The front pages of several major Nigerian newspapers, including The Punch, the Vanguard, the Nation, ThisDay, the Guardian and the Daily Sun, amongst others, ran on Monday with an image decrying the latest push into media censorship launched by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“Information Blackout,” reads the caption that runs with the image of an individual’s mouth behind bars, representing censorship of free speech.
“It’s not just against the media….it’s about society’s right to know, your right to be heard.”
This comes a month after the country’s government banned its citizens from using the social media network Twitter. After which, the government began seeking to expand its social media censorship to “all online media” despite consistent public outcry.
According to Premium Times, the message is a joint release from the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN).
The advertorial claims that the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) and Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Media Act amendment bills currently being considered by federal lawmakers are geared against citizens’ rights to free and fair information.
The NPC Amendment Bill reportedly will give the president the right to appoint the chair of the board of the Nigerian Press Council.
It also empowers the president to appoint all other members of the board upon the recommendation of the information minister. By all intents and purposes, this act will give the Federal Government control of the country’s press.
The NBC Amendment Bill will see the government control “all online media” if passed.
The new bills, which are already at the public hearing stage, are being sponsored by Olusegun Odebunmi, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values.
Channels Television, a venerated TV news station in the country, writes that Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and human rights activist, describes the bills as “anti-media,” while Odebunmi has said that the bill to amend the Nigerian Press Council act is not designed to “gag the media.”
Yet existing censorship on broadcast stations persists, and instances where stations are ordered to stop broadcasting information that the government “feels uncomfortable with” are common, claims Premium Times.
Heavy fines are also commonly imposed when there is an alleged breach by the media.