Addressing journalists in Abuja yesterday, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed said the social media at present constituted real danger to the unity of the country.

A attempt during the first tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari to regulate the social media was rebuffed by many Nigerians who argued that the same platform had aided Buhari’s election in 2015.

Meanwhile, in the midst of the raging debate over fake news and misinformation through social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others, different stakeholders spoken to yesterday gave different perspectives on the latest move by the government to regulate the cyber space. “What goes on social media is so ridiculous and we will contain it,” information minister Lai said.

He said since the government launched its reform of the broadcast industry, many Nigerians have reached out to it demanding that it also looked into sanitising 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,” he stated. The minister emphasised that contrary to insinuations, the government had no intention of muzzling the media or stifling free speech, saying the campaign was against fake news and hate speech. He said only those engaged in disseminating fake news or hate speech needed to be worried because they would not be spared. “We cannot allow fake news and hate speech to become free speech because these Siamese twins of evil are capable of inflicting untold damage on our democracy and are threatening our national unity. They represent a clear and imminent danger to our survival as a nation,” Lai said.

He assured that the planned social media regulation would be in line with international best practices as obtainable in Singapore, the United Kingdom and other countries. “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,” he stated.
The minister recalled that following the unprofessional and unethical conduct of some broadcast stations, especially before and during the last general elections, he had constituted a committee on the implementation of the recommendations approved by President Muhammadu Buhari to inject sanity into the broadcast industry. He listed the recommendations to include: “Independence of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) from political interference in the exercise of its regulatory powers, particularly with respect to the issuance and withdrawal of broadcasting licence. Others are: “A review of the National Broadcasting Code and extant broadcasting laws to reflect the following amendments: Upward review of fines from N500,000 to N5,000,000 for breaches relating to hate speeches, inciting comments and indecency; willful repeat of infractions on three occasions after levying fine on a station to attract suspension of licence and upgrade of breach of political comments relating to hate speeches and divisive comments to ‘’Class A’’ offence in the Broadcasting Code. Also approved, the minister said, were the recommendations on the amendment of the NBC Act to enable it license WebTV and radio stations; and recruitment of more monitoring staff for the NBC. He said at the moment, there are only about 200 staff monitoring about 1,000 radio and television stations nationwide. Other measures, according to the minister, included deployment of adequate monitoring equipment and technologies for the NBC and enhancement of welfare packages of NBC staff to avoid their compromise in the line of duty. He said the committee was also saddled with ending all forms of monopoly detrimental to the actualisation of the immense potential of the broadcast industry. “A situation where a few people corner a chunk of the industry to the detriment of others, especially our teeming and talented youths, is totally unacceptable and untenable. Once the committee submits its report, we will immediately kick-start the implementation of the approved measures to inject sanity into our broadcast industry. “No amount of attacks sponsored or otherwise will stop the implementation of the approved recommendations. And 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,” he said.

Culled from Daily Trust.

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