The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) on Thursday, 19th November, cautioned the federal government against its insistence on regulating the social media, saying Nigeria has enough laws to check fake news.
The caution came against the backdrop of the federal government’s reiteration on Thursday, that while it would not shut down the social media, it is determined to regulate it to curb the spread of fake news.
But the NUJ and the NGE cautioned the federal government over its insistence on stifling the social media and warned that going ahead with its plan without inputs from stakeholders will be a breach of the spirit of democratic governance, which is hinged on the right of the people to free expression.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, at a press conference in Abuja, had said the #EndSARS protest that spawned the violence that recently wracked some states, had reinforced the federal government’s determination to regulate social media to stop fake news and disinformation.
He added that social media was used to guide arsonists and looters to certain property, both public and private, while fake pictures of persons, including some celebrities, supposedly killed at the Lekki Tollgate by soldiers were widely circulated.
Mohammed, who spoke on the EndSARS protest and its aftermath, also said the federal government would sanction the Cable News Network (CNN) over its Wednesday’s report on the Lekki incident.
However, a few hours after the minister expressed the government’s plan to punish the United States-based television station, CNN remained unyielding as it repeated the report and at the end, it said it stood by it, adding that it was “carefully and meticulously researched.”
The minister also applauded security agencies, especially the military and the police, for the way they handled the civil unrest.
According to him, security agents were professional and measured in their response.
The minister, who described the event of October 20, 2020, as a “massacre without bodies,” said contrary to claims by an eyewitness, DJ Switch, not a single body has been produced or a single family has come out to claim their family member was killed at the Lekki Tollgate.
He added that the popular disc jockey, Obianuju Catherine Udeh, fondly referred to as DJ Switch, “will be exposed” soon over her claims on the alleged shooting of #EndSARS protesters by soldiers at Lekki.
Mohammed accused CNN of sensationalism and of doing a great disservice to itself and journalism.
He described the CNN report aimed at shedding more light on the Lekki shootings as “a poor piece of journalistic work.”
The minister said the CNN relied on social media videos without verification to produce its report.
“This should earn CNN a serious sanction for irresponsible reporting,” Mohammed said.
“Like everyone else, I watched the CNN report. I must tell you that it reinforces the disinformation that is going around, and it is blatantly irresponsible and a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organisation.
“CNN engaged in incredible sensationalism and did a great disservice to itself and to journalism. In the first instance, CNN, which touted its report as an exclusive investigative report sadly relied on the same videos that have been circulating on social media, without verification,’’ he stated.
The minister said the social media was used to guide arsonists and looters to certain property, both public and private, and that pictures of persons, including some celebrities, who were supposedly killed at the Lekki Tollgate by soldiers, were circulated widely, only for those persons to refute such claims or for the discerning to disprove such posts.
‘’As I said earlier, what started as a peaceful protest against police brutality quickly degenerated into incredible violence despite an immediate response to the demands of the government. Keen watchers of the developments cannot fail to notice the role played by social media in the EndSARS protest.
‘’As a veritable tool for mass mobilisation, the organisers of the protest, of course, leveraged heavily on social media for that purpose. But on the other hand, the same social media was used to spread fake news and disinformation that catalysed the violence that was witnessed across the country.
‘’This development has reinforced the campaign against fake news and disinformation, which we launched in 2018. As a matter of fact, as far back as 2017, when we dedicated that year’s National Council on Information to the issue of fake news and disinformation, we had been expressing concerns on the dangers posed by irresponsible use of the new media platform. The concerns culminated in the launch of the national campaign which I referred to earlier,’’ the Mohammed explained.
He said while the federal government had no plan to shut down the social media, it would regulate it.
‘’Nigeria is not alone in this regard. The issue of social media regulation is an ongoing debate not just in Nigeria but around the world, including in the United States, which is the flag flyer of constitutional democracy. Even the owners of the various social media platforms, including Facebook, are increasingly joining the call for content regulation,’’ the minister said.