Nigerian newspapers on July 12, 2021 took a joint stand against the government’s efforts to stifle media freedom in the country as it moves to amend the Nigeria Press Council (NPC) Act to enable tighter controls on the print media. The newspapers published on their front pages a common designed artwork to register their grievance with the move and followed up the next day with editorial comments on the subject.
The expression of displeasure with government’s plan was a collaboration by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN).
The newspapers carried a front-page advertorial that accused the authorities of planning to clamp down on freedom of information. They featured a man behind a cage
The Guardian advertorial said “Information blackout – this is what the federal government want to achieve with the NPC and NBC (Media) Act amendment bills,” while some other newspapers had “Federal government” was replaced with “National Assembly”.
Mr. Feyi Smith, Executive Secretary of the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), had on July 6 noted in a statement that the outrageous bill proposed to regulate the print media via a press code and standards, grant or revoke publishing licenses, register or delist journalists as well as ensure truthful, genuine and quality services and media practitioners.
The statement said further: “It confers on the Press Council the power to determine ethics and fake news, investigate infractions and impose fines on journalists, publishers and distributors. It proposes fines of up to N. 25m on the journalist, and N5million on a corporate body. It specifies jail terms of one to three years and fines ranging from N.25m to N5m on journalists, news agents and media outlets.”
“It proposes a fine of between N2m to N5m to erring purveyors, two years in jail and compensation for fake news while the medium of publication is liable to N10m fine or closure for one year in addition to payment of N20m as compensation to the aggrieved party.
Condemning the bill, Feyi said: “The bill, draconian and anti-press freedom is a poor mix and resurrection 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. It assumes that there are no extant laws to penalise media infractions and exact restitutions for the aggrieved persons.”
“The new NBC is no less galling, making the Minister of Information the Monster Minister with sweeping powers to make and enforce regulations online and offline.”
The meeting noted that the bill as currently concorted, “is a sinister, draconian legislative ambush, which seeks to choke the media with exactly those prayers the NPAN has taken before the Supreme Court of Nigeria, seeking relief to unshackle the press in a democracy, and encourage it to from perform its constitutional responsibility of holding the government accountable to the people at all times, as enshrined in Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
Feyi noted further that “The ambush is amplified by the hush- hush manner of a legislative public hearing which was conducted, without a formal invitation to the key stakeholders- NPAN, NGE and NUJ- while the only one that got an invitation, received same at the venue and on the day of the hearing.”
The media stakeholders’ met and resolved that “that the proposed bill is unconstitutional as it runs against the principle and tenets of the rule of law. That it is subjudice of a pending case on the subject matter before the highest court of the land – the Supreme Court. That it violates the rule of the National Assembly not to deliberate on matters that have been surrendered to the Court for adjudication.
“That the bill seeks to criminalize journalism business and practise despite the surfeit of laws of country with enough provisions and avenues for legal redress where individuals or groups feel ‘offended’ by media reports or business infractions.
“That the bill smirks of an attempt at undue suffocation of the operations of the media business away from the Company and Allied Matters Act provisions.
“That the bill seeks to invest the regulatory bodies with judicial powers, and usurp the powers of the courts.
“That the bill lacks any redeeming feature of a good law as it is discriminatory and offensive to public good and morality.”