The plan by the SENATE to criminalise certain aspects of media practice in the country have come under criticisms from the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), media partners and others.
Their reactions is sequel to a bill entitled: “An Act to prohibit frivolous petitions and other matters connected therewith,” sponsored by Deputy Senate Leader Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah (Kebbi South), which scaled second reading on Wednesday.
The bill recommends jail terms ranging from a mandatory six months to up to two years or fines of between N200,000 and N4 million for petitions written or published through “any medium of whatever description” against public or private individuals without a sworn affidavit in a Federal or State High Court.
The NUJ said the bill was an attempt to clamp down on journalists, social media and petition writers.
The union called on reporters in the Senate and House of Representatives to reject “this anti-media bill”.
In a letter to The Nation yesterday, NUJ National Secretary Shuaibu Usman Leman said: “We consider this bill as abominable and capable of causing irreparable damage to the nation’s quest for credible democracy.”
Usman added that it was untenable for Na’Allah to equate the bill to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
He said: “The FOI Act is not meant as a means for journalists to pry into areas wrongly perceived as government secrets or expose the privacy of citizens; rather it should be seen as a means for the masses of this country to demand for how they are governed and to hold such leaders accountable.
“The NUJ believes that information participation by all is necessary for effective democracy and the failure of the state to provide unhindered access to information can lead to monumental corruption and abuse of rights of citizens.”
The union warned lawmakers and government functionaries against playing “dirty politics” with important national issues.
The Media Ethics Organisation said the Senate’s move might end up being counter-productive to Nigeria’s democracy.
The non-governmental organisation (NGO) in a statement by its director, Mr. Dele Banjoko, admitted that although the passage of the bill might check the rise of defamatory reports, the law would be an overkill because of the existing laws on libel and slander.
It added that professional bodies like the NUJ, the Nigerian Guild of Editors and Newspapers Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria also have organs for handliing complaints against unethical conduct by journalists.
“A bill, which sets out to punish the author and publisher of a petition without a duly sworn affidavit will render the public further hopeless instead of widening the space for the aggrieved to ventilate their grievances without violence,” the NGO said in a statement yesterday.
For blogger and veteran journalist, Dr. Kunle Hamilton, the law was “preposterous”.
Hamilton argued that the passage of the law would mean Nigerians would no longer be free to discuss government’s excesses on television, radio, blogs, pages of newspapers and magazines, and even on their telephones.
He said: “You could go to jail for posting on your phone that a public officer is corrupt. This is preposterous and all well-meaning Nigerians must stop the Senate from stopping the media, especially social media, which have become the poor man’s only hope of airing his views against corruption in high places.
“Everywhere else in the civilised world, the laws of libel and regular criminal codes are enough to protect honest public servants against character assassination.”
The National Coordinator of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Otunba Adams, also condemned the Senate for seeking to introduce the bill.
Addressing reporters in his office yesterday in Lagos, Adams described the bill as the same with the obnoxious military Decree 4 of 1984, saying the trend was worrisome.
He said with the introduction of the bill, “the Senate is plotting a coup against the media in order to gag it.”