February 10, 2020

Forum calls for withdrawal of Hate Speech, Fake News Bills

Hate speech, Senate, Nigeria

…Says new bills amount to duplication of existing laws

By Emmanuel Elebeke

Participants at the just concluded Townhall Forum organised by Africa Independent Television, AIT. LIVE have called for an immediate withdrawal of the Hate Speech and Fake News bills currently pending before the National Assembly.

In a communiqué issued at the end of the forum held in Abuja, the stakeholders were unanimous in calling for the immediate withdrawal of the bills, describing them as a waste of time and duplication of existing laws.

The forum, entitled “Media Regulation, Society and Governance,” argued that rather than dissipate energy and taxpayers resources on the bills, the two senators that sponsored the bills should immediately initiate the process of withdrawing them in the interest of Nigerians and focus more on human capital and economic development, job creation and security.

The panellists and participants who were drawn from the media, government, National Assembly, civil society organizations, academia and other stakeholders had considered the two bills pending before the National Assembly intended to regulate the social media with a provision for the setting up of a commission in order to curb hate speech and fake news in Nigeria.

The bills are “A bill for the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation and Related Matters”, sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, representing Niger East in the Senate and ‘A Bill for the Establishment of the National Commission for Prohibition of Hate Speech and Related Matters  and the Proposed Amendment to the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, Act.” sponsored by Senator Aliyu Sabi, also from Niger State

The Forum posited that since the social media and technology have redefined the way information was gathered all over the world and Nigeria, it would be foolhardy for lawmakers to dissipate energy on such a fruitless venture.

It advised the National Assembly to, as a matter of urgency, beam the searchlight on the high technology social media companies and related companies operating in Nigeria and make laws to regulate their activities.

The Forum further resolved that the media should not be criminalised, stressing that the right of the citizens to freedom of expression, guaranteed in the constitution, should not be taken away as democracy was all about inclusion and freedom of expression.

Also, the forum resolved that there were sufficient laws to deal with hate speech and fake news in Nigeria, insisting that the new bills were mere duplications of existing laws in the Nigerian Criminal Codes, particularly sections: 42; 59; 86; 88; 204; 375; 210 and 399, among others.

According to the forum, the government’s concern should be primarily to entrench a healthy media environment, which will avail the public freedom of expression, guided by decorum and decency.

Resolving that the media does not condone hate speech and fake news in Nigeria, the forum said any attempt by the government to regulate the social media would amount to trying to treat the symptom instead of the disease.

For the forum, the definition of hate speech and fake news could not be left to mere conjecture, whims and caprices of political elites, adding that the two bills, which were draconian, could be used as tools of oppression and repression if passed into law.

It, however, dismissed the notion that hate speech could lead to violence, but agreed that hate action or dangerous speech and fake news prompt violence.

Meanwhile, the forum after a closer look at the constitutional provision on the subject matter, agreed that the Minister of Information and the President should be stripped of the powers to grant Radio and TV licenses.

The participants were also unanimous that the powers of NBC to collect radio and Television licence fees as provided in section 15 of the NBC Act conflicts with Section 1(1) of the (4th) schedule to the constitution that gives local governments the mandate to collect radio licences.

While rejecting the upward review of fines from N500,000 to N5 million for breaches relating to hate speech, inciting comments and incidence, the forum called for a reduction of television and radio licence fees to reflect present realities.

It also made a case for the creation of enabling environment for media houses to stay in business and sustain payment of salaries regularly to their employees.

While accepting the recommendation for the recruitment for more monitoring staff for the NBC, the forum also called for enhanced welfare packages for NBC staff to boost their commitment and dedication to duty.

The forum further resolved that only qualified professionals and relevant stakeholders should be appointed to manage the affairs of the NBC.

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It advised the Attorney General of the Federation to work with supervising ministries to coordinate a review of these regulatory institutions by developing new bills that would address the inadequacies already identified.

The forum called on NBC to invest in technology and infrastructure, with a view to increasing efficiency in the broadcast industry.