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Media NGOs Submit Memo on Constitution Review to National Assembly

By Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism
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LAGOS, FRIDAY, JULY 6, 2012: A network of media non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has submitted a Memorandum to the National Assembly seeking constitutional provisions to guarantee media freedom and independence, the right of access to information and the independence of media regulatory bodies.

Jointly submitted by the International Press Centre (IPC), the Institute for Media and Society (IMS) and Media Rights Agenda (MRA) on the platform of the Media Network on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, copies of the 50-page Memorandum were delivered separately by representatives of the three organizations to the relevant committees in the two chambers of the National Assembly - the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The organizations however said the proposals contained in the Memorandum were developed in collaboration with the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria (BON), the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), and the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ).

They said other critical stakeholders and interest groups were also consulted, including through the convening of a consultative meeting held in Ibadan, Oyo State, on June 14 and 15, 2012.

The organizations argued in the Memorandum that although the issues of media freedom and independence, freedom of expression and right to information were not specifically listed among the items in the “Call for Memoranda” issued by the Senate as issues upon which memoranda were requested from the public, “we believe that these are nonetheless critical matters that will promote good governance and improve the Nigerian State if adequate provisions are made for them in the proposed new Constitution.”

The Memorandum recommends that a constitutional backing for the right of access to information should be included in the proposed new Constitution as a sub-section of the current Section 39, adding that this new section should be a comprehensive section containing guarantees for a range of free expression, media freedom and access to information rights. Specifically, it proposes that Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution should be amended to have new sub-sections that provide for the following:

· Express guarantee of right to press/media freedom, media independence and right of access to information

· Definition or categorization of state (called government) media, as one established to provide information gathering and dissemination services in the public interest

· Declaration that all laws or actions negating the principle of state media serving public interest are inconsistent with the principles of press/media freedom as enshrined in the constitution

· Decriminalization of libel and non-censorship of the media

· Nullification or invalidation of any other legislation that clearly undermines freedom of the press or media, including the Official Secrets Acts and the 1966 Defamatory and Offensive Publication Act

· Removal of managers and editors of state media from the control of the executive; appointment to be done through a process that subjects them only to the confirmation of the National Assembly or state Houses of Assembly or possibly through the recommendation of an independent commission

· Obligation of the state and private media to provide fair opportunities for the expression of divergent views and equitable access for political parties and candidates during elections

· Protection of journalism confidentiality privileges as contained in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

A summary of other proposals contained in the Memorandum are that:

· Section 22 of the Constitution be removed from the current Chapter II (Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy) and made a section (or subsection of section 39) under chapter IV (Fundamental Rights) to make it possible for the right conferred on the media therein to be legally enforceable.

· The new section/subsection should impose obligation on state and public institutions to uphold the provision and not do anything that encumbers the media in exercising the right to monitor governance

· The new section/subsection should guarantee the right of access to information as part of determining if the state is working in line with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy contained in Chapter II.

· The new section/subsection should obligate the state to declassify information that is needed by the media to perform its monitoring obligations pursuant to the objectives and principles of state policy.

· The provisions in Section 39(2) that vests the authority to grant broadcast licences in the President should be amended.

· The power to authorize licences should be vested on the regulatory body in charge of broadcasting.

· The regulatory body in charge of broadcasting should be made one of the Federal Executive Bodies recognised in Section 153 and under the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution. It should therefore be listed in those sections accordingly. This is due to the critical role the broadcast regulator plays as an essential tool in aiding the development of the country's democracy through ensuring the effective development and regulation of the nation's airwaves, which remains the most critical source of information for the generality of the citizenry. Making the broadcast regulator one of the Federal Executive Bodies in the Constitution would therefore also guarantee to it adequate funding for its operations.

· All members of the governing body of the broadcast regulator should be appointed by the National Assembly after open public hearings, and they should be accountable to the National Assembly in order to ensure that the broadcast regulator is fully independent of government

· The dominance of government officials in the governing body of the broadcast regulator should be curtailed by removing representation for the State Security Service (SSS) and, possibly, the Federal Ministry of Information from the membership

· The process of appointing representatives of the different interests groups that constitute the governing body of the broadcast regulator should include a requirement for consultation to be held with the various stakeholders in each of the named sub-sectors of the Nigerian society when selecting their representatives for appointment to the governing body.

· The members of the governing body and staff of the regulatory body should have security of tenure and clearly defined conditions of service.

· Part of the functions of the regulatory body should be the exclusive power or right to issue and revoke broadcast licenses, through a transparent process with clearly stated criteria that are publicly available. This function should not be exercised with reference to or under the instructions of any other authority but the decisions of the governing body in this regard should be subject to judicial review. Consequently, the proviso to Section 39(2) of the 1999 Constitution should be amended to reflect this principle of empowering the regulatory body to so act.

· The collection or management of resources that belong to the broadcasting sector should not be assigned to local governments. This function should be assigned to the broadcast industry.

· Section 1(b) of the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution which empowers local governments to collect radio and television licence fees should be removed. This provision should be re-worded to give the power of collection and management to the regulatory body in charge of broadcasting.

· The re-worded provision should be located in another part of the constitution where the regulatory body in charge of broadcasting is recognized/listed as a Federal Executive Body and included as part of its functions.