Lawmaker suspends controversial press regulation bills

The lawmaker says the bills will be re-activated after consultations with stakeholders.

Olusegun Odebunmi [YouTube/Enjoy Chuks]

Two amendment bills that have been widely-criticised as unduly repressive and targeting press freedom in Nigeria have been temporarily suspended by sponsor, Olusegun Odebunmi.

The member of the House of Representatives announced on Tuesday, July 13, 2021 that the amendment proposals of the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act and the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) Act have been suspended.

The Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) this week said both bills were attempts to gag information in the country.

"It's not just against the media, it's about society's right to know, your right to be heard," a full-page ad on numerous newspapers read on Monday, July 12.

Odebunmi on Tuesday pushed back against the allegations, saying instead that he's only reviewing the laws to keep up with the demands of the world.

He said the National Assembly has the right to work on laws, and that the suspension does not signify a defeat of the bills.

"We have suspended the process for more consultation to happen on it. They (stakeholders) demanded for a lot of time. No problem," the Chairman, House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics, and Values, said in a televised interview.

Some of the controversial elements of the NPC bill mandates that the Minister of Information has to approve a national press code to guide the conduct of the media in Nigeria.

Another section of the bill also criminalises the dissemination of fake news with a fine of N5 million or a term of two years imprisonment, or both, for individuals.

Media organisations used to disseminate fake news are also liable on conviction to a N10 million fine, or closure for a period of one year, or both, and a N20 million compensation to be paid to the subject of the fake story.

The NBC amendment bill also aims to mandate the NBC to regulate online media organisations, and the social media, a long-term objective of the current Federal Government.

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