The Nigerian government has restated its stance to punish purveyors of fake news and hate speech.
The government has been criticised by many Nigerians who accuse it of planning to use hate speech and fake news as a means to clamp down on critical views.
Many Nigerian activists, journalists and social media commentators are already being tried or detained for their statements and actions deemed too critical of either state governments or the federal government. Such persons have been accused of plotting to overthrow the government, inciting violence, among other allegations.
Some of those being detained for such actions include Omoyele Sowore, the publisher of news website Sahara Reporters, and Agba Jalingo, a Cross River-based journalist.
The government, however, says it is determined to further clamp down on fake news and hate speech.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who said this, also said no amount of attacks, sponsored or otherwise, will stop the implementation of approved recommendations on reform of broadcasting code.
The minister stated this on Sunday at a meeting with online publishers in Lagos. Mr Mohammed was more particular about fake news in the broadcast media and sought the support of the online publishers.
“Let me be straight: No amount of attacks, sponsored or otherwise, will stop the implementation of the approved recommendations,” he was quoted as saying by the News Agency of Nigeria.
“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.
“Only those who are guilty should be afraid of the efforts to sanitize the broadcast industry. Responsible broadcasters have nothing to fear.”
Mr Mohammed added that the government’s action “is not a move to stifle free speech or gag anyone.”
“But purveyors of fake news and hate speech should not expect to sleep easy,” he said.
The minister had on October 10 announced President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval of the review of National Broadcasting Code and extant broadcasting laws to reflect stiffer penalties for violators of broadcasting regulations.
Mr Mohammed, who inaugurated the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Reform Implementation Committee, added that the president also endorsed the implementation of reforms to end monopoly in the sector.
The minister, however, noted that since the inauguration of the committee, there have been attacks, many of them sponsored, from some quarters.
“As I speak, plans are ongoing to launch more coordinated attacks, with a view to truncating the implementation of the approved recommendations,” he said.
He said no responsible government would sit by and allow fake news and hate speech to rule the airwaves.
The minister said fake news and hate speech have the capacity to exploit the national fault lines and trigger a national conflagration.
He reiterated that the federal government would continue to evolve ways to tackle the menace.
The minister recalled that he launched the National Campaign Against Fake News in July 2018 in Abuja.
“While the national campaign has succeeded in putting the issue of fake news and hate speech on the front burner of national discourse, the menace has yet to go away.
“Let me be clear: we didn’t think the issue will suddenly disappear, but we also didn’t think it will get worse, which is what it is now.
“In fact, it remains a clear and imminent danger to the polity. It is in this light that we are once again asking you to join us in pushing this campaign,” he said.
Seeking publishers’ support
The minister enjoined the online publishers to lead the campaign against fake news and hate speech, which he tagged as “the Siamese twins of evil”.
“Gentleman, we expect you to remain in the vanguard of the efforts to tackle fake news and hate speech.
“We expect you to educate our people on the efforts being made, especially by the government, in this regard.
“This administration has no intention of muzzling the media or stifling free speech.
“Our campaign is against fake news and hate speech. And we will not rest until our media space has been rid of fake news and hate speech,” he said.
Highlights of the terms of reference of the reform implementation committee inaugurated by the minister included upward review of fines from N500,000 to N5 million for breaches relating to hate speeches, inciting comments and indecency.
Others include: “Wilful repeat of infractions on three occasions after levying fine on a station to attract suspension of license
“Upgrade of breach of political comments relating to hate speeches and divisive comments to ”Class A” offence in the Broadcasting Code.”
The committee is also saddled with the responsibility of amending the NBC Act to enable NBC license WebTv and radio stations, among others.
Govt also makes false claims
Critics of the current government have said that government officials, including Mr Mohammed, are also guilty of spreading false information which is also fake news.
Other officials including ex-agriculture minister, Audu Ogbeh, have also been found making false statements.