We will not allow them muzzle press freedom – NGE

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The Nigerian Guild of Editors frowns at the ongoing attempt by the Federal Government to censor the media. According to them, the legislation is worse than the infamous Decree 4 of 1984, enacted during the dark days of military rule.

The statement was made by NGE President, Mustapha Isah, in an exclusive chat with The PUNCH in Lagos.

Isah condemned the recent anti-media actions of the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), through the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed.

The Federal Government had announced the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria on June 4, 2021, citing “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”

It was reported that last week, Mohammed urged the House of Representatives to pass laws regulating internet broadcasting and social media in Nigeria.

The government also sought powers for the National Broadcasting Commission to regulate prices, rates and tariffs imposed by satellite and cable television service providers in the country.

The legislation is titled, ‘A Bill for an Act to Amend the National Broadcasting Act. Cap. N11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, to Strengthen the Commission and Make It More Effective to Regulate Broadcasting in Nigeria, to Provide for Payment of All Monies Received by the Commission into the Federation Account in Accordance with Section 162 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, and Encourage Liberal Openness and Favourable Competition in the Industry’.

According to Mr Isah, during his presentation, Lai Mohammed criticised some sections of the NBC Act amendment bill. “I want to add here specifically that internet broadcasting and all online media should be included in this because we have the responsibility to monitor content, including Twitter,”

He went on to state that, regulation of social media platforms is becoming a global practice, and most countries were just waking up to the fact that the platforms were becoming more powerful than even governments and needed to be regulated.

“Singapore, Algeria, Pakistan, Turkey regulate the social media. Australia has done so.

”Even EU that does not have particular laws on social media has made recommendations in a white paper,” he said.

According to NGE President, the government’s actions have been heavily criticised by civil society organisations and the international community but the Buhari regime is unrelenting in its pursuit to censor the media.

He said the current actions by the government are worse than the draconian Decree 4, noting that the NGE would resist any move to muzzle press freedom.

“There is an onslaught on press freedom in this country. Aside from the move to regulate press freedom, looking at the bill to amend the act setting up the Nigerian Press Council and the National Broadcasting Commission, you could see the very obnoxious positions that if they are allowed to pass, then, forget about press freedom in this country. It is that bad, he decries.

“Presently, we are planning series of actions against the design to completely muzzle press freedom in this country and we will not allow it. We will not sit idle and allow them to do that.

“Freedom of expression is in our constitution. What is happening is beyond Decree 4. In a democracy? This won’t be allowed. The NGE is already working with other organisations like the NUJ (Nigeria Union of Journalists) and other civil society on actions, he added.

Isah said: “I don’t want to pre-empt our eventual agreement but we are not happy at all.”

“In 2015, if the Peoples Democratic Party had put in place these laws, would the All Progressive Congress had got into power in 2015? It is so sad that those who benefitted from freedom of expression are now muzzling the same freedom of expression that they use in getting into power in 2015,” he lamented.

Before his comeback in the democratic form in 2015, Buhari was Nigeria’s military head of state from December 31, 1983, to August 27, 1985.

He had seized power through a coup on New Year’s Eve and took strong measures against the press, jailed journalists and intimidated many others.

On April 17 1984, the military Government issued a decree granting itself the power to close down newspapers, radio and television stations that are deemed to be acting in a manner detrimental to the interest of the Government. It also assumed the power to imprison journalists for inaccurate reporting or for writing articles that bring Government officials into ridicule or disrepute.

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