The Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) on Monday gave reasons why the government should not regulate the media.
The union stressed the need for the media to be regulated by stakeholders and practitioners in the sector.
The NUJ was reacting to the Bill seeking to amend the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) Act currently before the House of Representatives.
The union stressed that it would be subjudice to discuss the amendment of the NPC Act when the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), which is the umbrella body for the Newspapers Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the NUJ, is currently in court with the government over issues affecting the NPC.
NUJ President Christopher Isiguzo made the comments in an interview on Channels TV.
He said: “From the NUJ perspective, we didn’t really make a presentation during the public hearing last week because we were not properly invited to that public hearing. But from the NPO perspective, we opposed the planned amendment.
“From that angle, we asked the House of Representatives and, by extension, the National Assembly, to drop the move because the NPO is presently in court with the government as regards issues affecting the NPC. We felt that it would be subjudice to begin to discuss the issues while they’re in court, although the Committee Chairman had a different view about it. From that angle, we said they should stop for now and let us dispense with the issues in court.
“I do not think anybody is allergic to being regulated. What we are concerned about here is: if you look at the issues in court, we said the government should not regulate the media but allow the practitioners, stakeholders to regulate themselves. It’s very simple.
“If you go to some other countries, Ghana for instance, the person heading the Press Council, of course, is a journalist. We felt that when you allow us to regulate ourselves, it will be a lot easier.
“If you look at the proposed amendment Bill, you will be looking at areas where they want to even criminalise journalism practice. For instance, if a journalist breaches – so to speak – the ethical code, you want him to go to prison and all that.
“We said no; there are ways that we can sanction practitioners that breach the ethics. We can suspend the person and we can also get the NUJ to get the person’s name struck out of the membership list, instead of sending the journalist to jail. These are the grey areas that we felt we should address.
“We said at the National Assembly last week that before we even zero-in to a public hearing, discussing the proposed amendments and Bills, that we needed to have sat down as stakeholders. You get the NUJ, the Editors’ Guild, NPAN, government representatives and all of us to sit down together and clear the grey areas so that we can be on the same page.”
“Recent developments send shivers down our spines. If we cave in to this subtle attack, what could come after it may not be controlled by anybody. That is why we are worried.
“Even when they talk about regulating social media and all that, ordinarily, one would have said there is no problem with that. This is because if you go to other climes, these are very simple things they do. If you come, you must align with their own system. If it is not in line with that, you cannot operate social media.
“But today, all the newspapers, broadcast stations are on social media. And if you just give them a blank cheque to regulate the social media, your guess is as good as mine as to what will come out of it.
“That is why it becomes imperative that stakeholders have to come together, sit and agree: look at what we want and make it clear so that all the parties will understand before you go to a public hearing. But when you want to jump the gun – so to speak – gather people, like for us, we were not invited properly.”