By Henry Umoru
ABUJA—Outrage, yesterday, greeted the new 20 guidelines introduced for journalists covering the National Assembly, as the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, and Media Aide to the Senate president, Yusuph Olaniyonu, described the move as unacceptable.
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This is coming ahead of the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly next month.
In two separate letters addressed to the chairmen of Senate and House of Representatives Press Corps yesterday by the Director of Information, Agada Emmanuel, the requirements were categorised under permanent and temporary accreditation.
According to the letters, the new accreditation guidelines will come into effect from June 11.
New accreditation guidelines
The prerequisites for the coverage of the activities of the National Assembly before the expiration of the present leadership were also aimed at reducing the number of journalists covering the legislative arm.It also includes “proof of membership of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) with registration number, code of certification from the National Library for the media organisation, functional bureau in Abuja (staff strength 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. Media Houses must be publishing daily and on weekend (Applicable to Online Media).
“Re-certification form must be signed and endorsed by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the media organisation, Bureau Chief, City Editor as the case may be.
“The Media organisation concerned must have experience in covering proceedings of the National Assembly for at least two (2) years before applying for permanent accreditation.
“All media organisations will submit a copy of their income tax return for the last two years, among others.”
NGE flays action
Reacting to the development last night, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, rejected the new guidelines, describing it as primitive, undemocratic and blatantly anti-press and anti-people.
NGE in a statement signed by its General Secretary, Mary Atolagbe, said: ‘’The Guild finds this vexatious, disrespectful and draconian. It is a scurrilous attempt to gag the press in a democracy and 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 the myopic interest of its chroniclers and purveyors.
‘’The Guild 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 urges all media houses across the nation to rise 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.
Saraki’s Media Aide reacts
Also reacting to the guidelines, Yusuf Olaniyonu, Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to Senate President Bukola Saraki, described the guidelines ahead of the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly as absolute nonsense.
He said: “This is absolute nonsense (pardon my choice of word). I don’t want to believe this story until I speak with the CNA who is the head of the bureaucracy.
“This is a demonstration of the fact that the political leadership of NASS does not decide most of the things that happen there. This is definitely news to me, even as head of the media team of chairman of the National Assembly.
“It is perhaps a new policy that will be in force from June 11 when the new NASS will be inaugurated. In any case, I will still try to give advice to the relevant people on an issue which I consider as bordering on press freedom and access to information.”
But in his reaction, the Chairman of the Senate Press Corps, Ezrel Tabiowo, said journalists cover the activities of the National Assembly by the virtue of the provisions of Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
He said journalists would not accept any attempt to gag the media, and advised the National Assembly management to look for a proper way of carrying out the new accreditation by collaborating with the press corps.