Policing speech, not the pandemic or the suffering of Nigerians is what gets the federal government going

Speech

You would think that after the comprehensive protests to the Nigerian Senate’s attempts to pass into law a hotly contested Hate Speech bill that sought to criminalize free speech, especially on the internet, the Nigerian government would read the room and see that we have more pressing concerns. But for that to happen, you’d have to be in another Nigeria.

The Nigerian government has consistently pushed forward policies that seemed designed almost exclusively to increase the hardship Nigerians already face, and since they couldn’t pass their hate speech into law, they are settling for targeting media organisations who in their line of work have to report news and stories that could be branded as hate speech.

This announcement was made by the Minister for Information, Lai Mohammed while he was reviewing an updated Broadcasting Code on August 4th (the last one was also protested against by Nigerians for its attempts to oust foreign collaborations between Nigerian content creators and international partners). According to the minister, the update to the National Broadcasting Code was a directive straight from the Presidency created to ensure that Broadcast stations didn’t involve themselves in malicious political propaganda before, during and after the 2020 elections happening later this year as a precursor to the 2023 elections. The new fines will be implemented by the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).

The new laws include a Web Broadcasting Registration guide that seeks to ‘regulate’ foreign broadcasts that can ‘harm us as a nation.’ Mohammed highlights that ‘harm’ as vaguely described could be ascertained in the areas of security, protection of minors, protection of human dignity, economic fraud and privacy among other areas of interest. Harm is a very vague term which puts local and international news organisations operating in the country at risk of needless sanctions. Hopefully a push will be made for the government to outline these directives more comprehensively.

Thankfully, there is a caveat, the NBC code can be reviewed and amended and the Minister has encouraged broadcast organisations who disagree with the new code to lodge their complaints with the regulators at NBC. We hope we don’t have to wait until its too late to reassess the merit of draconian laws that discourage local and foreign investment in media.

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