Mainstream media take on Buhari in ‘front-page protest’ against gagging
From July 12, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration had been the subject of the first-in-a-while protest by Nigeria’s mainstream media against attempts at media gagging, restriction of free speech and onslaught on people’s rights to know.
The Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO) last Wednesday said it would tackle Buhari on descending a democratic system back into the draconian military era with a uniform artwork that would be published on all front-pages.
The organisation in a statement condemned a bill empowering the Press Council to determine ethics and fake news, investigate infractions and impose fines on journalists, publishers and distributors.
The bill, “An Act to amend the Nigerian Press Council Act. Cap. N128, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1992,” proposes a jail term of one to three years and fines ranging from N2.5 million to N5 million on journalists, newsagents and media outlets.
“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 restitution for the aggrieved persons,” the statement said.
“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.”
According to the association, the bill is a sinister legislative ambush that seeks to choke the media with the exact commitment of the NPO before the Supreme Court of Nigeria to hold governments to account to the people at all times, as enshrined in Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The NPO also accused the legislature of going on with the bill without a formal invitation to key stakeholders such as Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE) and Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).
As a result, the NPO said the proposed bill is unconstitutional and runs against the principle and tenets of the rule of law.
Having painstakingly studied 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 federation, the group reaffirmed its position that “the proposed bill is unconstitutional as it runs against the principle and tenets of the rule of law. That it is a sub judice 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.”