The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has advised the Federal Government to rescind decision to regulate social media.
The Guild said such regulation contravenes Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which guarantees every Nigerian the right to freedom of expression, including right to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
It made the call after an emergency meeting of its standing committee where it elected Mr. Mustapha Isah as acting president to take over from Mrs. Funke Egbemode, former Managing Director of New Telegraph Newspaper, who has assumed duty as Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation in Osun State.
The communique signed by Isah and Mary Atolagbe, General Secretary read: “The Federal Government should rescind the decision to regulate the Social Media, as such measure is in clear contravention of Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution (As amended), which guarantees every Nigerian citizen the right to freedom of expression, including the right to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
“The Guild reminds the Federal Government of the dire consequences of similar attempts in the past to gag freedom of speech, as such initiatives were usually misconstrued by security agents and some public officials to harass, arrest and in most cases, illegally detain journalists and other Nigerians for holding their opinions.”
Rather than its current attempt to stifle, NGE advised the Federal Government to seek ways to maximise social media to disseminate information on activities and policies of government.
NGE further said: “The Guild urges the government to engage the founders and promoters of social media, namely: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter among others – to creatively find ways of sieving information disseminated through their respective channels, to curtail extremisms of violence and hate speech.
“Recognising that Nigeria is already in the red zone of nations with very poor record of Press Freedom and Freedom of Speech, the Guild notes, for instance, that the 2019 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders places Nigeria in a distant 120th position among 180 nations under review. Also, in the 2019 Global Impunity Index published by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), which chronicles countries where criminal groups, politicians, government officials, and other powerful actors resort to violence to silence critical views, dissent and particularly the media, Nigeria ranks as high as the 12th position, sharing the top bracket with impunity-prone and conflict-riddled nations like Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Mexico, Pakistan etcetera.”
The guild said Nigeria has enough extant laws, including the Cyber Crime Act 2015, to deal with issues of ‘hate speech’ and ‘Fake News’ and urged the government to test such laws in the courts of competent jurisdictions in accordance with due process of the law rather than create another legal instrument and atmosphere that would give agents of state the latitude to harass and criminalise citizens especially journalists.
It said its experience is that “in most cases, it is the officials of governments at all levels that push out Fake News and hate speech by their words and actions; stressing that it behoves government actors to check their actions and utterances. The Guild uses this opportunity to call on government and security agencies to release forthwith all journalists being detained nationwide, as their continued detention run contrary to the grains of the Constitution.”
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) has stressed the need for a new Code of Ethics to enhance modern professionalism and address the current trend of quackery in the country’s media industry.
Mrs Stella Jibril, Director of Research and Documentation of NPC made the call in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Tuesday in Abuja.