New measures have been approved to checkmate the growing danger of fake news and hate speech across the country.
The measures, which were sanctioned by the Federal Executive Council, FEC, were borne out of the recommendations of a special committee raised by the government to find ways and means of curtailing hate speech and fake news which became very prevalent during the last general elections.
Under the new arrangement unveiled by the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at a media briefing in Abuja Tuesday, the National Broadcasting Commission Act is to be amended to enable the commission licence web-based television and radio stations currently operating without any control and monitoring.
Also, the government also approved an upward review of fines relating to breaches on hate speech, inciting comments and indecency from N500,000 to N5 million.
It equally authorized the suspension of the licences of stations that willfully repeat such infractions for up to three times.
Other actions approved by the government to checkmate hate speech are: Upgrade of breach of political comments relating to hate speech 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; and recruitment of more monitoring staff for the NBC, since at the moment, there are only about 200 staff monitoring about 1,000 radio and television stations.
Also approved were deployment of adequate monitoring equipment and technologies for the NBC and and enhancement of welfare packages of NBC staff to avoid compromise in the line of duty
The government also recommended the granting of independence to 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 was also saddled with the responsibility of ending all forms of monopoly, detrimental to the actualization of the immense potential of the broadcast industry.
According to him, 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.
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.
The Minister 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 speech.
Mohammed said: “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 this Siamese twins of evil are capable of inflicting untold damage on our democracy and threaten 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.
But reacting to the development Tuesday, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, warned that any attempt to cage free speech would be resisted by Nigerians.
National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologbindiyan, cautioned government and the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, not to see Nigerians as a people incapable of enforcing their fundamental human rights of freedom of expression as provided in the nation’s constitution.
“The federal government and the APC must realize that every plan of theirs to stop Nigerians from freely expressing themselves on issues of governance will be resisted.
“They should realize that the freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed and any attempt to deny them the liberty to express themselves in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 constitution (as amended) will fail,” the party said.
Rather than dwelling on what it called frivolities, the PDP charged President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to find quick solutions to the killings, kidnappings and all manner of security challenges bedevilling the nation.