The Federal Government of Nigeria has directed the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) to formulate new regulations that will, among other things, keep the media industry competitive, NAN reported.
The directive came from the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, on Tuesday in Abuja, after receiving the report of the NBC Reform Implementation Committee which was chaired by prof. Armstrong Idachaba.
Mohammed said the new rules should protect the media industry from anti-competitive behaviors and stipulate adequate sanctions for anyone caught violating the rules. He also directed the NBC to make rules to regulate internet broadcast so that those who provide broadcast on the internet will do so with a sense of responsibility.
The Minister said the fines will be reviewed according to the directive given earlier by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Commission should amend the N500, 000 to N5 million for breaches relating to hate speeches, inciting comments and indecency. And willful repeat of infractions on three occasions after fine would attract suspension of license.
He also directed the Commission to upgrade breach of political comments relating to hate speeches and divisive comments to Class A offense in the broadcasting code. Mohammed said the Committee’s report will be used to facilitate the process of forwarding an Executive Bill for the consideration of the Federal Executive Council and further legislative action.
“The Bill will address the existing lacuna in the areas of the regulation of the internet, the ongoing Digital Switch over, Digital Access Fee, and insulation of the regulator from partisan politics.
“An important aspect of Mr. President’s approval for the reform of the NBC is in the area of the welfare of staff. I will therefore, be directing the NBC to commence work on an enhanced welfare package for the staffers of the Commission, with a view to implementing such as soon as possible.
“In this age of technology and the internet, a responsible and respectable broadcast industry regulator must be properly equipped. We shall therefore, commence the process for the acquisition of modern broadcast equipment for the Commission for the purpose of monitoring and enforcement.
“Similarly, government shall commence the process of beefing up the material, training and manpower needs of the Commission,” he said.
Government’s push to regulate media activities in Nigeria has stirred a lot of opposition, both locally and internationally. It is believed that press freedom has come under intense attack in the last four years, with many journalists locked up on charges bordering on treason and hate speech.
Earlier in the year, African Independent Television (AIT), was temporarily shut down because of its social programme called Kaaki Social, where the views of Nigerians are collated from social media and air on the channel. The government considered the views hate inciting and forced AIT to shut down the programme, even the Anchor, Ohimai Amaize, was forced to flee the country.
Ever since then, the Nigerian government has been unflinching in its determination to control what goes out in the media. Some journalists have been locked up for reporting what the government considers a threat to national security.
On November 12, the Hate Speech Prohibition Bill passed first reading at the plenary; the Bill is seeking to criminalize the offense with death as penalty. The Bill, sponsored by the Deputy Senate Whip, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, is seeking to establish agency for hate speech under the name, “National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches (Establishment etc.) Bill 2019.
When the bill was first presented to the 8th senate by Abdullahi, who was then the Spokesperson of the senate, it describes hate speech as “an offense committed when a person publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes and/or directs the performance of any material, written and/or visual, which is threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior, commits an offense if such person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up against any person or persons from such an ethnic group in Nigeria.
“A person subjects another to harassment on the basis of ethnicity for the purposes of this section where, on ethnic grounds, he unjustifiably engages in a conduct which has the purpose or effect of (a) violating that other person’s dignity or (b) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating of offensive environment for the person subjected to the harassment.” The 26 page bill highlighted hate speech among other things as offenses it seeks to make punitive.
Although the reintroduction of the bill has been met with fierce opposition that the senate even denied sponsoring the bill, the presidency appears to have a backup plan in case Abdullahi’s bill fails.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed has maintained that there is no going back in the Executive’s quest to curb the media, even though the move has been described as a draconian clampdown on press freedom.
The concern being raised by many is that there are no codes stipulating what hate speech is, which leaves it to the discretion of the Executive or anyone in authority to determine. And that is considered a legalized way to suppress dissenting voices.
An instance given by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), is Agba Jalingo, a Cross River State journalist who made a report on the State Governor, Ben Ayade, and was charged with treason. The argument is that the bill, if passed, will enable highhandedness among public office holders, giving the room to suppress criticism.
Civil society groups and human rights activists have urged the senate to kill the bill and give attention to more important things.