Hon. Minister of Information & Culture, Alh. Lai Mohammed’s Remarks During Courtesy Visit by The NUJ National Executive in Abuja

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HONORABLE MINISTER OF INFORMATION & CULTURE, ALH. LAI MOHAMMED’S REMARKS DURING COURTESY VISIT BY THE NUJ NATIONAL EXECUTIVE IN ABUJA ON 18 NOV. 2019

– The NUJ put the cart before the horse by publicly rejecting the planned social media regulation without even trying to understand what it entails.

– As a professional body for journalists, the NUJ has its code of ethics for journalists, and this guides their operation. To the best of my knowledge, the trained, professional journalists cannot afford to engage in fake news, because this will kill public trust in the media. They also cannot afford to engage in hate speech, because of its implication for national peace and unity. After all, there has to be a country before you can even practice your profession.

– It is therefore imperative for the NUJ and other professional bodies to guard their turf very jealously and ward off charlatans and fakes.

– When we announced the plan to regulate the social media, we said clearly that the regulation is not an attempt to gag the media or muzzle free speech. We said journalists have nothing to fear.

– If the NUJ or the Guild of Editors, or indeed any professional body has any fears, we expect them to reach out and engage us, rather than rushing to the media to condemn a plan to inject sanity into the social media space and protect the integrity of the media. As a matter of fact, the NUJ and other media professional bodies should take the lead in sanitizing the social media space, because they will be the first victim when the people lose confidence in the media due to the reckless actions of non-journalists and purveyors of fake news and hate speech.

– Now that you are here, we will use the opportunity to inform you as follows:

1. Our plan to inject sanity into the social media space has nothing to do with gagging journalists or stifling free speech. Only the purveyors of fake news and hate speech need to be worried.

2. We will not unilaterally impose measures aimed at injecting sanity into the social media space. We will work with stakeholders, including the NUJ, Guild of Editors, Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, the Civil Society, Online Publishers, Bloggers, etc. Already, we have dispatched letters to these stakeholders. A government that has the intention of gagging the media won’t engage stakeholders in dialogue on the way forward.

3. There are many options open to us in regulating the social media. There is the use of technology that is unobtrusive. There is legislation. There is the use of regulatory bodies. It is up to the stakeholders to decided the best option. But we have also taken the initiative to meet, very soon, with the platform owners, like Facebook, Whatsapp, Google, Twitter and Instagram, among others, to engage them on the way forward.

4. The debate on the issue of regulating the social media has been robust. Some have opposed. Some have supported. This is a healthy debate and we are monitoring the discourse. But I must say that rushing to reject the plan without bothering to understand what it entails is not helpful, and constitutes panic reaction.

5. Let me be clear: We are going ahead with our plan to stop, as much as we can, the anarchists, non-patriots and purveyors of fake news and hate speeches. No responsible government will sit by and allow these purveyors of fake news and hate speech a free reign. That’s why many countries of the world are taking measures to regulate the social media. The UK, France, Germany, China, Singapore, South Korea, Kenya, Zambia….we can go on and on.

Only last Friday, France’s National Assembly approved a draft bill that will require social media giants like Facebook, Twitter and others to remove any hateful content within 24 hours. France is seeking to lead in regulating the tech giants and containing the spread of illicit content and false information on the most-used platforms. I like the quotation attributed to a French parliamentary on this: “What is not tolerated on the street should not be tolerated on the internet.”

Finally, gentlemen, thank you for this visit, and will look forward to working with you and other stakeholders in injecting sanity into the social media space.