PRESS COUNCIL NOT FOR GAGGING THE PRESS
The attention of the Nigerian Press Council has been drawn to the editorial of The Punch of Tuesday, July 30, 2013 titled ‘Back to dictatorship through Press Council’, which to say the least is a cocktail of half truth, misrepresentations of facts and in some portions outright falsehood.
At the moment, the Nigerian Press Council needs no reviving as the Council, established by law, is subsisting until that law is repealed by the National Assembly or extinguished by the Judiciary. Subsisting at the appellant level at the Court of Appeal, is an appeal over the ruling of the Federal High Court, Lagos that sections of the Press Council Act were inconsistent with the constitution. Suffice it to say that the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, NPAN, instituted the case in 1999 and not 2010 as The Punch editorial will have us believe and even at that there was an overture for reconciliation with an agreement bill signed by stakeholders, including NPAN, that if enacted all will return to the oversight of a Press Council. Indeed when NPAN set up its Ombudsman, its excuse was that the Press Council was ineffective, while in actual fact, the head of NPAN then had led a boycott of its representation on the Press Council to undermine the Council. The NPAN Ombudsman has been in a stupor since the Nigeria Union of Journalists denounced it and prohibited its members from appearing before a “publishers appointed Court”.
Another falsehood in the editorial is the allusion that government tried to repeal the Act establishing the Nigerian Press Council, “and establish the Nigerian Press and Practice of Journalism Council at the time the late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s illness was the subject of fervent media investigation”. A little research and investigation at the National Assembly’s record of order of proceedings would have revealed that that bill was a private member initiative at the behest of journalists owed a backlog of salaries and not by the state.
We have paused to review the activities of the Nigerian Press Council since 1992 either under the military or democratic dispensation, and have found no occasion where the Council closed or censored a medium or found any act that suggest that the Council has ever lent itself to serve as a repressive organ of the state to muzzle the Nigerian Media or “gag the press”. Rather, a trip to the Archives will yield the various statements and position papers by the Nigerian Press Council condemning assaults, harassments or detention of Journalists and advising against recourse to extra Judiciary measures against the Press. The Council, by deliberate policy, has at all times striven to work in concert with media stakeholders to uphold the integrity and quality of Nigerian Press by providing capacity building programmes for journalists as well as other inter phases to enhance ethical and professional practice.
While conceding the right of The Punch to freely air its opinion on the matter of the Nigerian Press Council, “as comments are free” it is trite to state that “facts” in journalism should remain “sacred”, therefore dressing an editorial in any guise other than the facts, serves no useful purpose to stand facts which ought to be sacred on its head to score a point.
For the benefit of doubt, the Board of the Nigerian Press Council by law is composed by Journalists in their majority who are required to use the Code of Professional Ethics of Journalism to function as an alternative dispute institution to redress unethical journalism, especially for the indigent and others who want to be spared the costs and labour of litigations at the Courts. Truth ought to be the purpose of sound journalism, including an editorial, the entitled opinion of a title.