By Salim Yunusa
There are fears that a bill seeking to amend the Nigeria Press Council (NPC) Act will lead to the death of serious newspapers in Nigeria if it scaled through the two chambers of the National Assembly and finally assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Strong voices against the bill said on Thursday at a public hearing in the House of Representatives that some provisions in the proposed amendment to the APC Act would make it difficult for the media houses to operate in an atmosphere of freedom and hold those in the position of authority to account.
The Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), an umbrella body comprising the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) has therefore called on the House of Representatives to step down the bill immediately.
This is even as media rights groups and other critical stakeholders in the media industry kicked against any move to infringe on press freedom through the proposed amendment of the NPC Act.
Representative of NPO, Azu Ishiekwene, who is also the Editor-in-Chief of Leadership newspapers, made the call for the bill to be dumped Thursday at a public hearing organised by the House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values.
Before the NPO presentation Thursday, the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) through its Chairman, Malam Kabiru A. Yusuf who is also the chairman of Media Trust Limited, said amendment to the NPC Act would have important consequences on the freedom of the press in particular and good governance in general.
The latest debate on the fate of newspapers came days after the federal government banned the American microblogging and social networking service, Twitter from Nigeria’s cyberspace.
The federal government had also directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to immediately commence the process of licensing all Over-The-Top (OTT) media services and social media operations in Nigeria.
It said platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and others must now be registered in Nigeria.
Ishiekwene told the House committee that there was a pending matter at the Supreme Court challenging the amendment of the NPC Act.
He said it was imperative for the House of Representatives to stay all actions on the NPC amendment until the apex court must have given its verdict on the matter.
“We did not receive enough information that would have allowed us to engage the committee at this hearing as robust as we would have done.
“Be that as it may, honourable members, as stewards of the law, there is a pending matter at the Supreme Court between the NPO and some of the actors spearheading the amendment of the NPC Act.
“As stewards of the law, we expected that there should have been wider consultations before the amendment of the bill. We are appealing to the honourable members of this committee to step down this bill because of the pending matter in court,” he said.
Earlier, Ishiekwene had expressed deep concern over the exclusion and non-engagement of the NPO and other critical stakeholders prior to the public hearing on the NPC bill amendment.
He said no formal invitation was extended to the body and some other stakeholders to prepare and take part in the public hearing.
Responding to the request by the NPO, the Chairman of the committee, Odebunmi Olusegun, insisted that the committee would proceed with its legislative work on the bill.
According to him, they were representatives of the people empowered to make laws and that no pending matter in court could stop it from going ahead.
He described the NPC bill as a “baby of the government”, urging all relevant stakeholders to make the necessary contributions to the bill.
Earlier, the committee chairman while opening the public hearing, apologised to media stakeholders that did not get a formal invitation from them regarding the hearing.
He, however, said that the committee believed that the advertisements and commercials ran in national dailies and some national television channels sufficed as an invitation for the hearing.