Media Professionals,Others Unite Against Proposed Social Media Bill

Nigeria’s frontline press and media organisations will henceforth resist moves by politicians and the federal government to muzzle and suppress free speech.

The bone of contention this time is the proposed controversial Social Medial Bill sponsored by Senator Aliyu Abdullahi at the Senate.

The Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, the Online Publishers Association of Nigeria, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, the Nigerian Union of Journalists and the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers and others have announced their intention to jointly stand against the unending plots by politicians and bureaucrats to take away citizens freedom of expression and continue the onslaught and hostilities against journalists.

Journalist and Television host, Kadaria Ahmed, announced the intention of the associations when she presented an award category at The Future Awards in Lagos.

Hear her: “Before we get on with the task at hand, there is an important message we must share here from a consortium of groups including the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, the Nigerian Union of Journalists, the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers and the Online Publishers Association.

“We are viewing the attempt by the Nigerian Senate to gag citizens by taking away their rights to freedom of expression as guaranteed in Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

“Nigeria is already doing very badly in terms of its record on press freedom and is ranked a low 120 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. In addition, we have been recognised as a country where criminals, government and politicians use violence to silence critical views particularly in the media, this is according to the Global Impunity Index.

“We rank with places like Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and Mexico in this regard. This is not a list we should belong to or indeed be proud to be a part of. One of the critical pillars of a functioning democracy is a free press and we know the proposed social media bill will become another tool in the hands of security agencies for the muzzling of criticism not just by journalists but also – and most alarmingly – from citizens.

“We all believe that the proposed new Social Media Bill presents a clear and present danger to journalists and also the rights of citizens to freedom of expression and is against the Nigerian Constitution. We ask the National Assembly to desist from attacking the instrument that confers legitimacy on them.

“Yes Fake News is a problem but Undemocratic Legislation is not in any way or any form the answer to that problem.

“And we want to be clear, that all of us working in this sector, working with the citizens of Nigeria evidenced by the over 1 million posts on the subject over the past 3 days, oppose this bill and give notice that we will fight it using every legitimate tool at our disposal including protests and the courts.

“We will fight this, together. We will right this together.

“This bill must not pass.”

The associations will announce their action plan in the coming days, THEWILL gathered.

Security agencies continue to hold and intimidate journalists and government critics arbitrarily without respect for the rule of law.

THEWILL recalls that the Online Publishers Association of Nigeria (OPAN) last year filed a lawsuit at the Federal High Court in Lagos seeking to strike out Section 24(1)(b) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc.) Act 2015, which is being used arbitrarily by security agencies to detain and harass journalists at will.

The Attorney-General of the Federation is the sole Defendant while Austyn Ogannah and Daniel Elombah, President and General Secretary of OPAN respectively as well as the association are Plaintiffs in the ongoing suit.

The contentious section states as follows: “Any person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter by means of computer systems or network that – (b) he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent: commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7, 000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment. ”

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