Rep Disowns Colleague On Controversial Media Bill

The Deputy Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Communications, Unyime Idem, has disowned the controversial clauses in the National Broadcasting Commission Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill 2020, which has generated public outcry.

Idem, who spoke to our correspondent on the telephone on Friday, said the clauses, which seek to restrict broadcasting in Nigeria, were part of a similar bill sponsored by the lawmaker representing Ogo Oluwa/Surulere Federal Constituency in Oyo State, Olusegun Odebunmi.

Interestingly, Odebunmi, who is the Chairman of the Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values, has also sponsored the Nigerian Press Council Act (Amendment) Bill, which has become another subject of controversy.

Idem, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party representing Ukanafun/Oruk Anam Federal Constituency in Akwa Ibom State, said following his sponsorship of the NBC Act Amendment Bill, two other lawmakers, including Odebunmi, also sponsored bills proposing other amendments to the Act, which the House harmonised into a bill.

The legislation is titled, ‘A Bill for an Act to Amend the National Broadcasting Act. Cap. N11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, to Strengthen the Commission and Make It More Effective to Regulate Broadcasting in Nigeria, to Provide for Payment of All Monies Received by the Commission into the Federation Account in Accordance with Section 162 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, and Encourage Liberal Openness and Favourable Competition in the Industry.’

The lawmaker said, “I am going to send a rejoinder to you. The aspect that I actually moved is not the one that is generating reactions. My own was the angle of the NBC having powers to regulate tariffs. Mine is just about tariffs.

“The one (proposing) to shut down TV stations and the rest of them were handled by Odebunmi, my colleague; he was the one that proposed the other one that talks about shutting down TV stations.

“The bills were harmonised, but I was not part of the original plan. What happened is that, based on the Standing Orders of the House, the moment people come with two or three amendments (with different bills), they have to be consolidated. Even at that, if you want to separate it to know your own amendments, you can still determine that. But since the amendment process started, I have not been part of it; I cannot even speak on it. I can only speak on my own amendments.”

Meanwhile, Odebunmi has said proposals in the NPC Act (Amendment) Bill are to remove the identified and existing hindrances and bottlenecks standing in the way of optimum performance of the NPC.

The All Progressives Congress member, in a statement issued on Friday, said the bill, which he sponsored, was initiated with an independent mind and a view to making the council be in tune with current realities in the media industry.

The statement titled, ‘Nigerian Press Council Amendment Bill Would Not Infringe on Freedom of Expression – Odebunmi,’ said the lawmaker was reacting to the reactions from the public about the bill.

Odebunmi, however, maintained that the call for the establishment of a press code was to protect and guide the NPC to “checkmate and reduce quackery and merchants of fake news as well as promoter of hate speech, which is already affecting the integrity of the noble profession of media practices in Nigeria.”

He said, “Specifically, the bill in Section 2 attempts to amend the existing section by substituting Section 2 for a new Section 2 by separating the council from the board to the council, where the council to be headed by the executive secretary will be responsible for the day to day administration of the council.

“The board to the council, which will comprise representatives from all stakeholders, including the Nigeria Union of Journalists, (Nigerian) Guild of Editors, Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, members of the public, etc., will be represented and serve as a board. This is as applicable in a sister agency like the National Broadcasting Commission. In essence, the two important bodies will exist simultaneously and in their respective capacities.

“Furthermore, the increase in fines and penalties for persons/individuals or body corporate(s) that violate any of the provisions of the laws are mere upgrading as these fines are already in the existing Press Council Act; they were only raised to reflect the current situation.

“In essence, a deep study of the bill shows that there is nowhere the bill removed, modified or tampered with any section or sub-section of the existing Press Council Act where media freedom and that of expression is provided.”

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