Nigerian government to curtail fake news, hate speech

Hudu Yakubu, Abuja

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Nigeria's Minister of Information, Alh. Lai Mohammed.

The Nigerian Government has said it is set to sanitise the social media space to curtail fake news and hate speech.

The country’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed revealed this in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital while briefing journalists on the ongoing reform of the National Broadcasting Commission by the government.

According to Mohammed, the Federal Government will implement reforms in the broadcast industry and sanction any defaulting broadcast media.

The broadcast media reform, Mohammed added will extend to the social media space which he described as ‘totally out of control’.

The Nigerian Government said on Tuesday it had approved a number of measures to checkmate the growing dangers of fake news and hate speeches across the country.

Mohammed said, the measures, which were sanctioned by the Federal Executive Council, were borne out of the recommendations of a special committee raised by the government to find ways and means of curtailing hate speeches and fake news which became very prevalent during the last general elections.

According to him, “under the new arrangement unveiled by the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed at a media briefing in Abuja, the National Broadcasting Commission Act is to be amended to enable it to license web-based television and radio stations, which are currently operating without any control and monitoring.

Similarly, the government also approved an upward review of fines relating breaches on hate speeches, inciting comments and indecency from N500,000 to N5 million for breaches relating to hate speeches and inciting comments and indecency. It also authorized the suspension of the licenses of stations that wilfully repeat such infractions for up to three times. Other actions approved by the federal government to checkmate hate speeches are: – Upgrade of breach of political comments relating to hate speeches and divisive comments to ”Class A” offence in the Broadcasting Code. – Amendment of the NBC Act to enable NBC license Web Tv and radio stations. iii) Recruitment of more monitoring staff for the NBC. At the moment, there are only about 200 staff monitoring about 1,000 radio and television stations. iv)  Deployment of adequate monitoring equipment and technologies for the NBC and, finally…. v) Enhancement of welfare packages of NBC staff to avoid their compromise in the line of duty It also recommended the granting of independence of the NBC from political interference in the exercise of its regulatory powers, particularly with respect to the issuance and withdrawal of broadcasting license. Mohammed said the committee is also saddled with ending all forms of monopoly detrimental to the actualization of the immense potential of the broadcast industry”.

The Minister further explained that, a situation where a few people corner a chunk of the industry to the detriment of others, especially the nation’s teeming and talented youths, is totally unacceptable and untenable.

Approved Measures
He vowed that once the committee submits its report, the government would move at once to implement the approved measures to inject sanity into the broadcast industry, something that many Nigerians have hailed and rejected by others as an attempt to stifle a free press.

Alhaji Mohammed again made it clear that no amount of attacks would stop the government from implementing the new measures aimed at putting an end to the twin evil of fake news and hate speeches.

But, as I have been saying, we have no intention of stifling free speech or gagging journalists or anyone. Again, this administration has no intention of muzzling the media or stifling free speech. Our campaign is against fake news and hate speech. “However, if you engage in disseminating fake news or hate speech, you need to be worried, because we will not spare you. 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 threatening our national unity. They represent a clear and imminent danger to our survival as a nation. “As for monopolies, they stunt growth, kill talents and discourage creativity. The clearest example of the creative energy that can be unleashed when monopoly is totally broken can be seen in the telecommunications industry. Of course, the broadcast industry has also been liberalized. But any vestige of monopoly is antithetical to the liberalization of the broadcast industry and must be dismantled. In the case of Nigeria, it’s the monopoly of content that breeds anti-competition practices. “Gentlemen, since we launched our reform of the broadcast industry, many Nigerians have reached out to us, demanding that we also look into how to sanitize 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.

Nnenna.O