The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), are among groups and individuals that have rejected and condemned the “New Guidelines for the Accreditation of Media Organisations, Journalists/ Correspondents Covering the National Assembly” issued by the management of the National Assembly.
The management of the National Assembly had on May 20, 2019 issued the new guidelines for fresh accreditation that would commence on June 11, 2019, the day of inauguration of the ninth National Assembly.
Among conditions to be met by journalists and media houses before accreditation are evidence of incorporation of the media house, proof of membership of the NUJ with registration number, and code of certification from the National Library of Nigeria.
For a newspaper to be accredited to cover the activities of the National Assembly, the guidelines requires it to have a circulation of at least 40,000 copies daily with evidence to support the claimed figure; evidence of 50,000 daily views for online media and presentation of photocopies of media organisation’s tax return for at least two years.
Other requirements for fresh accreditation are evidence of membership of professional bodies for media organisation, a functional bureau in Abuja with staff strength of not less than five editorial staff publishing daily and on weekend.
The guideline also require media organisations to have at least two years’ experience of covering proceedings of the National Assembly before applying for permanent accreditation and an online media site must have been in operation for five years and provide satisfactory evidence to this effect with clippings of the news utilised (especially parliamentary news).
The guidelines said only television stations with national coverage and specific independent producers with current running programme on the National Assembly will be allowed access into the Chambers on a permanent basis while all the production crew will be accredited as entity.
Freelance journalists who wanted permanent accreditation were required to show evidence of not less than five years coverage of the National Assembly proceedings/full editorial focus and publication on parliamentary reportage.
It required all permanently accredited journalists/correspondents to submit recertification letter from the chief executive officer of their media organisation on a seasonal basis failure to which accreditation will be withdrawn.
It said: “These new accreditation guidelines shall come into effect from June 11, 2019,” adding “With these new guidelines in place, all previous accreditation granted to journalists covering the National Assembly-will lapse with the dissolution of the 8th Assembly.”
It advised all journalists/correspondents covering the National Assembly to get “a fresh letter of recertification from their media organisations in line with the requirement of the new guidelines to facilitate the earliest reaccreditation process before the commencement of the ninth Assembly.”
It guidelines warned that only journalists whose media organisations meet the stated requirements for permanent accreditation that will be entitled to carry National Assembly Identity Card/Membership of the respective Press Corp while all other media organisations that do not meet the requirements will be captured under the temporary accreditation status and they will not be entitled to carry the National Assembly identity card/membership of the press corps of the Senate and House of Representatives.
Journalists and media houses with temporary accredited will only be allowed into the National Assembly for specific coverage not exceeding one week in the first instance and not more than twice in a month.
It required all foreign/international media houses seeking accreditation to abide by all the diplomatic protocols established by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for foreign media organisations, the Code of Ethics for Nigerian journalists and security clearance before accreditation will be considered upon the recommendation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The NUJ in its reaction asked the National Assembly to withdraw the guidelines which it described as satanic saying it was surprised that the Assembly that was supposed to defend and promote the nation’s democracy “is gagging it.”
Mr. Christopher Iziguzo, the NUJ National President, said the action of the Assembly was against the spirit of free press and gave the National Assembly 24-hours within which to withdraw the ‘satanic’ guidelines.
The NGE rejected the guidelines describing them as primitive, undemocratic and blatantly anti-press and anti-people.
Ms Mary Atolagbe, the General Secretary of the guild, said in a statement that the guild found the guidelines “vexatious, disrespectful and draconian. It is a scurrilous attempt to gag the press in a democracy and it cannot stand.”
She added: “These guidelines run contrary to the grains of reason, democratic ideals and they are a clear affront to the letter and spirit of the Nigerian Constitution which empowers journalists to freely practise their profession without any gag, muzzling and restriction.”
Objecting to the guidelines in their entirety, the guild pointed out that the guidelines negate the constitutional principle of freedom of expression and run contrary to the African Charter on fundamental rights and the right of the people to know adding that they serve no public good except the myopic interest of its chroniclers and purveyors.
The statement added: “The guild is disappointed that the same 8th National Assembly which benefited immensely from free press in its moments of trial had turned round to put the same press in shackles and chains. We reject this crude abrasion of our constitutional rights to freely disseminate information. It cannot stand.
“The guild urges all media houses across the nation to rise up and reject this medieval intrusion into the media space in the 21st Century, much more in a democracy which Nigerian media doggedly fought for and for which some journalists paid the supreme price.”
Mr. Monday Ubani, a former second Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association, said the “onerous accreditation requirements” were aimed at killing the constitutional right of the media to freedom of expression and to hold government accountable and described the move as clearly illegal, null and void.
He charged the media to do everything within its power to reverse the new rules.
He said, “I think they are trying to kill the freedom of expression. The constitution guarantees the media’s right to hold the government accountable under the fundamental objective directive principle.
“There is also the right of freedom of expression under the fundamental human rights provisions.
“No government agency or authority can go against the express provisions of the constitution by limiting the power of the mass media to hold the government accountable.
“So, any measure that is geared towards limiting the right of the media to hold the government accountable and report the activities of government to the public will be clearly illegal, null and void.”
Prince Uche Secondus, the National Chairman of the PDP, described some of the conditions as “poisonous and unbelievable” saying the colonial masters never asked for such “devilish conditions” when the country was under colonial rule.
He appealed to the management of the Assembly to withdraw the guidelines and called on the Nigeria media to reject them.