Abuja — The Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) has rejected the Hate Speech Bill before the National Assembly, which prescribes death penalty as punishment for anyone found guilty.
The union warned that the bill, sponsored by Senator Sabi Abdullahi, which has already passed through the first reading, could be used to silence the media and perceived political opponents if ultimately passed.
NUJ President, Mr. Chris Isiguzo, reiterated this stance yesterday during a courtesy visit by the executive members of the union to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
Isiguzo appealed to the federal government to ensure that the safety of journalists is a priority and that no attempt be made to restrict the freedom of the press.
NUJ expressed worries that recent events were giving it serious cause for concern about the profession and safety of journalists, adding that most actions taken were targeted to silence journalists.
"The safety of journalists is deteriorating. Journalists that are hitherto exposed to more danger in violent armed conflicts than in peace and stable situations, now face greater threats in a democracy like Nigeria. These threats and attacks against the media are aimed at inducing fear and self-censorship and these should not be allowed if our democracy is to flourish," Isiguzo stated.
While responding, Mohammed said the NUJ as a professional body should allow its code of ethics for journalists to guide its operation, saying that professional journalists could not afford to engage in fake news as it will kill public trust in the media.
The minister said the media should not be a purveyor of hate speech because of its implication for national peace and unity.
He assured the union that the media should nurse no fear, saying the move to regulate the media is not an attempt to gag the media or muzzle free speech.
He also added that the federal government expected the NUJ or the Nigerian Guild of Editors to reach out or engage it rather than condemning a plan to inject sanity into the social media space and to protect the integrity of the press.
"As a matter of fact, the NUJ and other media professional bodies should take the lead in sanitising the social media space, because they will be the first victim when the people lose confidence in the media due to the reckless actions of non-journalists and purveyors of fake news and hate speech," Mohammed said.
The minister added that government will press ahead with plans to regulate the social media, saying no responsible government will sit by and allow purveyors of fake news and hate speech a free reign.
He cited the move by France, where the National Assembly last Friday, approved a draft bill that will require social media giants like Facebook, Twitter and others to remove any hateful content within 24 hours.