Of hate speech and fake news, By Jide Ayobolu

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The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, made this known in Lagos recently while unveiling the Reviewed Broadcasting Code.

This was contained in a statement by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, titled, ‘Remarks by The Hon. Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at the Unveiling of the Reviewed Broadcasting Code in Lagos On Tuesday, Aug. 4th 2020’. According to the statement made available on the verified social media platforms of the ministry, Mohammed said the amendments were necessitated by a Presidential directive in the wake of the 2019 general elections for an inquiry into the regulatory role of the National Broadcasting Commission as well as the conduct of the various broadcast stations before, during and after elections.

The minister noted that the recommendations were approved by the President, Major General Mohammed Buhari (retd.), to reposition the NBC to better perform its regulatory role in the areas of political broadcasting, local content, coverage of emergencies, advertising, and anti-competitive behaviour. Mohammed, who explained that section 2h of the NBC Act empowers the commission to establish and disseminate a National Broadcasting Code, said, “There are many desirable provisions in the new Broadcasting Code: “The provisions on Exclusivity and Monopoly will boost local content and local industry due to laws prohibiting exclusive use of rights by broadcasters who intend to create monopolies and hold the entire market to themselves. It will encourage Open Access to premium content.

“The law prohibiting backlog of advertising debts will definitely promote sustainability for the station owners and producers of content.

“The law on registration of Web Broadcasting grants the country the opportunity to regulate negative foreign broadcasts that can harm us as a nation. Such harms could be in the area of security, protection for minors, protection of human dignity, economic fraud, privacy etc. “The provision on responsibility of broadcast stations to devote airtime to national emergencies mandates terrestrial and Pay TV channels to make their services available to Nigerians at time of national emergencies – like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – for their education and enlightenment. “The provision raising the fine for hate speech from 500,000 Naira to 5 million Naira.”

He added, “The Broadcasting Code is not a static document. As we often say, broadcasting is  dynamic. Therefore, even the 6th Edition of the Code shall be reviewed at the appropriate time. But, as it currently stands, the 6th edition and the amendments, which we are unveiling today, remain the regulations for broadcasting in Nigeria. “For those who still have misgivings about the amendment to the 6th Edition of the Code, we expect you to meet with the regulator and present your views. As I said, there are opportunities for constant review of the Code, but please note that this latest amendment is signed, sealed and delivered, and we are committed to making it work for the good of the country.”

Recalled that The Federal Government has expressed worry over hate speeches by clergymen which it said were capable of escalating the security challenges in parts of the country. The Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR),said in a statement in Abuja recently, that those who have the privilege of leading others must exhibit responsibility in their expressions, at all times, while urging them to encourage peaceful co-existence. It said, “The Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR), the apex research agency and think-tank of the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), on peace, conflict prevention, and management is concerned about the ugly and reprehensible trend of inciting preaching, hate speech and irresponsible use of the social media going on in the country.

“The IPCR is worried about the negative potential which these practices portend for the peace, social cohesion and good governance of our great country. The Institute is particularly disturbed that religion as an important institution and age-long guarantor of peace is being deployed by some preachers to undermine the peace and stability of the country.

“This is a total negation of the sacred books, which propagate peace and good neighbourliness. The Institute is urging Nigerians to resent actions and utterances that could jeopardize the demonstrated commitment of the Federal Government to secure the lives and properties of the citizenry. While the government continues to do everything to ensure citizens’ security, winning the peace in our communities remains a collective responsibility of all Nigerians.

“The Institute has observed with deep regret the inciting sermons by some preachers in places of worship across the country. The emerging phenomenon of irresponsible preaching and unwarranted utterances by some clerics is one which every responsible Nigerian must work hard to discourage. History has shown that the spinning of hate speeches by people who should be leaders and custodians of peace in the society is a recipe for social catastrophe that does no one good.

“All religions, and especially Christianity and Islam are founded on the principles of peace, love and charity. Therefore, any preacher who incites his or her congregation to violence negates the principles of religion. Religion emphasizes peace, love, tolerance and respect for the sanctity of human lives.

The Institute appeals to all leaders, temporal and spiritual, to be cautious in their pronouncements at all times.

“In exercising our constitutional rights to the freedom of speech we all owe the larger society the duty of restraint by abhorring the use of inflammatory expressions capable of undermining public safety and the security of lives and properties. The Institute enjoins Nigerians to appreciate the significant progress made by the Government despite being confronted with challenges associated with insurgency, terrorism and other conflict disorders.

“The economic recession, notwithstanding, the Federal Government continues to confront insurgency and the resultant humanitarian crisis in the Northeast with uncommon courage and determination. The IPCR commends the Nigerian Armed Forces and other security agencies for their commitment and sacrifices, which led to the restoration of the territorial integrity of the country.

“While acknowledging the positive role of the media in sustaining democracy in Nigeria, the Institute advises against the publication of provocative information capable of fuelling centrifugal tendencies in the society. IPCR thus calls for the media to embrace the constructive path of peace journalism and conflict-sensitive reportage. It also advises social media practitioners and users to promote harmonious living and positive mobilization of the masses. Consequently, IPCR calls on all Nigerians to think and act responsibly in order to strengthen and consolidate the peaceful relations in communities across the country. It is only under conditions of Peace and tranquillity that the economy can grow jobs for the teeming youths of Nigeria for sustainable development.”

