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NASS open to suggestions on handling of hate speech, fake news – Lawan

Ahmad Lawan

President of the Senate, Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan, has said that the National Assembly is open to suggestions from Nigerians on the best ways to tackle the menace of hate speech and fake news.

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Lawan stated this on Monday in an address delivered to declare open a Town-hall meeting on the Hate Speech and Social Media bills organised by the Daar Communications in Abuja.

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The Senate President said there is need to address the challenge of hate speech and fake news in the Nigerian society.

“We are here today because of some of these challenges, which is the challenge of hate speech and fake news. Added to this is the extent to which government should intervene. Important also is the need to come to an understanding on the best approach in finding a way forward.

“I need to reiterate that we are a democratic nation, where dialogue, conversation, disagreement and agreement are central to how we resolve issues. When exchanges are meaningful, we are sure to have a productive outcome. But when it is characterised with ceaseless conflict, I doubt if there can be progress.”

“This is the direction that the National Assembly has always followed, by asking citizens to be involved in the democratic process. Of course, democracy is about inclusion and participation.

“We do not expect these features only in the provision of the dividends of democracy, but also in the processes that lead to it,” Lawan said.

The Senate President noted that the liberalisation of information on various social media platforms has been exploited severally and is subject to different dimensions of abuse.

He warned that if left unchecked without the introduction of laws and sanctions, it could have consequences on the nation.

“The point about progress in information technology that I earlier made is central. There is no doubt that this progress has resulted into the liberalization of information gathering and sharing.

“The new freedom has led to an equally new celebration. The citizen is now supposedly freer, and probably more participatory in conversations. This is consistent with the philosophy of democracy.

“Coming with this freedom however is different patterns and channels of abuses. This come through half-truths, lies, and hate speech. Concerned about this trend, some countries have imposed sanctions, as deterrence, or to prevent it from happening.

“The thinking is that humans have different motivations and diverse behavioral tendencies. If left unchecked, some might go awry, which is the reason why we have laws and other control systems in organisations and societies.”

The Senate President, however, urged Nigerians to eschew sentiments, look dispassionately and examine all matters critically.

“Where do we go from here as a nation, therefore? Should we endlessly permit the freedom, or do we rely on existing laws to deal with supposed infractions? Can we really say we have enough laws to deal with infractions?

“And if so, are we implementing them enough? On the other hand, should we think of more laws, in the interest of protecting the rights of those offended, which might include persons, institutions, or even the state? Or should we rather think of media literacy campaign, to sensitise the people about their rights and limitations?

“I am sure that at the end of this meeting, we should be able to find good answers to these questions, not just to enrich our knowledge on the discourse on hate speech and fake news, but also to assist the National Assembly, and even the government as a whole, on way forward.

“In discussing these issues, we need to realise that we are all stakeholders in the civil society and in governance. As stakeholders, we should be dispassionate and be able to examine all matters critically.

“Emotions and sentiments hardly help in a gathering like this. If our minds are open to all lines of thoughts, we will then develop a sense of perspective. Our conclusions will subsequently be helpful to the National Assembly and the government at large,” Lawan said.

In his welcome address, the Chairman, African Independent Television (AIT), Raymond Dokpesi Junior, said the aim of this ait.live town hall forum is to contribute to a wider understanding of the concept of two bills before the National Assembly, the internet falsehood and manipulation bill or the fake news bill and the bill for an act to provide for the prohibition of hate speeches and other related matters otherwise known as the hate speech bill;

The forum, he added, hoped to challenge both supporters and critics of the bill to justify their positions and to share with them our perspectives, recommendations and concerns.

Though the Ministry of Information was not represented at the event, he expressed shock at the position of Federal Government regarding these key issues as well as the content of the bill as expressed by Information Minister, Lai Mohammed in a recent interview.

He said the Minister denied any knowledge of the Internet falsehood and manipulation bill colloquially known as the fake news bill.

However, he said: “I believe despite what anybody will say, that the Honourable Minister was right to deny any knowledge of the bill. I believe this because to have admitted knowledge of the bill will have exposed him to questions about the punitive measures contained within the bill – which in turn, from a neo-liberal European perspective will have exposed this government and indeed this country to international condemnation and ridicule.

“For not washing our dirty laundry abroad I thank the Honourable Minister, but here at home, his absence from this event and silence of the Ministry of Information on the position of Government supporting or opposing these bills is deafening!

“Deafening because we know that the Honourable Minister initiated the anti-fake news and anti-hate speech campaign in July 2018 and announced to media on Tuesday, 29th October 2019 that he had set up a committee, and I quote: “on the implementation of the recommendations that were approved by Mr President to inject sanity into the nation’s broadcast industry, following the unprofessional conduct of some broadcast stations, especially before and during the last general elections.”

“Barely a week later, on the 5th November, 2019 the fake news and internet manipulation bill was introduced to the Senate. It was a private member bill and so given as the Minister has disowned the bill, it is futile so suggest otherwise.

“However, I will have hoped, that a programme like this will have afforded us the privilege of getting it straight thereby putting an end to any forms of rumours, speculation and innuendos about the position of government regarding two critical issues that are paramount to any discussion of regulating against fake news and hate speech”.

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