THE International Press Centre has kicked against attempts by the government to criminalise journalism in the country, urging media professionals to fight before it is too late.
The Executive Director of the centre, Lanre Arogundade, noted that there were two major bills before the National Assembly which could cripple press freedom in Nigeria.
He identified them as the National Broadcasting Commission Amendment Bill and the Nigerian Press Council Act Amendment Bill.
The PUNCH learnt that the bills for amendment of the NBC Act were 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 sponsored by Olusegun.
Arogundade, who spoke to The PUNCH on Sunday on the telephone, said if the media refused to act on time and the amendments scaled through, media houses could 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 said this was giving the Information Ministry undue control of the press.
“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 added.
He said the National Assembly must act as true representatives of Nigerians and not to serve the selfish interest of a few people.
According to him, a breach of press freedom in any form is denying the people the right to know.