Breaking: Newspapers begin front page protest July 12 over media draconian law

Buhari confers with the Senate President Ahmed Lawan and Reps Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila during the former's previous visit to the National Assembly

The Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO) has resolved to resist the government attempt to stifle the media’s constitutional freedom of speech in Nigeria, even as it set July 12, 2021 to stage a Front Page protest by publishing a common designed artwork in all the Newspapers.

The protest is expected to continue on July 13, 2021, with all newspapers carrying a front page editorial “with a central theme – denouncing government’s attempt to stifle the people’s right to know through its crude attempt to return the country into the draconian era of the military, even as we are in a democracy.”

In a statement signed last night by Mr. Feyi Smith, on behalf of the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), after a meeting held in Lagos, said the July 14, 2021 publication will explain why and what prompted activities of the two previous days.

According to the statement, the outrageous bill proposed to regulate the print media via a press code and standards, grant or revoke publishing licenses, register or delist journalists as well as ensure truthful, genuine and quality services and media practitioners. 

“It confers on the Press Council the power to determine ethics and fake news, investigate infractions and impose fines on journalists, publishers and distributors. It proposes fines of up to N. 25m on the journalist, and N5million on a corporate body. It specifies jail terms of one to three years and fines ranging from N.25m to N5m on journalists, news agents and media outlets. 

“It proposes a fine of between N2m to N5m to erring purveyors, two years in jail and compensation for fake news while the medium of publication is liable to N10m fine or closure for one year in addition to payment of N20m as compensation to the aggrieved party. 

“The bill, draconian and anti-press freedom is a poor mix and resurrection  of the obnoxious Public Officers Protection Against False accusation Decree No. 4 of 1984 and the Newspapers Registration Decree 43 of 1993, both vestiges of the dark days of military rule. It assumes that there are no extant laws to penalise media infractions and exact restitutions for the aggrieved persons.

“The new NBC is no less galling, making the Minister of Information the Monster Minister with sweeping powers to make and enforce regulations online and offline.”

The meeting noted that the bill as currently concorted, “is a sinister, draconian  legislative ambush, which seeks to choke the media with exactly those prayers the NPAN has taken before the Supreme Court of Nigeria, seeking relief to unshackle the press in a democracy, and  encourage it to from perform its constitutional responsibility of holding the government  accountable to the people at all times, as enshrined in Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

“The ambush is amplified by  the hush- hush manner of a legislative public hearing which  was conducted, without a formal invitation to  the key stakeholders- NPAN, NGE and NUJ- while the only one that got  an invitation, received same at the venue and on the day of the hearing.”

The media stakeholders’ meeting, however resolved that “that the proposed bill is unconstitutional as it runs against the principle and tenets of the rule of law. That it is  subjudice of a pending case on the subject matter before the highest court of the land – the Supreme Court. That it violates the rule of the National Assembly not to deliberate on matters that have been surrendered to the Court for adjudication.

“That the bill seeks to criminalize journalism business and  practise despite the surfeit of  laws of country with enough provisions and avenues for legal redress where individuals or groups feel ‘offended’ by  media reports or business infractions.

“That the bill smirks of an attempt at undue suffocation of the operations of the  media business away from the Company and Allied Matters Act provisions.

“That the bill seeks to invest the regulatory bodies with judicial powers, and usurp the powers of the courts.

“That the bill lacks any redeeming feature of a good law as it is discriminatory and offensive to public good and morality.”

The statement said: “On July 12, 2021, All  newspapers to stage a Front Page Protest by publishing a common  designed artwork, denouncing government ‘s attempt to stifle the people’s ‘ rights to know and freedom of speech. 

“July 13, 2021, All newspapers to carry a front page editorial with a central theme – denouncing government’s attempt to  stifle the people’s right to know through its  crude attempt to return the country into the draconian era of the  military, even as we are in a democracy. 

“July 14, 2021 Publication of materials explaining why and what prompted activities of the two previous days.”

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