The Nation (Nigeria)

Media don’t want to be regulated, says Gbajabiami­la

•Anti-bill campaign a blackmail, says Senate spokesman

- From Tony Akowe, Abuja

HOUSE of Representa­tives Speaker Femi Gbajabiami­la yesterday accused the media of kicking against regulation of their industry.

He spoke against the background of a widespread protest by the print media against the media regulation bill being debated at the House of Representa­tives.

All major newspapers yesterday published cover page public notice titled “Informatio­n blackout”.

Sponsored by the Nigeria Union of Journalist­s (NUJ), the Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Newspaper Proprietor­s Associatio­n of Nigeria (NPAN), it carried the following words: “This is what National Assembly wants to achieve with the NPC and NBC (Media) Amendment Bills.

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

Gbajabiami­la, whose attention was drawn to the public notice by the Chairman of the NUJ, FCT

Council Emmanuel Ogbechie, during a visit, launched into a long lecture on how institutio­ns in the country are avoiding regulation.

Also yesterday, spokesman of the Senate, Sen. Ajibola Basiru described the campaign by the media against the bill as a blackmail.

The Speaker said: “There is nowhere in the world where freedom of expression is absolute. Freedom of expression is limited to the extent that it does not affect the other person’s freedom. Freedom of expression is not absolute and that is made abundantly clear in the constituti­on itself.

“If you go to Section 45 of your constituti­on, it tells you how the government is allowed to limit that freedom for the sake of health and security and this is written in black and white.

“Whilst I will not allow gagging of the press, I worry when at every time the National Assembly try to promulgate a law with best of intention, everybody descends on the National Assembly.

“For some, it is an immediate reaction, some just jump on the bandwagon without knowing the details or the issues. I am using this Press Council Bill as an example.

“I called the proponent of the bill and asked him: ‘what is going on?’ ‘What have you done and what is in this bill?’ He tried to break it down. I have not read it myself and I will confess to that. But I will read it in detail in the next couple of days. I just have a general idea of the content.

“He told me that he had a meeting with all the stakeholde­rs. I wasn’t present at the meeting. He said what they wanted was not acceptable to him.

“Whatever provisions they have a problem with the bill; whatever provisions that are in that bill that is inimical to the operations of the press, remove it and replace it with something else so that everybody will be happy.

“From my understand­ing, the issue was not about gagging, but that they don’t want to be regulated. That gives me concern because it has gotten to a point in this country where nobody wants to be regulated.

“The NGOS don’t want to be regulated, religious bodies don’t want to be regulated, social media doesn’t want to be regulated; lecturers in the universiti­es go on strike because they don’t want to be on the same payment platform with everybody else.

“Everybody just wants to have a free reign. What is government there for if not to regulate for good governance. We talk about good governance, but we don’t want to regulate and achieve good governance.

“Regulation­s are a key and essential element of good governance. We can’t just allow every institutio­n to run amok. The Executive is regulated, the Judiciary is regulated, and the Legislatur­e is regulated.

“Institutio­ns are meant to be regulated. So, there is no one institutio­n that can be above the law especially an institutio­n that is meant to be the fourth estate of the realm whose action can make or mar a government.

“If by the time the key sectors of the economy refused to be regulated, what then do we have? The Army can say they don’t want to be regulated, the police can say they don’t want to be regulated.

“You cannot hide behind freedom of speech to say you must not be regulated. I have seen marriages break up, I have seen businesses destroyed, I have seen countries ruined, and I have seen children hang themselves because of the content of informatio­n that is irresponsi­ble.

“We must not be shy to tell each other the truth. For it to be clear, let me emphasise that I will not, as Speaker allow any bill that seeks to gag the press. It will not happen. There is a difference between regulation and gagging. Let us try and separate the two.

“I don’t know how you will feel if the Legislatur­e says they don’t want to be regulated. You will be the first to jump on us. Let us do a rethink. Let us take another look at the provisions of the bill and ensure that there are provisions in that bill that will sustain the autonomy and independen­ce of the press because that is not negotiable.

“I am doing some research and I want all of us to do the same. I have told my office to do the same and research on internatio­nal best practices as far as the media is concerned.

“Is the media regulated in other parts of the world? If the media is not regulated in other parts of the world, then we have to do a rethink because perhaps, this bill will be dead on arrival.”

The sponsor of the bill, Olusegun Odebunmi, told our correspond­ent that efforts were being made to further engage stakeholde­rs in the industry on its provisions.

He said: “Presently, we are at the stage of engaging the critical stakeholde­rs on the bill and at the end of the day, whatever reasons there are for the fear being expressed, will be resolved in a way that will guarantee the freedom of the press in our country.”

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