The West Africa Media Lawyers Association (WAMELA) has called on the National Assembly (NASS) to urgently protect the press and its integrity as there is an attempt by the executive arm to completely diminish its relevance in Nigeria.
The body charged NASS to take cognisance of the salient role the press plays in a democracy, to influence the political system for the good of all citizens.
WAMELA suggested that in the review of the 1999 constitution, a provision should be inserted under section 39 as follows: “any law or regulation which seeks to abridge freedom of speech or of the press is unconstitutional.”
According to the body, the press is recognised as the fourth estate of the realm in a democracy, because of the crucial role it plays in balancing power in government.
“Without this fourth estate, democracy weakens and finally crumbles. It is also globally acknowledged that one of the core functions of the mass media is to inform the society on all ranges of issues, not even to the exclusion of national security issues.
“The mass media has a role to play in ensuring that all possible shades of opinions are given access to the media platform,” WAMELA said in a statement signed by it’s Public Relations Officer (PRO), Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nanga.
It said the protection of the press is fundamental for preventing secret government, authoritarianism and tyranny, which are all antithetical to democracy.
The body noted that the press also serves the essential role of allowing multiple voices to be heard and highlighting social problems, which need urgent solutions.
“A free press indirectly contributes to human development by encouraging the government’s responsiveness to public concerns. The crises that are being reported in Oyo and Ondo States are of great concern to Nigerians and rather than for the government to address the issues by heeding the calls of its citizens, it seeks avenues to shut the people up and more dangerously, to shut their sources of information.
“This is highly unfortunate and WAMELA strongly condemns this trend. Where information is censored before dissemination, it becomes a huge threat to our already wobbly democracy. This, more or less, amounts to prior restraint which has been held in international courts to be clearly unconstitutional,” it said.
WAMELA noted with concern, the rising and persistent repression of the press in Nigeria.
According to the group, it was reported in news January 26, 2021, that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) by a letter to media houses issued a warning with respect to the factual crisis occurring in Western Nigeria between indigenes and herdsmen.
The NBC, it said, has once again, released its noose to hang media houses to prevent them from disseminating information that every Nigerian is entitled to. According to WAMELA, the warning is a direct but subtle threat of censorship.
It says: “We are aware that over the years, and more alarming in 2020, there was an increased censorship of the press from the NBC based on its amended Broadcasting Code, which WAMELA has previously described as inconsistent with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.”
The body, therefore, called on NBC to review the Broadcasting Code, “which has become a tool for repression and suppression of the press.”
It added that it was reminding the Nigerian government that the Constitution guarantees citizen’s rights to receive information.
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