The Minister for Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has said the Federal Government was not the sponsor of the controversial anti-press bills now before the National Assembly.
Speaking to newsmen in Lagos on Friday, Mohammed said the two bills seeking amendments to the Nigerian Press Council and the National Broadcasting Commission Acts were sponsored by a lawmaker in the National Assembly.
He condemned the criticism by some members of the public, saying that those who have been berating him on the bills have been doing so on a false premise that the Federal Government had sponsored the bills to stifle the press.
He said such criticism was a classic case of misinformation, as the Federal Government did not sponsor any bill to gag the press.
He said: “It baffles me that those who rushed to the media to slam the government didn’t even try to verify the facts.”
However, he said the sponsor of the bills has done nothing wrong, as he only did what he was elected to do.
”I insist that the bills were not sponsored by the Federal Government. I was invited, as the Minister of Information and Culture, to make my contributions, just like many other stakeholders at the public hearing.
“It was an opportunity for stakeholders to make their input into the bills. I attended and made my contributions.”
Meanwhile, Mohammed said those falsely accusing the Federal Government and misinforming the public on the bills had a chance to make their contributions during the public hearing.
He said rather than show up at the National Assembly’s sponsored public hearing on the bills, they chose to play to the gallery.
The minister said: “The Nigerian Press Organisation, which represented the Nigerian Union of Journalists, the Nigerian Guild of Editors and the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria, appeared there merely for appearance’s sake.
“Instead of strongly stating their reservations on the bill on the Nigerian Press Council, they were more interested in stopping the hearing, hinging their argument on the case at the Supreme Court on the Press Council.
“It is a shame that some of us love democracy so much but hate the fine details of democracy and its processes. These critics will rather play to the gallery than do the needful. Why didn’t these critics show up at the much-publicized public hearing on these bills?
“Why have they instead opted to go hysterical in the media and to point accusing fingers at the Federal Government as the sponsor of the bills when indeed that is not true?”
The minister advised the critics of the bills to engage with the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics, and Values to convey their reservations.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, had earlier said the President had nothing to do with the bills.
One of the bills is “A Bill for an Act to Amend the National Broadcasting Act to strengthen the Commission and make it more effective.”
The other is a bill seeking to amend the Nigeria Press Council Act to enable the Council effectively carry out its regulatory role on media practice.