Information Blackout: Protest by the Press is alarm on the danger of democracy without watchdogs

A glance at any newspaper stand across Nigeria on July 12 would have brought one striking observation – most of the newspapers in the country bore an identical frontpage – a banner that reads:

Information Blackout 

This is what the National Assembly wants to achieve with the NPC and NBC (Media) Act amendment Bills.

It’s not just against the media… it’s about society’s right to know, your right to be heard.

While Monday’s development may have taken a few Nigerians by surprise, it’s one that has been in the offing for quite some time and for reasons that should concern every lover of freedom.

The said bills which have been proposed for amendment are already at the public hearing stage and are being sponsored by Olusegun Odebunmi, the Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values.

In essence, the bills propose the establishment of a regulatory Council; and an overseeing Board which will consist of “one representative each from the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ); Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE); Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN); Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON); Ministry of Information; two representatives of the general public…

The twist to the formation of the Board is that the Chairman of the Board, and all other members, shall be appointed by the President, on the recommendation of the Minister of Information.

To add, the regulatory Council would have the power to denounce any journalist, fine them, as well as levy fines against such erring journalist or media house.

Reacting to the proposition in June, the Nigerian Guild of Editors said:

The Guild is not aware of any media regulatory council in the world, which says media regulatory council shall establish a National Press and Ethical Code of Conduct for media houses and media practitioners, which shall come into effect and be disseminated after approval by the Minister of Information, and that the code shall be binding on every media house and journalist.”

Meanwhile, before this latest bill amendment attempt, there had been similar moves in 2019 with the Anti-Social Media bill, originally tagged “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill 2019.”

The public outcry that followed meant that the Senator Sani Musa-sponsored bill would not see the light of the day. 

Barely 20 months after; came #TwitterBan and despite the widespread condemnation that greeted the move by the Federal Government, it was swiftly followed by a proposition to amend the NPC and NBC (Media) Act. 

The ensuing ‘Information Blackout’ united act by the mainstream Nigerian Press has been widely commended by Nigerians both home and abroad with many remarking that not only would the amendment, if successful, criminalise journalism practice in the country, but it would also crumble the already weakened integrity of the rule of law and fundamental human rights in the country.

It’s solidarity time as the Press come together to serve a reminder that they are the society’s watchdog and remain a key cog of any working wheel of democracy.

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