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Stakeholders strategise to curb hate speech, foul language during elections


InecStakeholders in the development sector have urged the government and concerned authorities to strengthen the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) to regulate the print media sector in order to eliminate instances of foul language and hate speech, which are believed to be causing upheavals in the system, especially during elections.

These foul languages and hate speeches, which were majorly included in newspaper advertisements during activities preceding the 2015 election, are believed to have cost the country and individuals a lot of economic and job losses. A research associate with Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development (SCDDD), Benedict Odey, said during a recent brainstorming session in Abuja that some of those who left for their places of origin did not return.

“Some of those who returned didn’t find their means of livelihood anymore”, he said.

For this reason, the CDDD and the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), held a session to find ways of nipping the situation in the bud ahead of the 2019 election. This is so as to avoid a recurrence of the last experience in the 2019 elections.

Participants at the forum were drawn from different sectors and government institutions. The discussion centred on the role of the media in curbing the use of foul language and hate speech because the media are the vehicles through which such messages are disseminated to the public.

The forum observed that though such foul languages were not contained in the media stories and editorials, they were heavily embedded in advertisements and advertorials. The Forum also observed that media houses went ahead to publish such paid advertisements even though there are regulations and sanctions against such publications even though they are paid for.

Part of the problem was the fact that the sanctions were not heavy enough, making it easier to publish the advertisement and pay the paltry fine, than to lose the total advert money, as in the case with the broadcast media. This is because fines charged by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), for instance is very small compared to the millions of Naira that accrue to media houses in advertisement sums.

“So the media houses find it easier to pay the N500,000 fine than to lose the millions of Naira in advert sum,” one of the participants said.

As for the print media, they were able to escape paying fines because the regulatory authority, the NPC, is not able to enforce the regulations. This is because the Council has been in a legal tussle with the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), on some of the provisions of its (NPC) enabling Act.

It was observed by participants that the Council is not been able to sanction the print media because of the legal tussle. The case has been in court since 1999. The session was informed that for now, NPC only monitors newspapers and magazines and publishes monthly reports, which are kept in the library.

Odey, while presenting the desk review of extant body of laws, guidelines and ethics of journalism and media practice in Nigeria, stated that even the Nigerian Broadcasting Code does not clearly spell out the meaning of foul language and hate speech. He expressed hope that the ongoing review of the code will take care of the shortfalls.

“The section which governs the operation of national media must be looked at because as long as government owns media, there will always be control”, he said, observing that till date, no politician has been prosecuted for using foul language and hate speech.

“The NPC should be strengthened to regulate the print sector. It should be empowered in terms of applying sanctions like the NBC”, he said.

Participants who engaged in breakout sessions observed that in some cases, there are no clear sanctions for offences either for media houses who do not employ professionals, or for publishing foul languages and hate speeches.

It was therefore, advised that there should be clear sanctions that must be graduated in accordance with the level of the offence. Such offences, according to one of the groups, should be spelt out for both media owners and for professionals working in the media houses. They also advised protection for the professionals against media owners who may compel them to publish offending content.

“There is no sanction for people practicing journalism without professional training in either journalism or mass communication”, one of the participants said, adding that the media sector should be well regulated to put a stop to such instances where some media owners do not pay salaries of journalists.

The document under discussion, the desk review of the extant body of laws, guidelines and ethics on journalism and media practice in Nigeria, after examining the existing media laws in relation to what was observed during the last elections, recommended that the media should continue to base their agenda for the reporting of elections and democratic governance issues on public interest for credible process, development and democratic accountability.

Regulatory agencies and media professional bodies are also advised to strengthen and enforce their instruments and election guidelines to ensure that media organisations deliver on equitable coverage of all political parties, their candidates and political campaigns devoid of hate speeches and foul language that incite chaos and violence prior to and during elections.

However, participants observed that this might be difficult for a media house to fulfill because of the enormous resources needed to do this. It was observed that with over 50 political parties in Nigeria, covering all of them, their candidates and their political rallies, will require a media house to assign at least one reporter to each of the political parties. It was agreed that this might be difficult to achieve.

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