Legislature, Press Urged To Kill 2 Media-Gag Bills

National Assembly

June 22, (THEWILL)- The National Assembly has been urged to kill two Bills currently being considered and reportedly aimed at curtailing Press Freedom in the country.

Those behind the Motions, including the Member representing Ukanafun/Oruk Anam Federal Constituency in the Federal House of Representatives, Hon. Unyime Idem, have come under heavy criticism by civil society groups and stakeholders in the media sector for sponsoring the National Broadcasting Commission Amendment Bill and the Nigeria Press Council Amendment Act.

Critics said the amendments were targeted at crippling the Press.

The Executive Director of the International Press Centre, Lanre Arogundade, noted that the two major Bills before the National Assembly were capable of crippling Press Freedom in Nigeria.

In the same vein, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) called on Nigerians to reject such Bills, describing them as “repressive.”

THEWILL gathered that the Bills for amendment of the NBC Act were being sponsored by Odebunmi Olusegun (APC, Oyo State and Chairman, House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values) and Unyime Idem (PDP, Akwa Ibom State and Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Communication).

The NPC amendment Bill is the sole sponsorship of Olusegun.

Arogundade noted that if media practitioners refused to act on time and the amendments scaled through, the media would become an appendage of the Federal Ministry of Information.

He said: “We have discovered that some of the amendments being proposed in the two Bills are major threats to press freedom should they be passed into law. We are saying this because there is an attempt to criminalise journalism.

“The penalties for the alleged breach of the codes in the NBC and NPC acts are highhanded and heavy, sometimes up to N10m in the case of the NPC Act and even imprisonment for three years for any form of alleged violations.

“In the case of the NBC Act, there is a provision that the NBC can sanction a station, including fine or revocation of licence, if in the opinion of the NBC, it is in public interest. You now begin to wonder how a proposed law would give power of determining public interest to an unelected body.”

The IPC Director also questioned why the National Assembly usually confirmed the board appointments of all regulatory bodies in Nigeria, except the media.

He stressed that if the Bills became law, the Information Ministry would be empowered to have undue control of the Press.

Arogundade said: “The NPC Act is so ridiculous that the proposed amendment is saying that a National Press Code shall be drawn up and the code will come into effect only with the approval of the Minister of Information.

“So, they are saying in effect that all newspapers are a department of the Ministry of Information.”

He noted that the National Assembly must act as a true representative of Nigerians and not serve the selfish interest of a few people.

According to him, a breach of Press Freedom in any form amounted to denying the people the right to know.