In the eye of the storm: Bunvic berated for sponsoring ‘anti-press’ bills
The lawmaker representing Surulere/Ogo-Oluwa Federal Constituency, Hon. Chief Olusegun Odebunmi is currently in the eye of the storm over his sponsorship of bills to amend the law establishing the Nigerian Press Council, NPC, and the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC.
Hon Odebunmi is the chairman, House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values.
But his bills have been receiving flaks, described as draconian and a bid to kill free press in Nigeria whereby journalists are hamstrung in playing their role.
The Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, in a statement by its President, Mr. Mustapha Isah and General Secretary, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Tuesday, noting that the bills were anti-press, in view of the provisions inserted into them, slammed Hon. Odebunmi, describing him as lacking requisite knowledge and experience in journalism or social science.
The NGE said the provisions of the NPC and NBC bills indicate the government sees the media as an enemy that is to be gagged.
“The media is not an enemy of the Federal Government and should not be seen as such by agents of government. Attacks by political elite on the media, which may have prompted the NPC amendment bill and the NBC amendment bill, are habitually not envisioned to win an argument on the values of journalism, but designed to intimidate media organizations,” the Guild said.
In their argument, the body of editors rejected the reason adduced by Odebunmi that it was to moderate the “recklessness of the media,” averring that the bills are clearly an attempt to criminalize journalism in the country as a prelude to muzzling the press.
It argued that the media, which serve as the “oxygen of democracy,” would be asphyxiated if the bills become law.
“At a time there is a popular ongoing global conversation about the need for a #NewDealForJournalism, for immediate and sustained action from, and collaboration between governments and other influential actors to improve the policy, funding, and enabling environment for independent professional journalism, we see the proposed laws as unhelpful.”
Stressing that it was not opposed to any law that would promote media stakeholders’ driven regulatory council, but that the many provisions in the Hon. Odebunmi-sponsored bills are draconian.
Adding that the NPC Act amendment Bill and NBC Act amendment Bill negate all known features of media regulatory bodies in the world, the Guild submitted: “While the NPC Act. CAP N128, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1992, created by the military dictatorship, gives the Council Board full responsibility to administer the council, the proposed amendment Bill reduced the council board to ‘advisory capacity’ on a part-time basis and gives the Executive Secretary all the powers.”
Outlining the faults in the NPC Act Amendment Bill, the Guild said although the Bill provides for a Board consisting of one representative each from the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Nigerian Guild of Editors, Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, Ministry of Information, two representatives of the general public, one of whom shall be a legal practitioner and a woman and Executive Secretary of the council, who shall serve as the secretary to the Board, it still makes the board a mere advisory body.
It described as suspicious the provision in the Bill for the Chairman of the Board to be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Minister in charge of Information as well as all other members of the Board being appointed by the President on the recommendation by the Minister of Information, saying such set up makes the board an organ of government.
The Guild said: “The professional body doesn’t need the approval of the Minister of Information to establish and disseminate a National Press Code and standards to guide the conduct of print media, related media houses and media practitioners and approves penalties and fines against violation of the press code, as provided for in the Bill.
“We are not aware of any media regulatory council in the world, which says that media regulatory council shall establish a National Press and Ethical Code of Conduct for media houses and media practitioners, which shall come into effect and be inaugurated after approval by the Minister of Information, and that the code shall be binding on every media houses and journalists.
“We reject the provisions that apart from the fines for journalists or media houses that violate the Act, the council shall order the striking out of the name of the journalist from the register; and suspend the person from practice by ordering him not to engage in practice as a journalist for a period not exceeding six months.
“This kind of media regulatory council will neither serve the interest of the media industry, strengthen its constitutional role – of holding public officers accountable nor serves the general interest of the public – the original trustees of the media.”
The NGE observed that in the proposed NPC Act amendment Bill the “sponsor mischievously smuggled in the controversial ‘fake news’ provision by stating that any person who carries news established to be fake thereafter, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N5 million or a term of two-year imprisonment or both, and a compensation of N2million payable to the person(s), group(s), corporate bodies, government or any of its agencies who the news was carried against. Who determines what is fake news?”
Absurdity is how it described the provision that any print media house whose medium was used to carry such news is liable on conviction to a fine of N10 million or closure of such media house for a period of one year or both and compensation of N20 million to the person, group, corporate body, government or any of its agencies, whom the news was carried against, remarking “this is a ticket for the government to stifles the media and close those they perceive as critical.”
Meanwhile Hon Odebunmi popularly called Bunvic in Ogbomoso and environs, and who is Okanlomo of Ogbomosoland, was never into media practice, until his emergence as chairman, House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values.
He studied Secretarial Administration at the Federal Polytechnic, Ede, Osun state, graduating with an Ordinary Diploma; he later enrolled at the University of Ado-Ekiti, for a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration.
The Oko, Surulere local government-born politician was into distribution and marketing of petroleum products before he made inroads into politics in the 1990s.
After serving as three-time chairman in his local government and as Commissioner, Oyo State Local Government Service Commission, he won election to represent Surulere/Ogo-Oluwa Federal Constituency in the Green Chamber of the National Assembly in 2011, winning again in 2015 and 2019.