“Since we launched our reform of the broadcast industry, many Nigerians have reached out to us, demanding that we also look into how to sanitise the social media space.
“I can assure you that we are also working on how to inject sanity into the social media space which, today, is totally out of control.
”No responsible government will sit by and allow fake news and hate speech to dominate its media space, because of the capacity of this menace to exploit our national fault lines to set us against each other and trigger a national conflagration.
“That is why we will continue to evolve ways to tackle fake news and hate speech until we banish both.”
The President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government has said it’s working on how to inject sanity into the social media space which, according to it, is totally out of control today.
Addressing journalists in Abuja on Tuesday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said social media at present constituted real danger to the unity of the country.
“What goes on social media is so ridiculous and we will contain it,” information minister said.
He said since the government launched its reform of the broadcast industry, many Nigerians have reached out to it demanding that it also looked into sanitising the social media space.
“I can assure you that we are also working on how to inject sanity into the social media space which, today is totally out of control,” he stated.
The minister emphasised that contrary to insinuations, the government had no intention of muzzling the media or stifling free speech, saying the campaign was against fake news and hate speech.
He said only those engaged in disseminating fake news or hate speech needed to be worried because they would not be spared.
“We cannot allow fake news and hate speech to become free speech because these Siamese twins of evil are capable of inflicting untold damage on our democracy and are threatening our national unity. They represent a clear and imminent danger to our survival as a nation,” Mohammed said.
He assured that the planned social media regulation would be in line with international best practices as obtainable in Singapore, the United Kingdom and other countries.
“No responsible government will sit by and allow fake news and hate speech to dominate its media space because of the capacity of this menace to exploit our national fault lines to set us against each other and trigger a national conflagration. That is why we will continue to evolve ways to tackle fake news and hate speech until we banish both,” he stated.
The minister recalled that following the unprofessional and unethical conduct of some broadcast stations, especially before and during the last general elections, he had constituted a committee on the implementation of the recommendations approved by Mr Buhari to inject sanity into the broadcast industry.
He listed the recommendations to include: “Independence of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) from political interference in the exercise of its regulatory powers, particularly with respect to the issuance and withdrawal of broadcasting licence.
Others are: “A review of the National Broadcasting Code and extant broadcasting laws to reflect the following amendments: Upward review of fines from N500,000 to N5,000,000 for breaches relating to hate speeches, inciting comments and indecency; willful repeat of infractions on three occasions after levying fine on a station to attract suspension of licence and upgrade of breach of political comments relating to hate speeches and divisive comments to ‘’Class A’’ offence in the Broadcasting Code.
Also approved, the minister said, were the recommendations on the amendment of NBC Act to enable it license WebTV and radio stations; and recruitment of more monitoring staff for the NBC. He said at the moment, there are only about 200 staff monitoring about 1,000 radio and television stations nationwide.
Other measures, according to the minister, included deployment of adequate monitoring equipment and technologies for the NBC and enhancement of welfare packages of NBC staff to avoid their compromise in the line of duty.
He said the committee was also saddled with ending all forms of monopoly detrimental to the actualisation of the immense potential of the broadcast industry.
“A situation where a few people corner a chunk of the industry to the detriment of others, especially our teeming and talented youths, is totally unacceptable and untenable. Once the committee submits its report, we will immediately kick-start the implementation of the approved measures to inject sanity into our broadcast industry.
“No amount of attacks sponsored or otherwise will stop the implementation of the approved recommendations. And only non-patriots and anarchists will kick against measures aimed at putting an end to fake news and hate speech, especially in our broadcast industry,” he said.
It would be recalled that an attempt during the first tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari to regulate social media was rebuffed by many Nigerians who argued that the same platform had aided Buhari’s election in 2015.
Meanwhile, in the midst of the raging debate over fake news and misinformation through social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others, different stakeholders spoken to yesterday gave different perspectives on the latest move by the government to regulate the cyber space.
While Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) backed the move to regulate the social media, lawyers were however divided over the matter.
NUJ President Chris Isiguzo said social media regulation was long overdue as activities of its actors “have become something else.”
“When we talk about fake news, dissemination of hate speeches, they are so prevalent in social media. These people don’t have any form of regulation; once you have a smartphone you just begin to send all manner of things,” he said.
However, the Convener of Good Governance Team Nigeria, Tunde Salman, said government had “surreptitiously started regulating the social media as evident in the increasing harassment of bloggers and other social media activists for one flimsy excuse or the other.”
Similarly, Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere, said the move to regulate the social media only further confirmed that the present government lacked agenda for the welfare of the people.
“Poverty is rising coupled with the spate of insecurity and other challenges that have been compounded by the lack of clear-cut agenda. And they are not concerned with how to fulfil their promises and help the cause of the country.
“What matters to them now is to stifle one of the few avenues for the suffering Nigerians to express their minds, and curtail their rights to fundamental freedom,” Onyekpere said.
Also, Director, Centre for Democracy and Development, Idayat Hassan, alleged that regulating social media “is another move by APC government to clamp down on free speech, dissent and the civic space.”
According to her, “there is no evidence to suggest that regulation, or whatever name they call it, will reduce fake news or hate speech.”
Executive Director, YIAGA-AFRICA, Samson Itodo said it was unfortunate that the government that benefited from social media “is turning around to regulate the same tool citizens have for holding government to account.”
According to him, “fake news and disinformation are a global phenomenon that needs to be addressed. Other nations did not deal with fake news by regulating social media or limiting free speech.”
Hameed Ajibola Jimoh, a human rights activist, said the conformity that the government must envisage is as regards Section 45(1) of the Constitution, which provides for “restriction and or derogation from fundamental human right,” including freedom of speech.
Section 45(1) states that, “Nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society… (a) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or (b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom or other persons.”
On his part, Mr Egobuokolobia M.D. Umukoro said: “The government can only restrict members of the security from such use. This is important because once there are restrictions on citizens’ right to freely express themselves there cannot be freedom.”
A pro-democracy activist and former senator, Mr Shehu Sani, said the intended regulation of the social media by the Federal Government might be a veiled attempt to get at critics.
Sani said regulating the social media to combat fake news and hate speeches will end up targeting critics of government policies and the opposition.
He said there were enough laws in the country to prosecute defamation, libel and incitement, hence a new law specifically for the social media will only be a new step to emasculate free speech.
● Daily Trust