By Rotimi Ijikanmi

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed says the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Guild of Editors and their members have more to gain with the Federal Government’s plan to sanitise the social media space.

The minister gave the assurance on Monday in Abuja when the President of NUJ, Mr Chris Isiguzo led other executive members of the union on a courtesy visit to him.

Mohammed who was reacting to the concerns raised by NUJ that the planned regulation could lead to gagging of press assured that the union had nothing to fear.

“To the best of my knowledge, the trained, professional journalists cannot afford to engage in fake news, because this will kill public trust in the media.

“They also cannot afford to engage in hate speech, because of its implication for national peace and unity.

“As a professional body for journalists, the NUJ has its code of ethics for journalists, and this guides their operation.

“After all, there has to be a country before you can even practice your profession.

“It is, therefore, imperative for the NUJ and other professional bodies to guard their turf very jealously and ward off charlatans and fakes,” he said.

The minister said that the NUJ put the cart before the horse by publicly rejecting the planned social media regulation without trying to understand what it entails.

He clarified that the regulation was not an attempt to gag the media or muzzle free speech and journalists have nothing to fear.

“If the NUJ or the Guild of Editors, or indeed any professional body has any fears, we expect them to reach out and engage us, rather than rushing to the media to condemn a plan to inject sanity into the social media space and protect the integrity of the media.

“As a matter of fact, the NUJ and other media professional bodies should take the lead in sanitising the social media space.

“This is 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.

“Only the purveyors of fake news and hate speech need to be worried,” he said.

Mohammed assured that the government would not unilaterally impose the measures aimed at injecting sanity into the social media space.

He said the government would work with stakeholders, including the NUJ, Guild of Editors, Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, the Civil Society, Online Publishers and Bloggers.

“Already, we have dispatched letters to these stakeholders.

“A government that has the intention of gagging the media won’t engage stakeholders in dialogue on the way forward,” he said.

The minister reiterated that there were many options open to the government in regulating social media including the use of technology, legislation, and regulatory bodies.

He said the stakeholders, when they meet soon, would decide on the best option.

Mohammed disclosed that the government had also taken the initiative to meet with the platform owners, like Facebook, WhatsApp, Google, Twitter and Instagram, among others, to engage them on the way forward.

While welcoming the debate that had trailed the announcement of the plan, the minister said there was no going back in regulating social media.

“No responsible government will sit by and allow these purveyors of fake news and hate speech a free reign.

“That’s why many countries of the world are taking measures to regulate the social media.

“The UK, France, Germany, China, Singapore, South Korea, Kenya, Zambia….we can go on and on.

“Only last Friday, France’s National Assembly approved a draft bill that will require social media giants like Facebook, Twitter and others to remove any hateful content within 24 hours.

“France is seeking to lead in regulating the tech giants and containing the spread of illicit content and false information on the most-used platforms,” he said.

Earlier, Isiguzo underscored the importance of free, independent, vibrant and nationalistic press to good governance in a democracy.

He however, noted that events in recent times had given the union concern about journalism profession, particularly the safety and freedom of practitioners.

Isiguzo said that, though the union regretted the escalation of fake news and hate speech, it would not support any legislation that would be used to silent the media and perceived opponents.

The NUJ president also disclosed that the Union would soon sponsor a Bill on enhanced salary package for journalists before the National Assembly.

Members of the NUJ delegation included its National Secretary, Shuaib Leman and the National President of National Association of Women Journalists, Mrs Ifeyinwa Omowole. (NAN)

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