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CAN, Editors, others rally against hate speech bill

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We’re against bid to curtail press freedom, says Guild of Editors
How to save the media, by Adefaye, Ogunleye
Defamation laws inadequate to tackle hate speech, says sponsor, Sen. Abdullahi

LAGOS—The groundswell of opposition against the hate speech bill before the National Assembly was taken several notches higher, yesterday, by editors in Nigeria, the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, and a serving senator,  Akon Eyakenyi, who vowed to “strongly” resist it.

Insisting that the bill will undermine the freedom of citizens and hurt democracy, those opposed to it argued that there are adequate laws within the body of Nigeria’s statutes to curb hate speech.

Sponsor of the bill, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, however, disagreed with this argument, countering that defamation laws are inadequate to tackle hate speech.

Editors restate opposition to fake news, hate speech

Indeed, newspaper, radio, online and television editors, under the aegis of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, expressed their opposition to anti-fake news and hate speech bill.

Acting President of the Guild, Mustapha Isah, stated the group’s position in Sokoto at the opening of the 15th  All Nigeria Editors’ Conference, ANEC.

“The Nigerian Guild of Editors is not in support and will never support fake news and hate speech. Our members are trained professionally. It is true that the social media space, like any other ecosystem, is being abused by some people,” he said.

He said the Guild is not in support of any move to “surreptitiously” curtail press freedom and advised government to work with critical stakeholders in the media industry to address the challenges relating to fake news and hate speech.

He said the Guild chose the 2019 theme of the conference, “A Distressed Media: Impact on Government, Governance and Society,” with a view to focusing on the media as a business.

Isah added that the theme was also meant “to focus on Nigeria and the sustenance of our democracy because without a robust media, democracy suffers.”

He said current economic challenges had affected the business of journalism, warning that practitioners must survive first to perform their constitutional responsibility of holding government accountable to the people.

“The constitution gives the media an enormous responsibility of holding governments accountable to the people without providing for us the economic and the constitutional protection to do our duty.

“The media is passing through a tough phase. We are going to survive and we must survive. We will find solutions to our problems,” he said.

According to him, the Nigerian media has a rich history, having been in the forefront of the fight against colonialism and the struggle for democracy.

Isah also commended Gov.ernor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State for his consistent show of friendship to the media and the guild in particular.

Isah’s comments were later enriched by Mr. Gbenga Adefaye, Editor-in-Chief and General Manager of Vanguard Newspapers; and Mr. Gbemiga Ogunleye, Provost, Nigeria Institute of Journalism, NIJ, Lagos.

Media under threat, says Adefaye

In a nine-page keynote speech, titled: “Fighting The Throes of Death,” Adefaye argued that the media, especially the print, are under serious threat in Nigeria and efforts must be made to keep the media afloat in the interest of the citizenry and democracy.

Apart from shrinking revenue from advert and copy sales, Adefaye regretted that media freedom and security of journalists were headed south, noting that in 2019, no fewer than 60 journalists “have experienced some form of attacks or the other from state actors and several civil society institutions have been subjects of similar attacks, ranging from shutdowns to withdrawal of operating licenses and outright decommissioning.”

He said: “To compound the woes of the media, profitability which is key to vibrancy, freedom and independence is poor because of decline in advertising revenue. The global village is real and virtual. However, the virtual Village Square meeting can define and refine own rules of engagement, using the Google key.

“Then we can defend free speech with responsibility. We must build capacity and bring our credibility to bear on the use of new media to probably crowd out the unprofessional, unskilled, dangerous social media engagement.

“We are in a democracy, where there is no other choice than constitutional order. It is only a strong, free and independent media that can check inefficiency, corruption and lack of accountability of state actors.

“The media must collaborate and cooperate to survive. That’s the lead from the marketplace. The experience from history tells me that the current travails notwithstanding, we will survive to tell the stories and write the history. That’s what is the DNA of our media.”

In like manner, Ogunleye, in a 53-page paper, titled: “Journalism Education and Shrinking Opportunities,” lamented that the Nigerian print media were now in intensive care unit “gasping their breath with poor circulation figures, dwindling advert revenues” worsened by “digital disruptions.”

Essentially, Ogunleye dealt with the importance of the press, what people say about the press, the impact of the press in the society, journalism education, opportunities in the media, and shrinking opportunities and the disruption of the social media, and proffered suggestions on how to keep the Fourth Estate of the realm afloat.

We’ve enough laws to tackle hate speech – CAN

Speaking on the issue, the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, urged the National Assembly to discountenance the “Protection from Internet Falsehoods and Manipulation and other related Matters Bill 2019” and the “National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches Bill, 2019” which are currently being considered to become part of the extant laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

A statement by the National Director, Legal and Public Affairs, CAN. Evangelist Barrister Kwamkur Samuel Vondip, on behalf of the CAN President, Rev. (Dr.) Samson Olasupo Ayokunle, expressed deep concern about the ongoing debate on the two bills and urged the National Assembly to “put off completely any contemplation to pass them into Acts of the National Assembly as sincere lovers of the nation.”

Reason: “These two bills have generated so much misgivings and criticisms that they have led to uncommon tension and fears among Nigeria’s citizens. This is doing no good to the fears and apprehension of the citizens already on ground as a result of insecurity, deplorable infrastructural amenities and the general welfare of the people.

“The bills, in the general view of majority of Nigerians, and in ours too, appear to separately seek to gag Nigeria’s citizens from speaking out freely on matters that affect their lives in all spheres. This to us is an ill-wind that will blow nobody any good.”

