Issues arising from NASS’ amendment of NPC principal acts

The media space is awash with protests against the proposed amendment to the practice of journalism in Nigeria. In this report, ELEOJO IDACHABA examines the various perspectives to the issue.

It seems attempt by the National Assembly to amend what they referred to as the relevant aspect of the Nigeria Press Council (NPC) Act of 1992 in line with what they said is in tandem with current realities is raising serious dusts among key stakeholders in the media industry. From all indications, it has pitched the media industry against the lawmakers whose actions are perceived to be a deliberate attempt to gag the press. In June 2021, a lawmaker, Hon Olusegun Odebunmi,  chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values sponsored a private member bill titled: ‘An act to amend the Nigerian Press Council Act Cap  N128, laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1992 to remove bottle necks affecting its performance in tune with current realities and related matters.’This bill, according to the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and other media professionals is obnoxious and anti people as it would stiffle the right of citizens to free speech.A section of the bill seeks to, among others, regulate the print media and related  media houses. With the approval of the minister of information, it also seeks to establish and disseminate a National Press Code and standards to guide conduct of print media, related media houses and media practitioners.

Furthermore, it seeks to approve penalties and fines against violations of the code by print media houses and practitioners, including revocation of licence, receive, process and consider applications for the establishment, ownership and operation of print media and other related media houses.It seeks to monitor activities of the press, media and other related houses to ensure compliane with the National Press Code for professionals and ethical conduct, including the NUJ, among others
Areas of grouse against the amendment
According to the president of NPAN, Kabir Yusuf, what is about to happen to the press is a threat to everyone which he said must be fought to a standstill.”The tendency is that when politicians are in power, they think they don’t need the media; they only realise it when they are in the opposition. The current crop of politicians in government rose to power on the back of the media. The amendment sought by Hon Odebunmi is not good for democracy especially when you have the press regulated and controlled by the information minister. We need to create a framework where the media operates freely.”While further expressing fears about the bill, the NPAN boss said, “What is currently happening to the broadcast media is an eye-opener to what the NBC Act may turn out to be. Under the broadcast bill, we know that broadcast houses have to be licensed and their licences periodically renewed. There are fines imposed based on infringement and these are decisions taken by the ministry. It is this same application that is about to be transmitted into the NPC Act. We should not be lumped together under this new act whereby somebody decides who should be a journalist and who should own a newspaper house. “We want an independent mechanism where we would be participants; this is not something that is unusual, but had existed in many countries like Britain and India. We want an independent commission that would look at infringement and not the ministry of information.”We need variety in the media in order to give balance to the practice of the profession. At the end of the day, it is left for the public to decide which information they consume. This freedom of speech we are enjoying now is what enables the opposition and anyone whose rights are infringed to have a say. We are therefore ready to work with the National Assembly to develop an independent framework.”

Analyst’s thought
In the same vein, a notable public affairs analyst and executive director of OJA Consult, Jide Ojo, said even though the government claims that the bill in question is a private member one, such statement should be taken with a pinch of salt. He however noted that, “The power to make, amend laws falls within the National Assembly; that notwithstanding, the most important thing is for the media and civil society to ensure that during public hearing, there should be massive mobilisation of support against the bill as well as strong opinions and editorials in the newspapers to overwhelmingly express disgust against it.”It is not uncommon in every democracy to gag the media. You know that democracy in many climes are seen as antithetical to transparency and accountability in governance. The constitution however made it clear about making governments accountable to the people according to Section 22 and 39 of the constitution.”Even during the military junta, civil society organisations rose stoutly against anything that attempts to gag the press; therefore, it is not now in democracy that such would be allowed to see the light of day. What I think should happen is that both the media stakeholders and civil society should have a synergy towards a plan B by educating the people about the obnoxious clauses being introduced into the NPC Act and NBC bill that are completely objectionable. They should articulate and and canvass against it.”Even though there is a need for the media to do what I call self-regulation to avoid unprofessional conduct especially among some online media and accidental publishers, I however believe that the obnoxious clauses being introduced into the Act should be expunged.”
Why the press must be regulated – Hon Kalu
In what appears as its resolve to go ahead with the planned amendment, the chairman, House Committee on Media, Hon Benjamin Kalu said emphatically that the media space needs regulation because of what he referred to as the danger of fake news and what it has done to the economies of the world. He said there is also a need to bridge the gap with regards to how stakeholders are regulating themselves in terms of the structures for self monitoring.

According to him, “At the end of the day, we want to ensure that the general public is fed with the right context through proper regulation. The green chamber has taken a position that there would be no attempt to gag the press and press freedom is part of the legislative agenda of the 9th assembly.”There is no need for any fear about this bill even though it has passed through the Second Reading. There would be public hearing where stakeholders would be involved by way of making inputs.

Other aspects of the bill
If the amended bill eventually becomes law, where an offence is committed by an individual or corporate body, such person(s) or corporate body shall be guilty of an offence and liable to be prosecuted against and be punished accordingly.It further states that where any person or corporate body is eventually convicted of this offence, such person or body shall be liable to a fine of five million Naira or three years imprisonment to the person or the promoter (in case of corporate body or both, and an additional fine of twenty thousand Naira for each day during which the offence continues. While Nigerians wait for the public hearing of this bill for stakeholders to raise their objections, many journalists believe that for the spirit of professionalism to be entrenched in journalism, there is a need to set a standard by which every practitioner must abide by just like other professional bodies in the country.