Who’s afraid of the media? - News at its peak

News at its peak

....Information Carrier online magazine is a platform to disseminate breaking stories as well the mouthpiece globally.

Access Bank

Access Bank
Access Bank

Post Top Ad

Responsive Ads Here

Who’s afraid of the media?

Share This

By LAWAL OGIENAGBON, Managing Editor, The Nation Newspaper


Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press and that cannot be limited without being lost- Thomas Jefferson, US President, 1801-1809



When Jefferson, who was America’s third president, made that statement over 200 years ago, he spoke as a statesman that appreciated the values of free speech and democracy. These values were held dear in his time. Indeed, they are values which should be held dear throughout the ages. Unfortunately, they are being eroded today by leaders who fear the power of the written word. No wonder, people say the pen is mightier than the sword. The fear of the media has driven the Federal Government to go for the jugular of the Fourth Estate of the Realm. It has covertly resurrected the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) Act of 1992 to enable it have total control over the media. It is seeking to determine what is fake, who owns a media house, who works there, what they write, how they write it and the channel of distribution.

Since its motive is not pure, the government is working clandestinely with the legislature to achieve its aim through: A Bill for an Act to amend the Nigerian Press Council Act. CAP N128, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria  1992, to remove bottlenecks affecting its performance and make the Council in tune with the current realities in regulating press and for related matters. How the anti-media bill got to the National Assembly remains a mystery till today, seven days after the House of Representatives Committee on Information, National Orientation, Values and Ethics began sitting on it. Interestingly, the plan was to shave the head of the media behind it. No known media organ was invited to the sitting, contrary to all known laws that an interested party must not only be present at the hearing of a matter concerning him, but that he must also be given adequate notice to prepare for the hearing.

The law is clear on how a party should be notified – he must be served the hearing notice or written to, personally. The same rule applies in parliamentary sittings. Why this rule was jettisoned for the sitting on the NPC bill, according to media watchers, is because the amendment is not being done with the best of intentions.

‘’The media has been too vocal for the liking of the government and the only way they think they can shackle it is to use the law via the National Assembly to revive the dead NPC Act. With less than two years for this administration to go, they are going to do everything they can to torment the media so that they can have their way’’, an observer said.  The Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) were not present at the hearing of the bill on Thursday because they were not aware of the sitting. Asked why they were not invited, Chairman of the committee, Olusegun Odebunmi, said the newspaper advert placed by the panel was sufficient notice for anybody to appear. From his response, it was obvious that efforts were not made to contact these bodies before the sitting. So, if those behind the bill, sponsored by Odebunmi, have nothing to hide why did they not invite these interested parties?

There can be no group more interested in the bill than NPAN, NGE and NUJ members because it directly impinges on their profession. So, if they were not sent invitation letters, who then were those invited? Can an advert calling for the submission of memoranda be sufficient notice for them to appear before the committee?

Odebunmi may have put his name on the bill as the ‘’sponsor’’, but, it is crystal clear that this is the hand of Jacob and the voice of Esau. He said at the sitting that the bill was the ‘’baby of the government’’. If this is so, what then is his name doing on it? The legislature should not allow itself to be used by the government against the media. ‘’If you are sent on an errand as a slave, you deliver it as a freeborn’’, so says a Yoruba adage. The bill has the imprimatur of the executive all over it. Aware that it is doing something wrong, it cannot come out in the open to own up to its action. Eventually, the wind will blow and the backside of the fowl shall be exposed.

Ironically, it is the same media that the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, used as  National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) when the party was in opposition, that is being trampled now under his watch. He cannot say that he is not aware of this bill. In fact, some people have already dubbed it the Lai Bill to kill the media. They say his co-travellers are in the Villa and the Federal Ministry of Justice. In the coming days, the public will know where two former presidents of NGE, who are now presidential media aides, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, stand on this issue. Will they side with the NGE and the other media groups to fight the bill?

What does the bill plan to achieve? Under it, 14 clauses, according to its preamble, are to be amended. They are Sections 2, 3, 4, 9, 12, 16, 17, 20, 21, 28, 33, 36, 37 and the First Schedule of the principal Act. Sections 3,17 and 33 dwell on functions of the Council; the power of the Executive Secretary (of the Council) to punish an erring journalist or his organisation and an increase in the fine payable on conviction.

Section 3 is to be amended to, among others, (1) (a):  regulate the print media and related media houses; (b): ensure truthful, genuine and quality services by print media houses and media practitioners; (c): with the approval of the Minister in charge of Information, establish and disseminate a national press code and standards to guide conduct of print media, related media houses and media practitioners; (d): approve penalties and fines against violation of the press code by print media houses and media practitioners including revocation of licence; (e): receive, process and consider applications for the establishment, ownership and operation of print media and other related media houses; (f): with the approval of the Minister, grant print media and other related houses licences to any application worthy of such; (g): monitor activities of the press, media and other related houses to ensure compliance with the national press code for professional and ethical conduct, including the Nigeria Union of Journalists…; (m): enquiry into complaints about conducts of the press… and exercising in respect of the complaints the powers conferred upon it under this Act…

(2) No person shall engage any person for, operate or use any apparatus or premises for print or related media anywhere in Nigeria except under and in accordance with the provisions of this Act

(3) Where an offence under this section has been committed by an individual or a body corporate, such person(s) or body corporate shall be deemed to be guilty (emphasis mine) of an offence and liable to be prosecuted against and be punished accordingly. Where any person or body corporate has been convicted of this offence:

(i) such person or body corporate shall be liable to a fine of five million naira only or three years imprisonment to the person or the promoter (in case of a body corporate or both); and (ii) to an additional fine of twenty thousand naira for each day during which the offence continues.

Under the nation’s law, an offender is presumed innocent until otherwise proven in court. But the bill’s sponsor wants to stand that law on its head by proposing that an offender be deemed guilty until he proves his innocence. This is a clear indication of the intention of those behind this bill.

In the proposed amendment to Section 17, the executive is empowered to ‘’direct’’ a media house or its journalist to publish, in such manner as the Council may direct a suitable apology or correction, and may in addition reprimand the journalist or the person concerned. If the order is not complied with, the medium or the journalist ‘’is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction’’. Again, without trial! For that, the medium will cough out one million naira fine, and in the case of its journalist, N250,000… Under Section 33, a journalist, who practices without documentation with the Council, owns, publishes or prints a newspaper, magazine or journal commits an offence and is liable on conviction to five million naira fine or three years imprisonment or both. News agents who circulate for sale publications not documented with the Council also commit an offence and are liable on conviction to N250,000 fine or one year imprisonment or both.

Purveyors of fake news are not spared. They are to pay N5million fine or a two-year jail term or both. They will also pay a compensation of N2million to the aggrieved party. The medium that publishes the fake news is liable to N10million fine or closure for one year or both. In addition, it will pay N20million to the aggrieved party. Is this history about repeating itself under President Muhammadu Buhari, who as military head of state in 1984 enacted the obnoxious Decree 4 under which two journalists, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson, were jailed. Nigeria cannot afford to travel that road again, 38 years after.

No comments:

Post a Comment


WEMA BANK PLC

Pages