The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has denied claims that the Federal Government sponsored bills to stifle the press.
Recall that the House of Representatives Committee organised public hearings on five bills on June 16 and June 17.
One of the bills was “A Bill for an Act to Amend the National Broadcasting Act to strengthen the Commission and make it more Effective.’’
The other was a bill seeking to amend the Nigeria Press Council Act to enable the Council to effectively carry out its regulatory role on media practice.
The minister denied the allegation in an interview with newsmen on Friday.
According to him, the bills concerning the Nigerian Press Council and the National Broadcasting Commission were private member bills sponsored by a lawmaker in the National Assembly.
The minister said: “First, let me say how disappointed I am that those who have been berating me on these bills have been doing so on a false premise that the Federal Government had sponsored bills to stifle the press.
“This is a classic case of misinformation because the Federal Government did not sponsor any bill to gag the press.
“It baffles me that those who rushed to the media to slam the government didn’t even try to verify the facts,” he added.
The minister also claimed that the National Assembly member who sponsored the bills had done nothing wrong.
According to him, the legislator was only doing what he was elected to do.
He said: “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,’’ the minister added.
Mr Mohammed explained that those falsely accusing the Federal Government and misinforming the public on the bills had a chance to make their contributions during the public hearing.
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?”
Mr Mohammed advised 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.
He said they should stop engaging in cheap blackmail and misinformation, stressing “you cannot like democracy and abhor its processes.’’