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[FILES] Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.

• N5 million fine on hate speech not enough punishment
When the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) launched the sixth edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code on July 4, this year, it was solely to enhance professionalism and development of the broadcast industry.

Mallam Isaq Modibbo Kawu, director general, NBC, had said that the new broadcasting code would reposition the Nigerian broadcasting landscape and address the preponderance of hate speech and fake news that now characterise the industry.

In the last few years, a lot of measures have been taken in a bid to tackle the hate speech and fake news epidemics. Prior to the launch of the Code, Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Muhammed, through President Muhammadu Buhari’s directives, inaugurated a five-member committee on April 10, 2019 to find out to what extent the NBC was able to effectively carry out its regulatory role before and during the 2019 general elections, as well as recommend measures that could strengthen NBC’s regulatory role and make it more effective.

The committee had come up with 26 recommendations that were subsequently approved by Buhari.

Last Thursday, the minister announced as part of the recommendations, the upward review of fines from N500, 000 to N5,000,000 for breaches
relating to hate speeches, inciting comments and indecency.

Industry watchers have applauded the initiative, saying any action aimed at ending hate speech and fake news challenge in Nigeria is a welcome call.

However, they have also expressed worries over the inability to define in exact terms what constitutes hate speech in the country.

Hate speech has been defined as a statement intended to demean and brutalise another, or the use of cruel and derogatory language on the basis of real or alleged membership in a social group

The watchers have argued that hate speech impedes societal growth, hence everybody must support anything meant to stop it.

Hate speech poses grave dangers for the cohesion of a democratic society, the protection of human rights and the rule of law and if left unaddressed, it could lead to acts of violence and conflict on a wider scale.

Founder, Tonnie Iredia Centre for Media Advocacy, Prof. Tonnie Iredia commended the increase on the fine, saying that at the point where the country is, only drastic measures could work.

He, however, pointed out: “But the issue is that hate speech has not been defined. In Nigeria, there is a tendency for government to see hate speech as criticism, but criticism is not hate speech. It is to maliciously generate an erroneous impression and try to sell it. How do we certify that the clamp down will not be on the opposition or dissenting opinions? People should not be afraid to speak because the constitution gives us freedom to speak and accept certain views.

“How do we identify what is wrong in a political setting? Government must be careful of how it deals with issues of communication, because communication is a constitutional matter. Section 39 of the constitution says we are all free to express ourselves, and sub-section 2 says one is free to choose any medium to express himself. When the government starts to deal with people who are speaking, it would create a timid environment, which nobody would want to stay.”

Iredia, who is a former director general of Nigeria Television Authority, argued that the NBC, being the regulatory body, was the only one with the right to increase fines and not the minister of information. Adding, “the announcement coming from the minister means that the government is doing day-to-day management of the NBC. Though I have always argued that even the NBC is not independent as politicians are being appointed to be executives. So imagine that such an executive closes down an opposition TV or radio, nobody would remember that the station actually erred but that it was closed down because the government doesn’t like the station.

“We often fail to understand that APC is just a political party and not the government, and one does not have to be in APC to be in government because the government is for the people. If you look at the history of government in Nigeria, we don’t have confidence that the government of the day will not consider any opposition speech as hate speech.”

Also, Prof. Marcel Okhakhu of the University of Benin said the issue of hate speech was not a lineal situation. Hence, the need to review fines. He further pointed that the increment should not be limited to NBC Code violation but on the Nigerian society as a whole.

According to him, “Many media consumers have no media literacy, as well as some media operators. Punishment is not supposed to kill but dissuade people from continuing with certain trends of actions.

“It’s been discovered that once a station is fined, it becomes like a slap on the wrist, hence a lot of stations violate the NBC Code on purpose. You cannot tell how much damage this can cause to the industry itself coupled also with the fact that ownership has always been a challenge.

“Increasing the fine may not make much difference, but if a station is shutdown for a specific period, say one week will mean a lot. Any station that is off air for a week knows that that it would be losing far more than five million. And of course, the fact that the station has been shutdown does not mean you will not power your transmitter and this cost a lot of money. The station would also lose credibility, airworthiness, patronage and so on.”

Tony Momoh, on the other hand, stressed that freedom of expression was guarantied in the constitution but the freedom of the press was not, “but I will accommodate any law that discourages infringement on the rights of others.

Cordelia Okpei, also of University of Benin, said, “increasing the fine is not a bad idea, because most stations are able to pay the N500, 000 fine. Hate speeches intrigues the listener or viewer. But more importantly, who controls the political parties? Political parties use a lot of hate speech as we saw during the 2015 elections, which has given rise to what we have today.”

Prof. Lai Oso of School of Media and Communications, Lagos State University, LASU said the N5 million fines was on the high side “but the N500,000 fine is definitely too low. We all need a concerted effort to reduce the generation and dissemination of fake news and hate speech. Broadcast stations must take absolute care, and not lose sight of the ethics of the profession.”

Oso stressed the need for more education for media practitioners to be concerned about the stability of the country. “This is not a one-off move but a sustainable effort,” he added.

Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye, chairman of Centre of Excellence TV and Radio, University of Lagos, thinks the amount is ridiculous, saying, “There are enough existing laws against defamation, hate speech, libel and many more. To make NBC to try to padlock the air is not part of the spirit of democracy. This issue should be left to the law of the land. A lot of stations struggle to pay the N500, 000 fines and now, making N5 million under this economy is ridiculous, because the next move would be to close the station if they fail to pay.

“NBC is supposed to be monitoring and not trading. The minister of information should allow the NBC, BON, NPC and other professional bodies to sanction the violators. The broadcast stations should have an internal control mechanism.”


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