- A bill to regulate the media has been introduced in Nigeria's House of Representatives. If made law, press freedom defenders fear that it could "threaten media freedom" in the country. The draft law doesn't go short of jail terms for journalists that are found guilty of sensational reporting.
The bill, titled "Journalism Enhancement Bill", seeks to establish a Media Practitioners Complaints Commission (MPCC) in each state of the Nigerian federation. The Commission shall have the power to take "disciplinary" action against media practitioners who flout the law, reports the Ghana-based Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) today.
A controversial section of the bill states: "A journalist shall not present or report acts of violence, religious or inter-ethnic or tribal conflicts, armed robberies, terrorist activities, national controversies such as inter-governmental and or parliamentary conflicts, natural disasters, vulgar display of wealth, or other negative trends and tendencies in the society or polity, in a sensational way, or in a manner that glorifies such acts in the eyes of the public, or foreign observers."
It further provides that publication of "inaccurate and or misleading" stories in the media will attract punishment for both the reporter and the media organisation. Further, the bill provides that any journalist who solicits or accepts inducement to publish or suppress a story will be liable to one-year jail term or pay a fine of naira 100,000 (approximately US$ 770).
The bill also says that information on the personal life of individuals may only be published when the publication is of public interest and is undertaken to expose crime, serious misdemeanours or anti-social conduct, or to protect public health, morality, safety and the public from being misled by the individual concerned.
The bill, which would make journalism a riskier business in Nigeria, has already caused widespread protest among Nigerian media. The Lagos-based Media Rights Agenda (MRA) yesterday fiercely attacked the bill, saying it "threatens media freedom" in Nigeria. It called on Nigerian lawmakers to "immediately stop further consideration of the bill and to withdraw it."
According to MRA, the use of criminal sanctions to repress or intimidate journalists "violates the right to freedom of expression," guaranteed by the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. Further, MRA holds, the law would violate international human rights instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory and "undermines the spirit of Nigeria's new democratic process."
The Nigerian media freedom group urged people to write to the House of Representatives - Parliament's lower chamber - demanding MPS "respect the rights of journalists to practice their profession freely and to regulate themselves."
The controversial bill has already come up for first reading in the House, but no date has as yet been fixed for debate on its contents.
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