Muzzling Media Freedom in a Democracy

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By Adémólá Òrúnbon

Of recent, there have been what can be described as guided and concerted attempts by the All Progressive Congress, APC-led Federal Government to stamp its control on what is churned out as information within the Nigerian media space. This is because it has become obvious that the administration is not at home with the kind of access Nigerians, both within the already regulated and the unregulated media platforms such as the electronic and print media, and micro-blogging sites – a favourite of the mostly youth population of the country, seem to have.

The manner of news reportage in public space is apparently not in tandem with the policy drive of the government of the day, hence the need to reign in such perceived excesses, which have been allowed under the right to freedom of expression, being a fundamentally- guaranteed constitutional right of citizens of all true democratic states the world over. It should be recalled that three months ago or thereabout, the media was inundated with the news of the decision by the Federal Government to suspend indefinitely, the functioning of microblogging site, Twitter within the Nigerian space following the deletion of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet which was considered quite inflammatory, and goes against the standard of Twitter.

The Federal Government, through its Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who announced the ban, attributed the move to the proclivity of Twitter to promote a state of insecurity in the country, while citing Twitter’s role in fostering the recent #EndSARS national protest in the country. In the following weeks, the Information and Culture Minister had asked the Federal House of Representatives during a public hearing, to assign more constitutional powers to the Federal Government to enable it bring some form of regulation on the use of microblogging sites or social media platforms in the country.

Earlier, 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. As if that was not enough, government has also asked the members of the House to review its regulatory role on the Nigeria Press Council Act of 2018.

Already, stakeholders have expressed deep 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 Buhari. Strong voices against the bill said on Thursday June 17 at the public hearing in the House of Representatives that some provisions in the proposed amendment to the NPC Act would make it difficult for 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 and NBC Acts respectively.

The Executive Secretary of IPC, Lanre Arogundade, said the focus should be more on a “truly independent and media freedom-friendly Nigerian Press Council” instead of working hard to muzzle media freedom. He expressed concern over a clause in the new bill, which sought to empower the NPC to penalise defaulting newspaper organisations with a fine of N10 million and N250,000 against individual journalists.

 

Source: Vanguard Newspaper