The President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr Christopher Isiguzo, has called on journalists to engage in more advocacy to prevent passage of the Social Media Bill before the National Assembly, NASS.
Isiguzo made the call on Tuesday in Lagos at an interactive session on “Promoting Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression in Nigeria’’.
It was organised by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in Lagos.
“We need to engage in more advocacy, because from what I have heard, the leadership of NASS is bent on seeing the bill through,” he said.
According to him, this is only possible if Nigerians fail to be vigilant in their opposition to the bill, which seeks to curtail their freedom of speech.
He said that at the recent public hearing on the bill before the Senate, more than 95 per cent of memorandum received rejected the bill.
“We feel that this bill constitutes an unnecessary distraction to our democratic space, and should be thrown out,’’ the NUJ president said.
Isiguzo noted that there were several factors militating against the freedom of the press in Nigeria, apart from obnoxious legislation.
He said these included poor remuneration for journalists, refusal to pay salaries, ownership interest, harsh working environment and self-censorship.
The union president said that as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, the media should continue to hold governments at all levels accountable in the overall interest of Nigeria.
Also, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare, Deputy Director of SERAP, said at the Public Hearing on the bill before the Senate that only two groups, out of 67, spoke in favour of the bill.
According to him, this means that majority of Nigerians were against it.
“Despite this, there are still fears that the Social Media Bill might be passed. We should not forget the impact of the bill on our work as media professionals and Nigerians.
“There is also the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Bill, which is still before the National Assembly.
“These legislations can have big impacts on our work, if passed and signed into law, as it will curtail the freedom of expression in Nigeria,” he said.
The Guest Speaker, Mr Richard Akinnola, a veteran journalist, said that Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, gave media the obligation to hold government at all levels accountable.
Akinnola stated that Section 39 of the same Constitution granted the freedom of expression to all Nigerians, noting that this was, however, being hindered by obnoxious laws by government.
According to him, press freedom in Nigeria in the last 15 years, has been on a downward spiral.
He said that journalists and mass media houses had been facing various attacks by both Federal and State Governments, as well as public officials.
Akinnola flayed the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) for the incessant clampdown on television and radio stations in the country.
He said that such attacks were impeding them from carrying out their constitutional responsibilities.
“There is no doubt that many public officials have not imbibed certain democratic norms, which include accepting criticisms.
“Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution is explicit, wherein the media was given a responsibility to hold the government accountable.
“Quite a number of these infractions are committed by the police and the army, which have exhibited lots of intolerance, even under a democratic setting.
“It is also worrisome that many state governors govern their states as fiefdoms, where criticism is seen as an anathema,” Akinnola said. (NAN)