…Say It’s a Ploy to Make Media Buckle Under, Reduce it to an Arm of Information Ministry …Wants Decisions on Appropriate Sanctions for Offences Handled by the Courts A consortium of four media development and media freedom organizations have strongly opposed the proposed amendment of the Nigerian Press Council Act by the National Assembly, saying
…Say It’s a Ploy to Make Media Buckle Under, Reduce it to an Arm of Information Ministry
…Wants Decisions on Appropriate Sanctions for Offences Handled by the Courts
A consortium of four media development and media freedom organizations have strongly opposed the proposed amendment of the Nigerian Press Council Act by the National Assembly, saying the measures contained in the amendment Bill seek to make the Government the arbiter of truth while subjecting the entire media sector in Nigeria to the control of the Minister of Information and Culture in violation of internationally accepted norms and standards.
The organizations, comprising the International Press Centre (IPC), Media Rights Agenda (MRA), the Centre for Media Law and Advocacy (CMLA), and the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), outlined their objections to the measures in a “Joint Memorandum” they presented to the House of Representatives Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values at a public hearing in Abuja on the Proposed Bill for An Act to Amend the Nigerian Press Council Act.
Presented by Mr. Lanre Arogundade, IPC’s executive director, on their behalf, the groups said although regulation is necessary in “this age of fake news and hate speech”, such regulation should not erode media independence or freedom and should not be unduly punitive, adding that the “regulator must also be free of the stranglehold of the powers that be, political or other interests, so that it can judiciously adjudicate in matters bothering on the infringement of the code of ethics of the profession of journalism.”
In the Memorandum signed by Mr. Arogundade as well as Mr. Edetaen Ojo, MRA’s executive director; Mr. Richard Akinnola, executive director of CMLA; and Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, PTCIJ executive director, the organizations noted that although masquerading as regulation, the proposals contained in the Amendment Bill are aimed at restricting freedom of expression and media freedom.
They complained that the amendments as currently proposed would give exclusive powers on the composition of the Board of such sensitive body like the Press Council whose independence is of paramount importance, to the President and the Minister without confirmation by the National Assembly unlike what obtains with other regulatory bodies such as the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
Besides, the organizations said, the amendments seek to empower the Council to ensure truth and genuineness in reporting, which would make a Council dominated by Government appointees and controlled by the Government the arbiter of truth.
According to them, the proposed amendment to the functions of the Council has the additional effect of making the Nigerian media a department of the Federal Ministry of Information and subjecting the entire media sector to the control of the Minister by giving him the power to approve a national Press Code and standards to guide conduct of print media, related media houses and media practitioners.
The organisations objected to the highly punitive measures which can be taken by the Council against media houses and media practitioners for alleged violation of the press code without judicial intervention, saying they constitute a potential threat to press freedom and media survival as they could be used as a political weapon against the media.
They criticized the proposal to empower the council to “receive, process and consider applications for the establishment, ownership, and operation of print media and other related media houses” as a violation of section 39 of the Constitution, which gives everyone the right to own, establish and operate any medium, and called on the Committee to reject the proposals on the composition and functions of the Council.
The organizations suggested that the power to determine sanctions relating to hefty fines should be vested in the courts and not the Council, adding that the provision relating to revocation of license for alleged publication of fake news should be removed from the Act as decisions on appropriate sanctions for such offences should belong to the courts.
The organisations recommend as follows:
* This honourable committee should take a cue from the Ghanaian constitution by recommending the inclusion of the provision for press freedom in the constitution while it should also recommend that government shall not appoint managers of the public (state) media.
* The board should have management control over the Commission including the Executive Secretary and the appointment should be made by the President through the confirmation of the National Assembly.
* The composition and functions of the Council and the philosophy of the bill all run counter to international best practice and we urge the committee to treat it by rejection.
* The composition of the board must be such that representatives of media professional groups and associations are in the majority. To this end we present for your kind consideration the composition adopted by media and other relevant stakeholders way back in 2009 when a similar amendment was proposed as follows:
The Council shall consist of a Chairman and the following other members, that is:
(a) four representatives of the Nigeria Union of Journalists;
(b) three representatives of the Nigerian Guild of Editors
(c) three representatives of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria;
(d) four representatives of the public one who shall be a legal practitioner and another a woman;
(e) one representative of the Nigerian Communication Commission;
(f) two representatives of educational institutions involved in training of Journalists;
(g) one representative of the Federal Ministry of Information who shall be a practising Journalist;
(h) three representatives of the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria;
(i) one representative of the News Agency of Nigeria who shall be a practising Journalist; and
(j) the Executive Secretary to the Council.
* The ethical code that should be operationalised by the Council is the Code of Ethics of Journalists in Nigeria as adopted by the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO) comprising the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) in Ilorin in 1998 and as may be regularly updated. This has been the practice. A political and non-journalism office like that of the Minister of Information should not been given the power of approval over the code of conduct of Journalists.
* The power to determine sanctions relating to hefty fines should be vested in the courts and not the Council. The Court of Appeal has clearly established this legal principle in NOSDRA v Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (2018) LPELR-44210 (CA) where it held that “the imposition of fines by NOSDRA was contrary to its powers on the basis that penalties or fines are imposed as punishment for an offence or violation of the law and the power as well as competence to establish that an offence has been committed belongs to the courts and not a regulatory agency.”
* The provision relating to revocation of license for alleged publication of fake news should be removed from the Act. Decisions for appropriate sanctions in relation to such offences should be vested in the law