Text of The Remarks by HMIC, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, During A Meeting with Online Publishers in Lagos On Sunday, 20 October 2019

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TEXT OF THE REMARKS BY THE HONOURABLE MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, DURING A MEETING WITH ONLINE PUBLISHERS IN LAGOS ON SUNDAY, 20 OCTOBER 2019

Good afternoon gentlemen.

2. Please permit me to start by thanking you for honouring our invitation today. We have invited you here today for two main reasons:

i) – To thank you immensely for your support and constructive criticism during the first term of this Administration, and

ii) – To seek your continued support, while welcoming constructive criticism, as we continue our Next Level journey.

3. Talking about support, we are constrained to come back to you today to seek your support for our ongoing National Campaign Against Fake News and Hate Speech. Recall, gentlemen, that your group was the first we met last year, precisely on 24 July 2018, some 13 days after we launched the National Campaign Against Fake News in Abuja.

4. While the national campaign has succeeded in putting the issue of fake news and hate speech on the front burner of national discourse, the menace has yet to go away. Let me be clear: we didn’t think the issue will suddenly disappear, but we also didn’t think it will get worse, which is what it is now. In fact, it remains a clear and imminent danger to the polity. It is in this light that we are once again asking you to join us in pushing this campaign. No group is better placed than you, Online Publishers, to lead the campaign against fake news and hate speech, which I call the the Siamese twins of evil.

5. No responsible government will sit by and allow fake news and hate speech to rule the airwaves, because of the capacity of this menace to exploit our national fault lines to set us against each other and trigger a national conflagration. That is why we will continue to evolve ways to tackle fake news and hate speech until we banish both.

6. As part of such efforts, I recently set up a committee on the implementation of the recommendations that were approved by Mr. President to inject sanity into the nation’s broadcast industry, following the unprofessional and unethical conduct of some broadcast stations, especially before and during the last general elections.

7. Gentlemen, the highlights of the recommendations are as follows:

i) Independence of the NBC from political interference in the exercise of its regulatory powers, particularly with respect to the issuance and withdrawal of broadcasting license.

ii) A review of the National Broadcasting Code and extant broadcasting laws to reflect the following amendments;

– Upward review of fines from N500,000 to N5,000,000 for breaches relating to hate speeches, inciting comments and indecency

– Wilful repeat of infractions on three occasions after levying fine on a station to attract suspension of license

– Upgrade of breach of political comments relating to hate speeches and divisive comments to ”Class A” offence in the Broadcasting Code.

– Amendment of the NBC Act to enable NBC license WebTv and radio stations.

iii) Recruitment of more monitoring staff for the NBC. At the moment, there are only about 200 Staff monitoring about 1,000 radio and television stations.

iv) Deployment of adequate monitoring equipment and technologies for the NBC and, finally….

v) Enhancement of welfare packages of NBC staff to avoid their compromise in the line of duty

The committee is also saddled with ending all forms of monopoly detrimental to the actualization of the immense potential of the broadcast industry. A situation where a few people corner a chunk of the industry to the detriment of others, especially our teeming and talented youths, is totally unacceptable and untenable.

8) Since the inauguration of this committee, there have been attacks, many of them sponsored, from some quarters. As I speak, plans are ongoing to launch more coordinated attacks, with a view to truncating the implementation of the approved recommendations.

9). Let me be straight: No amount of attacks, sponsored or otherwise, will stop the implementation of the approved recommendations. And only non-patriots and anarchists will kick against measures aimed at putting an end to fake news and hate speech, especially in our broadcast industry. Only those who are guilty should be afraid of the efforts to sanitize the broadcast industry. Responsible broadcasters have nothing to fear. This is not a move to stifle free speech or gag anyone. But purveyors of fake news and hate speech should not expect to sleep easy.

10. As for monopolies, they stunt growth, kill talents and discourage creativity. The clearest example of the creative energy that can be unleashed when monopoly is totally broken can be seen in the telecommunications industry. Of course, the broadcast industry has also been liberalised. But any vestige of monopoly is antithetical to the liberalisation of the broadcast industry and must be dismantled. In the case of Nigeria, it’s the monopoly of content that breeds anti-competition practices. You cannot use your financial or whatever power to corner and hold on tight to a chunk of the market, preventing others from having access. Such monopolies are crumbling everywhere in the world and Nigeria cannot be left out.

11. Gentleman, we expect you to remain in the vanguard of the efforts to tackle fake news and hate speech. We expect you to educate our people on the efforts being made, especially by the government, in this regard. This Administration has no intention of muzzling the media or stifling free speech. Our campaign is against fake news and hate speech. And we will not rest until our media space has been rid of fake news and hate speech.

12. I thank you for your kind attention