With a loud voice, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Socio-Economic Rights Agenda (SERAP) have said ‘No’ to the new guidelines for the accreditation of media organisations, journalists and correspondents covering the National Assembly.
While the NGE described it as primitive, undemocratic and blatantly anti-press and anti-people, SERAP called it draconian and threatened legal action.
The guidelines issued by authorities of the National Assembly (NASS) are due to become effective from June 11, 2019. They demand, among others, that a media organisation wishing to be accredited for coverage of the Assembly’s activities submit a copy of its income tax return for the last two years.
Other requirements include “presentation of evidence of certificate of incorporation of the media organisation, evidence of membership of professional bodies for the journalists, maintenance of a functional Bureau in Abuja (staff strength not less than 5 Editorial staff) and daily circulation of 40,000 copies for the print media with evidence to support the claimed circulation figure.”
The Guild, in a statement by its General Secretary Mary Atolagbe, on Monday said that it found the guidelines to be “vexatious, disrespectful and draconian.”
The statement read further: “It is a scurrilous attempt to gag the press in a democracy and it cannot stand.”
“These guidelines run contrary to the grains of reason, democratic ideals and they are a clear affront on the letter and spirit of the Nigerian constitution which empowers journalists to freely practice their profession without any gag, muzzling and restriction.
“The NASS guidelines negate the constitutional principle of freedom of expression and run contrary to the African Charter on fundamental rights and the right of the people to know. The Guild strongly objects to these guidelines in their entirety as they serve no public good except the myopic interest of its chroniclers and purveyors.
“The Guild is disappointed that the same 8th National Assembly which benefited immensely from free press in its moments of trial has turned around to put the same press in shackles and chains. We reject this crude abrasion of our constitutional rights to freely disseminate information. It cannot stand.
“The Guild urges all media houses across the nation to rise up and reject this medieval intrusion into the media space in the 21st century, much more in a democracy which Nigerian media doggedly fought for and for which some journalists paid the supreme price.”
Similarly, SERPAP urged the “leadership and management of the National Assembly to immediately withdraw the repressive media accreditation guidelines or face legal action.”
The organisation, in a statement on Tuesday by its deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said: “Nigerians expect the leadership of the National Assembly to show a greater level of transparency and accountability and to explain and take responsibility for what they are doing rather than implicitly banning journalists from covering their public functions. Implementing the ‘accreditation guidelines’ would allow the lawmakers to escape accountability for their constitutional functions.”
The organization urged the Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara to “open the windows and let in the daylight’ of the National Assembly by immediately withdrawing the accreditation guidelines and allowing journalists to freely cover the activities of leadership and members of the National Assembly.”
The organization said it would: “pursue national and international legal action if the unlawful guidelines is not withdrawn by Friday.”
The statement read in part: “These accreditation guidelines are designed deliberately as barriers against transparency and accountability and amount to a blatant violation of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of information and media freedom.
“These are fundamental rights lying at the heart of any system of democratic governance.”
“The accreditation guidelines clearly run counter to constitutional provisions and Nigeria’s international human rights obligations and the notion of free marketplace of ideas, necessary to serve the best interests of the public.”
“Our constitutional democracy rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society.”
“A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires access to information, as ‘sunlight is the best of disinfectants.’ Allowing journalists to freely cover the activities of the National Assembly would be the most prominent expression of a commitment to ensuring an open National Assembly. At the heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the lawmakers and the citizenry alike.”
“Other requirements under the guidelines are circulation of at least 40,000 newspaper copies daily with evidence to support the claimed figure, evidence of 50,000 daily views in the case of online media and photocopies of media organisation’s tax return for at least two years.”
“Others include requirements for fresh accreditation are evidence of membership of professional bodies for media organisation, a functional bureau in Abuja with staff strength of not less than five editorial staff publishing daily and on weekend.”