THE Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, the Nigerian Press Council and other media stakeholders yesterday called for the urgent removal of some clauses seeking government control of the media through various means from a Bill for Amendment to the Nigerian Press Council Act, writes Luka Biniyat and Tordue Salem in The Vanguard.

President of Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye and others, who gave detailed assessment of the Bill yesterday, described as "obnoxious" some of the clauses in the Bill, concluding that if passed into law, it will be setting the journalism practice in Nigeria decades backward.

The Bill sponsored by Abike Dabiri-Erewa(AC Ikorodu/Lagos) is entitled: "A Bill for An Act to Provide for the Repeal of the Nigerian Press Council Act, 1992 and Establish the Nigerian Press Practice of Journalism Council, To Promote High Professional Standards for the Nigerian Press, and Deal with Complaints Emanating from Members of the Public About the Conduct of Journalism and Media Houses in their Professional Capacity, or Complaints Emanating from Press About the Conduct of Persons, Organisation or Institutions of Government Towards the Press and for Matters Connected therewith".

Former Minister of Information, Chief Tony Momoh in his 17-page presentation warned that stakeholders in the media should not be expected to support the piece of legislation, as it was unnecessary and its provisions superfluous.

"The question still remains that whatever monitoring structures are put in place will be those that will help grow democracy, not undermine it. In this light, the NPO (Nigerian Press Organisation), has set up the office of ombudsman and has requested that those who have complaints against media performance should file reports to the ombudsman who is a retired judge of the Court of Appeal.

"The media have promised to be bound by the decisions of the ombudsman. It is doubtful that they would be willing to cooperate in the operation of this bill, if it becomes law", he warned.

Professor Ralph Akinfeleye, Head, Department of Mass Communications, University of Lagos , in his presentation, kicked against the proposed change of the Nigerian Press Council name to the "Nigerian Press and Practice of Journalism Council".

He also kicked against the proposed "Involvement of the Minister of Information and Communications in the appointment of the Executive Security for the Council", he argued that that would be contradicting the 1999 Constitution that seeks clear "autonomy" for the media.

But the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole who was represented by the Leader of the House at the public hearing, called on the stakeholders to close ranks with the supporters of the Bill, to modify clauses perceived as contentious by stakeholders.

"We are of the strong belief that, at the end of this public hearing, all contentious areas that have been identified by some sections of the Nigerian Press Organisation would be satisfactorily addressed.

"For instance, certain provisions in the existing act which some stakeholders have deemed as tantamount to censorship and the abridgement of press freedom would be amended. If eventually enacted, this Bill, which is essentially a consensus arrangement by all parties involved, would have addressed the concerns of the respective stakeholders", he stated.

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