Stakeholders warn NASS against proposed draconian law against media

• Say N5m fine, three years imprisonment too punitive

Media practitioners in Nigeria, on Thursday, warned the National Assembly to jettison any legislation that could suppress media activities, which played a major role in the enthronement of democracy in the country.

The stakeholders who expressed stiff opposition against ongoing moves by Federal Government to clamp down on the media described the proposed penalties N5 million or three years imprisonment for offences, as “too punitive and will constitute a threat to media independence and freedom.”

The Executive Director, International Press Centre (IPC), Lanre Arogundade, on Thursday, gave the charge in Abuja while presenting a paper titled: ‘For a truly independent and media freedom friendly Nigeria Press Council’, jointly presented by IPC, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Centre for Media Law and Advocacy (CMLA) and Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) during the public hearing on the bill for an Act to amend the Nigerian Press Council Act, held at the instance of the House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics & Values.

The coalition further noted that Section 17(3a & b) provides that a journalist could be held liable for the offence committed by his or her organisation and can be made to pay a fine of N250,000.

They also frowned at the proposed Section 33(3 & 4) which “does not give room for retraction or apology where fake news is mistakenly published but recommends a blanket sanction of up to N10 million or closure for a period of one year or both.

The group also opposed the provisions of section 2(3) of the controversial bill which gives exclusive power to the President and Minister on the composition of the NPC Board, without provision for confirmation of the National Assembly unlike other regulatory bodies such as the National Communications Commission.

“First, we like to say that the international behaviour towards media regulation is peer regulation, constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press, and the expunging from statute all laws that criminalise freedom of expression.

“This is the line the Committee should tow as Ghana has done and like South Africa has done, and with regards to throwing off defamation statute from the books, the way Sierra Leone has done.

“A consideration is that the amendment seeks an unabashed focus to restrict freedom of expression while masking the toga of something else. It attempts to do what other laws have done like the cybercrimes Acts which sections 24 and 38, which in no fewer than 10 instances have been used to clamp down on bloggers or journalists for expressing opinion antagonistic to politically or economically powerful elites.

“Bodies like the Amnesty International has documented 50 cases where the law had targeted, not cybercrime suspects, but bloggers and journalists for writing on what they ‘know to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill-will or needless anxiety to another,” he warned.

The coalition also opposed the proposed amendment in section 3 (functions of the Council) which seeks to empower the Minister of Information to establish and disseminate a national press code and standards to guide the conduct of print media, related media houses and media practitioners.

“The attempt to subject the entire media sector to the control of the Minister is further reinforced by Section 9 (Code of Conduct) which further provides in 9(1) that: ‘The Council shall establish a national press and ethical code for media houses and media practitioners, which shall come into effect and be disseminated after the approval by the Minister’.

“A professional code of conduct for the media should never be subject to the approval of the Minister or any other political authority,” Arogundade warned.

He maintained that Section 3 of the bill, “constitutes a potential threat to press freedom and media survival as it does not provide judicial intervention before highly punitive measures are handed down by the Council and indeed could be used as a political weapon against the media. The section provides as follows: “approve penalties and fines against violation of the Press Code by print media houses and media practitioners, including revocation of license.”

The provision of 3(e) that the council will ‘receive, process and consider applications for the establishment, ownership, and operation of print media and other related media houses” violates section 39 of the constitution. Section 39 of the Constitution makes it clear that everyone shall be entitled to freedom of expression…. [and] that under its subsection [2] “…everyone shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium…”

On his part, Azu Ishikwere, who spoke on behalf of the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), who observed that the controversial bill being considered by the House, disclosed that the case has been pending in Court since 1999.

“There is a matter and I am sure as the stewards of the people and stewards of the law you are aware that there is a pending matter between NPO and some parties being called in this legislation.

‘There is a matter pending before the Supreme Court between NPAN and some parties involved in this bill that is being amended. And as stewards of the law, I’m sure you are constrained just as I am to make any further conversation on this matter because it is a pending matter and it is before the Supreme Court.”

According to him, the last time the matter came up in 2010, no fewer than 17 of the 39 clauses contained in the proposed bill being considered in the new amendment were ruled unconstitutional by the Court at that time.

“Of course, the Federal Government has appealed the ruling and the matter is currently before the Supreme Court. So, I will rest my case by appealing to the honourable members of this committee to refer to the conversation that was heard on a similar matter in 2018 when this matter came up before the Senate and the pendency of this matter before the court was canvassed and the 8th National Assembly at that time agreed that the prudent thing to do was to step it down. I urge this House to also consider a similar step.”

While giving the government’s position, Executive Secretary of Nigerian Press Council, Francis Nwosu affirmed that the “NPC Act has been a subject of controversy and litigation since 1999. Efforts to resolve perceived disagreements have been carried out by former Ministers of Information and former members of the National Assembly but some issues had continued to linger.

Nwosu who described the bill as a giant stride argued that the proposed bill will allow the Council to venture into other areas in its task of regulation and also impact effectively on the print media industry. Apart from ensuring quality control, it will also enable positive input in media legislative matters.

On the prosecution of offences, Nwosu argued that: “prosecution of a crime under the Act should be done by the Attorney General upon investigation by the Police. This is so because the Council does not have the powers to prosecute criminal acts.

“The principal Act also made provisions for conviction of offences and it was an area of contention. Stakeholders opposed that provision, saying that the Council did not have the powers of the court. However, for purpose of clarity, Council suggests that the issue of prosecution should be clearly spelt out.

“Fake News: The inclusion of fake news is a welcome development. The proposed Act should define what will constitute fake news for easy interpretation.

“Fines: Hate Speech: The Council suggests that a provision against Hate Speech should also be included in this amendment.

“It is also necessary to note other areas in line with the amendment, namely: i. At section 16(1c) ‘freedom of the press should be amended as ‘freedom of expression and the press’. This is what is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”


Stakeholders warn NASS against proposed draconian law against media

FACT CHECK: Did UNICEF Say Blocking Children’s Access To Pornography Constitutes Human Rights’ Infringement?

CLAIM 1: A Twitter user claims UNICEF said any efforts to block children from accessing pornography might infringe their human rights.Stakeholders warn NASS against proposed draconian law against media.Stakeholders warn NASS against proposed draconian law against media.Stakeholders warn NASS against proposed draconian law against media

Stakeholders warn NASS against proposed draconian law against media

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