The National Assembly yesterday issued stringent requirements the media organizations must comply with before they can cover its activities.
The conditions will further deepen intrigues in the lead-up to the inauguration of the ninth National Assembly in about three weeks.
The Guardian had on Monday reported that a crisis was brewing over how members of the Senate particularly would choose their leaders.
“Senators from the camps of the two prominent candidates for the position of Senate president are now locked in exchange of threats and counter-threats of violence,” it says.
While the current Senate standing rules, copies of which have already been distributed to all the senators-elect, state that voting should be done by secret ballot, some interests appear to be pushing for open ballot.
The Assembly has over the years come under criticism over alleged corruption and failure to meet the expectations of Nigerians.
According to the new guidelines, media organisations and journalists will not be allowed to cover the inauguration and subsequent activities of the Assembly until they comply with conditions for fresh accreditation before June 11, 2019 – the very day of the induction.
Senate President Bukola Saraki however has denied knowledge of the guidelines.
His special adviser on media, Yusuph Olaniyonu, in a telephone interview, said although the Senate president is the political leader of the National Assembly, the management never brought issues of media accreditation to his attention.
“This is a demonstration of the fact that the political leadership of National Assembly does not decide most of the things that happen there (National Assembly management). This is definitely news to me, even as head of the media team of the chairman of the National Assembly.
“It is perhaps a new policy that will be in force from June 11 when the new National Assembly 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,” Olaniyonu said.
A statement by the director of information at the National Assembly, Agada Rawlings Emmanuel, discloses that a media organisation must submit a copy of its income tax return for the last two years.
A newspaper house must also show evidence that it circulates at least 40,000 copies daily. Others include proof that an organisation has a certificate of incorporation; membership of professional bodies for media organisation; proof of membership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) backed by registration number, and a code of certification from the National Library.
“With this new guidelines in place, all previous accreditations granted to journalists covering the National Assembly will lapse with the dissolution of the eighth Assembly,” the statement reads.
Furthermore, media organisations must have “a functional bureau in Abuja with staff strength of not less than five editorial staff as well as 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 weekends (applicable to online media).”
Media organisations must have had experience covering proceedings of the National Assembly for at least two years before applying for a permanent accreditation.
“All online media must have at least 5000 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 programmes on the National Assembly will be allowed access into the chambers on a permanent basis (all the production crew will be accredited as an entity).
“All correspondents must attach photocopies of letters of appointment of the media organisation on whose behalf request has been received for accreditation. All freelance journalists seeking permanent accreditation must show evidence of not less than five years coverage of the National Assembly’s proceedings, full editorial focus, and publication on parliamentary reportage.”
The National Assembly equally stated that only journalists and correspondents whose organisations meet the above requirements for permanent accreditation would be entitled to National Assembly identity cards/membership of the press corps.
Also, “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 recommendation from the foreign affairs ministry.”
But the Nigerian Guild of Editors in a statement signed by its General Secretary, Mary Atolagbe, rejected the new guidelines, describing them as primitive, undemocratic, blatantly anti-press and anti-people.
“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 statement reads.
It notes: “The National Assembly 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 eighth 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 up and reject this medieval intrusion into the media space in the 21st century, much more in a democracy, which the Nigerian media doggedly fought for and for which some journalists paid the supreme price.”