The management of the National Assembly came under fierce attack yesterday for introducing new stringent accreditation guidelines for media houses and journalists designed to gag the press.
The development came barely 22 days to the May 29 inauguration of the 9th National Assembly (NASS). Those, who commented on the matter yesterday, said that it was an assault on free press.
They warned that unless urgent steps were taken to review the conditions, several media houses might not cover the inauguration of the 9th Assembly holding on June 11, 2019.
The 20-point requirements for all journalists and media houses to meet before covering the activities of the National Assembly before or at the expiration of the present legislature is seen as another attempt to gag the press.
The Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE), which rejected the guidelines, described the action as “primitive, undemocratic and blatantly anti-press and anti-people.”
The chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Comrade Emmanuel Ogbeche, said that the union would work with the NASS leadership to expunge some of the (obnoxious guidelines).
Some of the requirements, according to the NASS management, included the media house presentation of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) certificate of registration and income tax.
Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states that “the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.”
But a memo attached with a press statement addressed to the chairman of the Senate Press Corps and signed by the National Assembly’s director of Information, Agada Rawlings Emmanuel said that any journalist or media house that did not meet the new requirements for the accreditation can’t gain access to the premises of the National Assembly on 11th of June, the date of the inauguration of the 9th Assembly.
The memo with the heading: “New guidelines for accreditation of media organisations, journalists/correspondents covering the National Assembly,” reads: “I write to bring to your attention the National Assembly’s management approval of new guidelines for accreditation of media organisations, journalists/correspondents covering the National Assembly effective June 11, 2019.
“With these new guidelines in place, all previous accreditation granted to journalists covering the National Assembly will lapse with the dissolution of the 8th Assembly.
“Accordingly, all journalists/correspondents covering the National Assembly are by this press release advised to do the needful by getting a fresh letter of recertification from their media organisations in line with the requirements of the new guidelines to facilitate the earliest reaccreditation process before the commencement of the 9th Assembly.
“Please kindly bring this message to the attention of members of your Press Corp.”
The memo stipulates that the number of journalists/correspondents to be accredited for print, electronic and online media for the Senate and the House of Representatives respectively are: Television: one reporter and one cameraman; Radio: one reporter; Independent Producers, one reporter and one cameraman; Online Media: one reporter and one photographer.
The accreditation of print media and others was classified into permanent, temporary, foreign/international media houses and freelance all of which are complex. They include evidence of certificate of incorporation of the media organisation, evidence of membership of professional bodies for media organisation, proof of membership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) with registration number, code of certification from the National Library for the media organisation, a functional bureau in Abuja (staff strength of not less than five editorial staff and daily circulation of 40,000 copies for the print media with evidence to support the claimed circulation figure and that media houses must be publishing daily and on weekend (applicable to online media).
These requirements for the accreditation of journalists and media houses must be met and presented before June 11, 2019, the National Assembly’s management said.
Other terms for the accreditation are “re-certification form must be signed and endorsed by the chief executive officer of the media organization, bureau chief, city editor as the case may be.
The media organisation concerned must have experience of covering proceedings of the National Assembly for at least two years. Before applying for permanent accreditation, all media organisations will submit a copy of their income tax return for the last two years; all online media must have at least 5,000 viewership per day; the site must have been in operation for five years and provide satisfactory evidence to this effect with clippings of the news utilised (especially parliamentary news), only television stations with national coverage and specific independent producers with current running programme on the National Assembly will be allowed access into the chambers on a permanent basis (all the production crew will be accredited as entity).
All correspondents must attach photocopies of letters of appointment of the media organisation on whose behalf request has been received for grant of accreditation. Also, all freelance journalists seeking permanent accreditation must show evidence of not less than five years coverage of the National Assembly proceedings/full editorial focus and publication on parliamentary reportage.
It is only journalists and correspondents whose media organisations meet the above requirements for permanent accreditation that will be entitled to carry National Assembly identity card/membership of the respective Press Corps.
All other media organisations which do not meet the above requirements will be captured under the temporary accreditation status and they will not be entitled to carry National Assembly identity card/membership of the Press Corp of the Senate and House of Representatives, the management said.
It added that all temporary accredited media houses, journalists/correspondents shall be allowed permit into the National Assembly for specific coverage not exceeding one week in the first instance and not more than twice in a month.
The memo continued: “All foreign/international media houses seeking accreditation shall abide by all the diplomatic protocols established by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for foreign media organisations, the code of ethics for Nigerian journalists and security clearance before accreditation will be considered upon the recommendation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“All permanently accredited journalists/correspondents shall submit recertification letters from the chief executive officers (CEOs) of their media organisation on a sessional basis failure to which accreditation shall be withdrawn forthwith.
“All accredited media organisation will be considered as a single entity in the issuance of passes irrespective of their membership of Senate and House of Representatives Press Corps. These new accreditation guidelines shall come into effect from June 11, 2019,” NASS said.
NGE Rejects Guidelines, Warns Against Press Gag
In a statement signed by its general secretary, Mary Atolagbe, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) deplored the requirement that a media organisation wishing to be accredited for coverage of NASS activities should submit a copy of its income tax returns for the last two years.
The NGE said that “we find the guidelines as vexatious, disrespectful and draconian.”
Atolagbe said that there was a scurrilous attempt to gag the press in a democracy and declared that “it cannot stand.”
“These guidelines run contrary to the grains of reason, democratic ideals and they are a clear affront on the letter and spirit of the Nigerian Constitution which empowers journalists to freely practice their profession without any gag, muzzling and restriction.
“The NASS guidelines negate the constitutional principle of freedom of expression and run contrary to the African Charter on fundamental rights and the right of the people to know. The Guild strongly objects to these guidelines in their entirety as they serve no public good except for the myopic interest of its chroniclers and purveyors,” the Guild said.
The Guild said it is disappointed that the same 8th National Assembly which benefited immensely from free press in its moments of trial has turned round to put the same press in shackles and chains.
“We reject this crude abrasion of our constitutional rights to freely disseminate information. It cannot stand,” the Guild said.
It urged all media houses in the country to rise up and reject “this medieval intrusion into the media space in the 21st Century, much more in a democracy which Nigerian media doggedly fought for and for which some journalists paid the supreme price.”
We’ll Work With NASS To Modify Obnoxious Rules – NUJ
In his comment, Ogbeche (FCT NUJ chairman) promised that the union would work with NASS leadership to expunge the obnoxious provisions in the guidelines.
Ogbeche told LEADERSHIP last night that there was a need for the modification of the new guidelines in line with international best practices.
He decried the activities of fake journalists covering the NASS which, he noted, led to the new rules.
According to him, there were several clauses in the guidelines that the union abhors.
Ogbeche said: “If you carefully follow the activities of some of the people that call themselves journalists in the National Assembly you will agree with me that there is the need for a comprehensive overview of the accreditation of journalists covering the beat.
“There are some fake journalists parading themselves as journalists which is highly unethical and demeaning to the profession. We will, therefore, work with the NASS leadership to ensure that only journalists that are genuinely registered and recognised by the union are cleared to cover the activities of 9th National Assembly,” he said
He added that “if you totally condemn the guidelines we will throw the baby away with the bath water.”
In his reaction, the chairman of the Senate Press Corps, Mr. Ezrel Tabiowo, said that journalists cover the activities of the National Assembly by the virtue of the provisions of Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), adding that they won’t accept any attempt to gag the media.
He advised the National Assembly management to look for a proper way of carrying out the new accreditation by collaborating with the Press Corps.