‘Information Blackout’: Nigerian Newspapers Campaign Against Controversial Media Regulation Bills
Several newspapers in Nigeria on Monday jointly campaigned against controversial media regulation bills being considered at the National Assembly by publishing an advertorial that represents a gagged media.
The front banners of major newspapers in Nigeria on Monday bore a picture of an individual with a sealed mouth.
“Information Blackout,” read the caption that ran with the picture. “It’s not just against the media….it’s about society’s right to know, your right to be heard.”
The message is a joint release from Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN).
It is expected to be the chyron on television stations, the jingles on radio stations and the lead graphics on online media.
This is a pushback by media organisations in the country against Buhari government’s attempt to regulate social media and censor the press through controversial media bills at the National Assembly.
The controversial bills are Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and Nigerian Press Council (NPC) Act amendment bills.
The advertorial appeared on the front pages of dailies such as Punch, Independent Vanguard, The Nation, ThisDay, Guardian, Daily Sun.
The bills, which are already at the public hearing stage, are being sponsored by Olusegun Odebunmi, Chairman of House of Representatives Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria and human rights activist, Femi Falana has described the bills as “anti-media.”
Debate on the bill comes as the Federal Government moves to tighten regulation on social media after suspending Twitter over national security concerns.
However, Odebunmi has said his bill to amend Nigerian Press Council act is not designed to gag the media.
He recently said;
Most of the people commenting on the bill have no knowledge of it. The bill was not sponsored by Federal Government, even the Minister of Information was only aware a few days to presentation and he did not have any input on the bill.
It is my idea because I feel we should not wait for a supreme court judgment to do what is right by amending the existing controversial law.
Meanwhile, existing censorship on broadcast stations persists, and instances, where the stations are ordered to stop the broadcast of programmes the government feels uncomfortable with, are rife. Heavy fines are imposed by NBC at will when there is an alleged breach.
Several Nigerians including some politicians like former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar has condemned the bills, saying;
I stand resolutely by the NUJ, NGE and NPAN in its campaign against information blackout as represented by the NPC and NBC (Media) Act amendment Bills. Freedom of the press and access to information is the oxygen of democracy and must never be compromised.