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One elementary way of defining peace has been to say that peace is absence of war. This is, however, a very narrow view of peace. No doubt absence of war is the first condition of peace, yet peace is not merely an absence of war. It is in reality a condition characterized by peaceful, cooperative and harmonious conduct of international relations with a view to secure all-round sustainable development of the people of the world. Nevertheless, since absence of war is the first condition of peace, one of the major concerns of all scholars and statesmen has been to formulate and follow the principles and devices needed for securing this primary objective.

The cold war that kept the world preoccupied during 1945-90, indirectly secured this objective in a negative way by developing a balance of terror in international relations. While it was successful in preventing a global war, it failed to prevent local wars and in fact gave rise to several tensions, stresses, strains and crises in international relations. The international community had to work very hard for keeping the conflicts and wars limited. It, however, successfully exhibited a welcome and positive ability in the sphere of crisis-management.

There is no doubt in my mind that at some point Nigerians will have to confront the various ways religion is misused by a few to impoverish the people, enrich themselves and enslave the people to absurd dogmas that tie them to the ignorance of the past in the name of faith.

We cannot develop, if we do not re-examine our religions with the view to taking only what is equitable, just, loving and of good report in them. Our future lies in rejecting the bigotry, intolerance and ignorance of our religions.

This is a task the government can no longer ignore and kneeling before charlatans and false prophets who make merchandise of God’s words, and feed the people with lies is not the way.

This is important because, throughout history, religion with its intolerance has retarded development and it is only the light of enlightenment that can dispel the darkness of religious beliefs that has no place for reason and knowledge. A good government should help Nigerians take what is good in religion and reject all that is evil, if Nigeria will join the community of developed nations.

The continued relevance of Islam and Christianity in the polity of Nigeria in the way they do at the moment is a big problem. The separation of politics and religion in Nigeria must become a necessity.

The human consciousness then rallied in the Charter of the United Nations to affirm.

“We the people of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our life time has brought untold sorrow to humankind…. and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security….. have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.”

Since 1945, the United Nations and its specialized agencies, several international associations and institutions, international peace movements, global and national level human rights movements and in fact all members of the international community have been consistently and strongly advocating the need for the preservation and promotion of peace against war.

In contemporary times, the most urgent and important international objective has been to preserve protect and defend peace against terrorism and terrorist organizations like A1 Qacda, Talibans, and other enemies of peace.

Through international peacekeeping under the aegis of the United Nations through the development and use of international law; creation of more international and regional institutions committed to promote peace, promotion of friendly cooperation for development among the member countries; popularization of peaceful means of conflict-resolution, institutionalization of relations among nations; integration of international community through strengthening of human consciousness in favour of peace against war; and by enhancing the ability for crisis-management, the humankind has been trying to secure peace against war.

Recall also that The Federal Government has said fake news and hate speech constitute the biggest threats to the 2019 general election, and appealed to states to join in the ongoing campaign to sensitize Nigerians to the dangers posed by the twin evils.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said this in Kaduna on Thursday, during the official opening of the 47th National Council on Information (NCI). ”With the 2019 general elections just a little over 60 days away, there is no issue that is more relevant to the election than the issue of fake news and hate speech,” he said. ”This issue transcends political party lines, religion, ethnicity, and even nationality. Left unchecked, fake news and hate speech constitute the biggest threat to the forthcoming elections.”

Alhaji Mohammed said fake news has the capacity to alter the course of elections and create legitimacy problems for the winner, citing as an example a report that said fake news helped to depress Hillary Clinton’s votes during the 2016 US election, in addition to tainting the victory for the winner. He also said hate speech was a catalyst in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which left at least 800,000 people dead.

The Minister said while the Federal Government has been unrelenting in calling attention to the dangers posed to the nation’s peace, security and democracy, including through the launch of the National Campaign Against Fake News on July 11 2018, it cannot do it alone. ”The campaign against fake news and hate speech is not just a responsibility of the Federal Government. It is for all tiers of government. Therefore, I expect that the Honourable Commissioners who are here, and those who are not, will launch the campaign in their various states. ”The media will bear the brunt, if the people lose confidence in them because of fake news. This is why the media must lead this campaign,” he said

Alhaji Mohammed described as ‘very fitting and most timely’ the theme of the meeting, which is ‘Tackling Fake News and Hate Speech to Enhance Peace and National Unity’. He urged the participants at the meeting to ‘brain storm and evolve policies’ that would comprehensively address the menace of fake news and hate speech. Commissioners of Information from about 20 states are among the participants at the three-day meeting, which was declared open by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, represented by his Special Adviser on Media and Communication, Mr. Muyiwa Adekeye.

It must be noted that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) warned against hate speeches by political aspirants, party faithful and other stakeholders during political campaigns. Prof. Francis Ezeonu, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Imo, gave the advice at a one-day town hall meeting/sensitization visit by Imo REC and his team to the Nwangele Local Government area of Imo. Ezeonu said that the importance of a clean, violence-free and hate speech-free electoral campaign could not be overemphasized. He said that although the time for campaigns and elections were still in view, there was the need to sensitize electorates on proper behaviour ahead of the election. The Imo REC said that election should not be a do or die affair and emphasized the need for election winners to lay aside party affiliation and embrace all other contestants for progress and development. He assured of adequate training and retraining of INEC and other ad hoc staff on proper conduct, handling of machines and other sensitive materials during and after elections.

It is therefore very clear that the issue of hate speech and fake news are very disruptive issues that can create mayhem and bedlam in the polity hence the urgent need to take appropriate steps to tackle the matter, the country has a lot of issues to deal with, to now add these two to it, will certainly not auger well for the country hence the pronouncement by the honourable minister of Information.

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