The Nigerian Union of Journalists has cautioned the Federal Government on its plan to regulate social media.
The caution was sounded after the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, challenged the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) to lead the campaign to rid the social media of fake news and hate speech by supporting the social media bill.
Receiving the national executive of the NUJ led by its President, Chris Isiguzo, on a courtesy visit to his office on Monday, the minister said it is in the interest of the NUJ and other media professional bodies to be in the vanguard of the campaign.
”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 said.
Mr Mohammed said the plan by the government to regulate the social media is not aimed at gagging journalists or stifling free speech, saying ”only the purveyors of fake news and hate speech need to be worried.”
He said the government will not act unilaterally in deciding the strategy to adopt in regulating the social media.
”We will work with stakeholders, including the NUJ, Guild of Editors, Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, the Civil Society, online publishers, bloggers, etc.”
He said while the debate on the social media regulation has been robust, with some commentators supporting the plan and others opposing it, the federal government will not relent in its quest to inject sanity into the social media.
”Let me be clear: 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 speech. 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 minister said.
He listed the options open to the government in regulating the social media as including technology, legislation and the use of regulatory bodies.
”It is 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,” Mr Muhammad said.
The NUJ President, Chris Isiguzo, in his remarks, said that it was regrettable that fake news and hate speech have escalated in recent times.
He said the union would lend its support to any meaningful engagement to curb the menace.
He, however, noted that the union would not “support this bill which if ultimately passed, could be used to silence the media and perceived political opponents.”
Mr Isiguzo who cautioned against further destruction of the gains the nation had recorded in the quest for true progress and development, lamented the recurring impunity that has threatened the safety of journalists and journalism profession.
“The safety of journalists is deteriorating. Safety implies freedom from danger, and in the newsgathering context, safety implies protection from a range of threats journalists encounter, including arrest, imprisonment, kidnapping, intimidation, murder among other others,” the NUJ boss said.
He pledged that the union will key into enhancing the safety of journalists in the country, adding that NUJ is working with stakeholders to present a bill to enhance welfare package for journalists before the National Assembly.