Solomon Chung, Abuja
The Nigerian government and the national leadership of the Nigerian Union of Journalists have agreed to work together to efficiently utilised the newly established Internal security and public safety alert system in the country.
This was disclosed when the executive members of the Union led by the President, Mr. Chris Isiguzo paid a courtesy call on the Minister of Information and Culture Mr. Lai Mohammed in Abuja on Monday.
The discussion at the meeting centered on the protection of journalist, the issue of freedom of the press, welfare of journalists among others.
The Minister told the NUJ executives that the government deliberately established the Nigerian Internal Security and Public Safety Alert System to boost security which in turn will boost protection of journalists.
He said the government through his Ministry was ready to work with the Union to use the security alert system for the betterment of the profession in all ramifications.
The Minister also used the opportunity to open up more on the recent conversation about the social media regulation.
According to the Minister, as a professional body for journalists, the NUJ has its code of ethics for journalists, which guides their operation, and that is the ideal thing to do.
“To the best of my knowledge, the trained and professional journalists cannot afford to engage in fake news, because this will kill public trust in the media. They also cannot afford to engage in hate speech, because of its implication for national peace and unity,” he said.
After all, there has to be a country before you can even practice your profession. It is therefore imperative for the NUJ and other professional bodies to guard their turf very jealously and ward off charlatans and fakes,” he explains.
The Minister repeated again that the social media regulation was not an attempt to gag the media or muzzle free speech. We said journalists have nothing to fear.
“If the NUJ or the Guild of Editors, or indeed any professional body has any fears, we expect them to reach out and engage us, rather than rushing to the media to condemn a plan to inject sanity into the social media space and protect the integrity of the media.
As a matter of fact, the NUJ and other media professional bodies should take the lead in sanitising the social media space, because they will be the first victim when the people lose confidence in the media due to the reckless actions of non-journalists and purveyors of fake news and hate speech,” he stated.
Mr. Mohammed also clarified that the government would work with stakeholders, including the NUJ, Guild of Editors, Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, the Civil Society, Online Publishers, Bloggers, etc.
He also mentioned that there are many options open in regulating the social media.
He mentioned unobtrusive technology, proper legislation, use of regulatory bodies. With varied options, it was up to the stakeholders to decide the best option.
“But we have also taken the initiative to meet, very soon, with the platform owners, like Facebook, Whatsapp, Google, Twitter and Instagram, among others, to engage them on the way forward. The debate on the issue of regulating the social media has been robust.
Some have opposed. Some have supported. This is a healthy for the system. But I must say that rushing to reject the plan without bothering to understand what it entails is not helpful, and constitutes panic reaction.”
However, the Minister made it very clear that the Nigerian government was not backing down on the proposed social media regulation plan.
“We are going ahead with our plan to stop, as much as we can, the anarchists, non-patriots and purveyors of fake news and hate speeches. No responsible government will sit by and allow these purveyors of fake news and hate speech a free reign.
That’s why many countries of the world are taking measures to regulate the social media. The UK, France, Germany, China, Singapore, South Korea, Kenya, Zambia….we can go on and on,” he said.
The Minister made reference with the French National Assembly where it approved a draft bill that will require social media giants like Facebook, Twitter and others to remove any hateful content within 24 hours.
The NUJ President, Mr. Chris Isiguzo who earlier raised many issues bothering on the dangers facing the profession as well as welfare of practitioners also made it clear that the crucial role of the press in a democracy has made it incumbent upon Journalists to be critical of government, political actors and their policies, especially where accountability, transparency, democracy and development were of concern.
Mr. Isiguzo decried the treatment meted to Nigerian Journalists, “We are alarmed that most actions being taken nowadays appear deliberately crafted to target and silence journalists. The safety of journalists is deteriorating.”
He however applauded government for establishing the Internal Security and Public safety Alert System which is aimed at boosting security and called for a serious collaboration with government in that regard.