OrderPaperToday – Media rights groups on Thursday kicked against punitive measures for media houses and journalists been proposed in amendment of the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) act.

The groups comprising of International Press Centre (IPC), Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Centre for Media Law and Advocacy (CMLA) and Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) noted that inputting such sections in the act will amount to gaging the press and stampeding their freedom.

They said these during a public hearing organized by the House of Representatives Committees on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values considering the following bills: a bill for an act to amend the NPC act; a bill for an act to amend the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC); a bill for an act repeal the advertising practitioners act; and a bill for an act to repeal the National Film and Video Censors act.

Mr. Lanre Akinola, executive director, CMLA, said “we would like to say the international behavior towards regulation is peer regulation, constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of the press, and the expunging from status all laws that criminalizes freedom of expression. This is the line the committee should tow like Ghana has done and like South Africa has done; and with regards to throwing off defamation statutes from the books, the way Sierra Leone has done.

“The penalties for offences as stipulated in section 3(3) i and ii (of the NPC act) including fine of five million naira (N5,000,000.00) or three years imprisonment are too punitive and will constitute threat to the media independence and freedom.

“Section 17 (3b) provides that a journalist could be held liable for the offense committed by his or her organisation and can be made to pay a fine of two hundred and fifty thousand naira (N250, 000). This is also punitive”.

Speaking further, he noted that “the provision of section 21 subsection 5 (a) as proposed for amendment is such that a journalist can be punished by the Council even after he/she might have been found guilty by court of law and without the Council going back to report continued infringement.”

Similarly a memeber of the rights groups, Azu Ishiekwene, member of the Nigeria Press Organization (NPO) delegation, and Editor-in-Chief of Leadership  newspaper asked that the NPC bill be thrown away being that on it is in court.

“The matter that is under consideration now is before the Supreme Court. In 2010, the NPO which is the umbrella organisation for the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) — these are the constituents part of the NPO.

“It is a matter that has been pending in court since 1999 but the first decisive ruling in the matter came in 2010 when the High Court ruled that 17 out of the 39 clauses in the bill were unconstitutional, the federal government appeal and got a ruling in December 2010. That ruling was again appealed by the NPO and it is pending in the Supreme Court.”

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