especially the National Universities Commission and the 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 it is a well known fact that the mechanisms actually exist, including the Code of Conduct of Journalists in Nigeria, the Ethics Committees of the NUJ and NGE and the recently launched Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage endorsed by media stakeholders.

Consequently, the NPO demanded that “the bill be dropped, forthwith, until the determination of a similar case in the Supreme Court of Nigeria.”

It urged the Nigerian Senate to “borrow from best practices in other jurisdictions that have expressly provided for and guaranteed press freedom without any form of government interference.”

“The Senate and, indeed, the National Assembly, should enable the media in the exercise of its constitutional obligations as spelt out in Section 22, by passing laws that will promote transparency, accountability and open government, such as mandatory delivery of the state of the nation’s address by the president, and state of the State address by governors on specified days of the year; ensuring, by law, presidential and governorship election debates before elections; complete transparency in election funding, including public declaration of sources of election finance by all candidates and political parties, and ensuring the integrity of our electoral process, etc, etc.”

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