Continuing, Ayokunle said CAN was not unmindful of the fact that “many individuals and organizations have taken advantage of the social media to perpetrate evil and cause tremendous damage to individuals, both private and government institutions.

“CAN is also not ignorant of the grave consequences of hate speech among Nigeria’s citizens and how even political parties used hate speeches to effect change of leadership and government at various times. All these are unfortunate developments in the use of technology.”

However, he said “CAN believes that there are adequate laws within the body of Nigeria’s laws that can be used to check the excesses of individuals and organizations that are misusing the social media and propagating hate speeches.

“For example, the provisions of Nigeria’s Constitution on the Fundamental Rights of Nigerian citizens and exceptions are explicit. The Penal Code, Criminal Code, Cyber Crime Act and other legal provisions on crimes that deal with hate speeches, defamation, libel and similar offences are clear and strong enough.

“CAN is particularly concerned that Nigerians are being daily distracted from discussing topical issues that have direct bearing on their survival and well being, such as poverty, corruption, and the provision of good health facilities, etc.

“We desire that governments at all levels and, indeed, members of the National Assembly pay greater attention to the issues of insecurity, economic hardship, poverty, bad roads, poor education and dearth of infrastructure.”

 

Bills ‘ll abrogate freedom of expression – Senator Eyakenyi

Sharing the views of CAN, Senator Akon Eyakenyi (PDP, Akwa Ibom South), said if passed into law, the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill, and Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill will abrogate the freedom of expression of Nigerians.

In a statement, she said: “The mandates we hold as senators are in trust for the people and the powers we exercise are delegated by the people with whom power resides.

“Therefore, any attempt to shut up and threaten the owners of the mandate from freely holding their opinions in line with our laws shall strongly be resisted by me.”

Mrs Eyakenyi said freedom of expression, besides being a fundamental human right, as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, was a necessary ingredient that sustains a democratic system.

To move against the peoples’ freedom to express themselves, she said, amounts to degenerating into dictatorship.

She continued: “The ECOWAS Court of Justice and the African Court of Human Rights had in the past declared similar attempts as illegal. Across the globe, infringements on human rights and free press is condemnable.

“We must, therefore, be careful not to portray ourselves as a country that is sliding into intolerance and, we must not allow the rights we fought for and won to be abrogated by misconceived opinions.

“I, therefore, condemn in the strongest terms, the proposed pieces of legislation which in my judgement are not in the best interest of our image as Africa’s big brother.

“Let it be on record that I stand against these bills and that my constituents reject them in totality. Death penalty as canvassed by one of the proposals is without argument outrageous and such dangerous signal must not be sent out to the international community about our human rights records.”

Mrs Eyakenyi said Nigeria already had sufficient laws, such as the Penal Code, Criminal Code and Cyber Crimes Act of 2015 to tackle hate speech and cybercrimes.

“There is, therefore, no justification for over flogging issues that are already adequately taken care of by our laws. I must, however, state that our problem does not lie in lawmaking but law enforcement and implementation. What we need most as a country is ensuring that the various law enforcement agencies carry out their duties as they ought to.”

Defamation laws inadequate to tackle hate speech – Senator Sabi Abdullahi

However, Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, who sponsored the hate speech bill, said yesterday that existing laws on defamation were  grossly inadequate to tackle hate speech in its form.

Abdullahi stated this against the backdrop of groundswell of protests and reactions to the introduction of the Hate Speech Bill by the National Assembly.

According to Abdullahi, who represents Niger North Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Parliaments across the world have identified ‘hate speech’ as a new “threat that dehumanizes and targets individuals and groups, and also threatens peace in a diversified society.”

The lawmaker stated that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which is a 47-nation member organization, in a report identified threats posed by hate speech to include; exclusion among minority groups, alienation, marginalization, emergence of parallel societies, and ultimately radicalization.

These, Abdullahi warned, were present features in the socio-dynamics of Nigeria as a nation which places the country on the brink of implosion from the effect of hate speech.

He stated that given the complex dynamics associated with hate speech, “the provisions of defamation and libel laws in Nigeria clearly lack the grip to tackle the dimensions of hate speech in acts such as victimization, marginalization and exclusion.”

Senator Abdullahi added that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in its resolutions contained in a publication, titled: “The role and responsibilities of political leaders in combating hate speech and intolerance” endorsed “criminal legislation” to “prohibit and sanction” hate speech.

The publication read in Part:  “The Assembly believes that a wide range of measures is necessary to counter hate speech, ranging from self-regulation, particularly by political movements and parties, and in the statutes and rules of procedure of national and local elected bodies, to civil, administrative and criminal legislation prohibiting and sanctioning its use.”

Citing countries such as Germany and France, Abdullahi stated further that the Parliaments of both countries passed a landmark law in 2018 and 2019, respectively, to fight online hate speech.

These and many other countries, the lawmaker stressed, all have defamation and libel laws but have introduced legislation to tackle hate speech as a specific threat.

“Hate Speech bill is about prohibiting incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence,” the lawmaker emphasised.

Senator Abdullahi said the new legislation passed by France and Germany compelled all social media networks to remove offending content as well as create buttons to enable users flag cases of abuse.

“The Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed, on Tuesday commended the move to tackle hate speech without the death penalty.

Speaking on the Hate Speech bill before the National Assembly, the UN deputy secretary-general said: “We need to know that globally we are in a space where hate speech has reached an all-time high. So, any check and balances we can put into a society, a country, a region to bring an end to this is welcome.”

Source: Vanguard NGR

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