The ongoing efforts of the National Assembly to amend the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act have huge implications for press freedom in Nigeria.
The NBC was established as a decree and bears sharp similarities with the proposed ammendment of the Nigerian Press Council Act. In its current form, the NBC wields huge influence on the media space and controls it in favour of the government.
A BOARD THAT DETERMINES THE ‘TRUTH’
The first thing the amended bill seeks to do is create a new section that will accommodate the establishment of a Board for the Council. The Council will be charged with regulating media houses by ensuring “truthful, genuine and quality services”.
The question then becomes who determines what is truthful or not? In the case of the Lekki Massacre, the government, through the Ministry of Information, determined that the massacre was a lie and sanctioned broadcasters who suggested so or published content from events of October 20, 2020. What this eventually does is that it gives the government absolute control on what information can be published or not, according to its perception of truth.
Journalists will have to kow-tow to government positions. The media houses will be like a big government media house.
WELL, LAURETTA ONOCHIE CAN BECOME THE ‘REGULATOR’
It is more important to know who is in the Council and how they come on board. According to the bill, the Chairman of the Council shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Minister of Information and should have at least 15 years experience in journalism. If Buhari then decides to repeat the scenario of nominating a Lauretta Onochie as INEC Commissioner, then the possibilities for the gagging of the press are worrisome.
The board members shall also be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Minister of Information. This automatically disqualifies young voices and their views or opinions to issues affecting them.
COUNCIL CAN BE HIJACKED FOR POLITICS
The Council, just like the office of the Inspector General of Police, becomes an office that can be utilised for political purposes, and this is eventually what makes this bill catastrophic. What we will have in Nigeria, is not just a lack of press freedom, but a definition of that freedom.
INFORMATION MINISTER OR ‘EDITORIAL MINISTER’?
The powers given to the Minister of Information and the President are monstrous. The Act further seeks to establish a guide conduct for media houses to follow, and if media houses fall in violation of the code, they will be fined N5 million or three years imprisonment, or N20,000 for each day the offence continues.
But that is also if those press houses will be allowed to operate because the Council will be able to determine who operates or not. This is a dictatorship dressed in a democratic setting. The criminalisation of information is the first step dictatorships take when shrinking freedoms.
‘THEIR’ CODE OF CONDUCT
This bill is not only draconian, but the channel of legality is used to establish its existence. The Minister of Information will licence media houses and monitor their compliance to the code of conduct it will establish. So, for example, Lai Mohammed will come up with a code of conduct and will monitor who is adhering to it or not. This code of conduct is expected to be binding on all journalists and media houses in Nigeria, and gives further power to the Council to determine if a journalist runs foul to the code of conduct.
YELLOW CARD FOR JOURNALISTS
Individual journalists, after facing the Council, can be fined N250,000 and a suspension from practice. All that is needed is for the NBC to say their action was taken “in the public interest”. In a country where journalism is poorly funded and journalists are poorly paid, the fines are perfect ways to totally kill off the media. And imagine the FIJ journalist who investigated the massacre of protesters at the Lekki Toll Plaza, he would have been banished from Nigerian journalism if this law had come into force earlier in the year!
What Nigerians can expect as a result of this bill, if passed into law, is legalised dictatorship.
Photo Credit: BBC
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