Major newspapers in Nigeria on Monday, July 12, gave up their front page in a solidarity protest, to reject attempt by the Federal Government to gag the press through the National Assembly.
The coordinated front page protest is a solidarity action by the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN).
Most Nigerians, especially those who besieged vendor stands, were suprised to see the newspapers with the screaming front page accompanied by a picture to depict the planned silencing of the media and a bold message tagged: “Information Blackout”.
The newspapers say the two controversial bills, the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) Act Amendment Bill, and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act Amendment Bill are draconian in nature.
According to them, the government plans to use the bills to cage media practice in the country by monitoring and regulating all information shared on social media and print.
They also stated that though the bills seem targeted at the media, it is actually aimed at the “society’s right to know and be heard”, adding that Section 3 of the proposed bill would make the Nigerian media a department of the Federal Ministry of Information.
They argue that a professional code of conduct for the media should never be subject to the approval of the ministry or any other political authority.
The NPC Act amendment bill gives the President the right to appoint the Chairman of the Board of the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) and other members of the board on the recommendation of the Minister of Information.
Nigeria’s Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, has been a staunch supporter of the bills and last month urged the lawmakers to grant full regulatory powers over internet broadcasting and all online media outfits to government.
This, according to him, is to ensure that the country’s laws are not subservient to the International Telecommunication Union treaties.
The bills are being sponsored by the Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values, Olusegun Odebunmi, and are already at the public hearing stage,
In his defence, Mr Odebunmi stated that his bill to amend the Nigerian Press Council Act is not designed to gag the media, saying most people commenting on the bill do not have adequate knowledge about it.
He said: “The bill was not sponsored by the 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”.
The newspapers have hinted that the solidarity protest will go on for a few more days with different messages to draw the attention of the world over the desperate bid to strangulate the media.