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New press council bill seeks to criminalise journalism, says media practitioners

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THE Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has kicked against the new Nigerian Press Council bill 2018, saying its aim was to “criminalise journalists and journalism practice” in Nigeria.

This was contained in a communique issued by the guild at the end of its Standing Committee Meeting held in Lagos last weekend.

The press council bill 2018, which was sponsored by Suleiman Adokwe, senator representing Nasarawa South Constituency, seeks to repeal the press council Act of 1992. It has already passed the second reading in the Senate.

In the communique signed by Funke Egbemode and Victoria Ibanga, President and General Secretary of the NGE respectively, the guild stated that “sponsors of this bill are fixated on muzzling the press using draconian laws which are clearly targeted at making the watchdog toothless”.

“The bill seeks to criminalise journalists and journalism practice, take away the power of the law courts and usurp the constitutional duties of academic institutions and regulatory agencies such as the National Universities Commission (NUC),” the communique read in part.

“This bill as provocative, primitive, anti-people and anti-press freedom at a time when advocacy for free press is gaining stridency across the world.

“Those behind this bill have been unrelenting in their quest to cage the media under different guises, as the bill has come up under different administrations since 1961. This bill bears a semblance of the obnoxious Decree 4 of 1984 and Decree 43 of 1993.”

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According to the NGE, the proposed bill does not take into consideration that, apart from being the fourth estate of the realm, “media houses are businesses set up with investments”.

“The Guild condemns the bill in its entirety and will never nominate any of its members to serve in a council that seeks to cage the media, destroy the profession and criminalise journalists.

“Indeed, it is the opinion of the Guild that this bill should be consigned to the dustbin where it rightly belongs.”

Similarly, The Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), issued a statement condemning the new press council bill 2018, and calling on the legislators to discontinue considering the bill.

The NPO is an umbrella body comprising several media associations in Nigeria, including the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE), Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON).

Nduka Obaigbena, President of the NPO, in a statement on Sunday, noted that the proposed bill will be an unnecessary  “interference in the operations of the media in Nigeria as businesses registered under the relevant laws of the federation”.

“The proposed bill is unconstitutional as it runs against the principles and tenets of the rule of law and is actually subjudice given that a case on the subject matter is still pending in the highest court of the land – the Supreme Court – in view of which the bill should not have been drafted in the first instance,” Obaigbena stated.

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The NPO demanded that the bill be dropped and urged the government to “guarantee press freedom” and as is obtained in other democratic nations across the world. The group also assured the public that it will “continue doing all it can to further promote media ethics, professionalism, transparency,  accountability and self-regulation, to ensure that the public interest is served at all times”.

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