Press Council bill terribly draconian, worse than Decree 4 – Osoba

Eniola Akinkuotu

24 June 2021

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In this interview with ENIOLA AKINKUOTU, a former Governor of Ogun State and ex-Managing Director of Daily Times, Chief Olusegun Osoba, speaks on the suspension of Twitter and the attempts to introduce tough media regulations

The National Assembly is currently seeking to amend the Nigeria Press Council Act such that journalists and media houses can be fined N250,000 and N10m respectively by the NPC for infractions. What do you make of this proposed law?

It is a terrible draconian law. It has never happened in the history of Nigeria that a law as sweeping as this will be proposed. Not even under the military was this done.

But some will argue that the Protection Against False Accusations Decree, otherwise known as Decree 4 of 1984, was worse than this. What is your take on this?

Decree 4 was restricted to the disclosure of sources of information. The one they are proposing now includes obtaining a licence before you can build a press hub. You have to obtain a licence. It says before you can even begin printing a newspaper, you must obtain a licence. It is far-reaching and sweeping.

Many have said the new amendment shows that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s (retd.) regime has a hidden agenda to undermine the freedom of the press. Do you agree?

Press freedom is never awarded. Over the years, we have always fought for the right to practice. We have been fighting the press council issue for over 25 years. I remember what led to the Nigerian Press Organisation and the production of a code of conduct for journalists. It was because attempts were made in the 1970s to set up a regulatory body for the print media. We resisted it and we have to continue resisting it.

In the 2020 annual World Press Freedom Index, Nigeria was ranked 115 out of 180 countries. Why do you think Nigeria has sunk to this low despite over 22 years of uninterrupted democracy?

As I said earlier, we the media must continue to insist on our rights. Take for instance what is happening at the moment in Hong Kong, where the government there is attacking the media and some newspapers are being harassed. See what is happening in Belarus, where the government there hijacked the plane where a journalist was travelling in. It is we that must continue to resist and be united and continue to be responsible.

I can say clearly that the Nigerian press has been highly responsible over the years. We’ve been taking the interest of the nation as our own interest too. And part of our duty is to act as a watchdog not only on the government, but on both private and public institutions.

The Federal Government suspended social media platform, Twitter, two weeks ago for being a threat to Nigeria’s security and unity. This act has been condemned by the United States, the United Kingdom and other western countries. What do you think of the suspension?

Again, we will continue to resist it. This will not be the beginning or the end of measures by different governments to want to contain and control the media. We will be the ones to continue to resist such. I have been in detention many times in the past all because of the news I wrote. None of my stories have ever been denied, but governments all over the world will want to hide under security threats to do what they do. We are the ones that must continue to show that what we are doing is helping the nation and making sure that there is restraint on the part of those in authority.

Fake news and hate speech have become more rampant with the advent of social media and online platforms. Do you think Nigeria has enough laws to curb these challenges?

I have discussed with the Lagos chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, the Nigerian Guild of Editors and the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria. About 90 per cent of the bloggers are not journalists. They are fake themselves in character. So, naturally, somebody, who is fake in character will engage in fake news. The NUJ as a body is the one that must give conditions for those who claim to be journalists. The problems we have are these bloggers. Anybody can just get up and set up a website or an online medium and start presenting himself as a journalist.

We as journalists have to take the war to the Internet. We must produce quality news items and information and that is the way to battle the bloggers, because the readers will want to access credible and reliable information.

The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, said the National Broadcasting Commission Act should be amended such that the NBC would be able to regulate online media. Do you think this can sanitise the system?

I am surprised because how do you control a radio station that is based in the United States and broadcasts its content to Nigeria? There are many of such radio stations that are not based in Nigeria, unless they want to shut down satellite communications totally or access to WiFi and data. I cannot see how it will be easy to implement, especially when you have people outside the country broadcasting TV and radio signals geared towards particular interests and geared towards different interests that we are involved in. How do we control them when the countries where they are broadcasting from allow them to do it?

The Federal Government has spoken highly of China on how it has been able to control the flow of information. Do you think the Chinese model is feasible in Nigeria?

As I said earlier, resistance, resistance, resistance and fight, fight and fight on our part is a struggle. The freedom that we enjoy today, to some extent, has been as a result of the sacrifices on the part of our journalists, many of whom suffered deprivation because of their belief in freedom and the rights of the individual. Let us emphasise that an attack on the media is an attack on the individual.

How will you rate the human rights record of the Buhari regime?

I am not a statistician. You have to give me the figures and the facts, and ask me to rate the regime. I wouldn’t want to do any rating. I am a journalist trained to respect facts. The common saying is that facts are sacred. Until I see facts and figures, I cannot make judgments. I don’t have the answers.

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