Don’t Muzzle Free Speech – Barr King

A human rights advocate, Barrister Higher King, has questioned the intent of the fine against hate speech which was recently increased by the government to five million (N5m).

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, recently said in Lagos the fine against hate speech had been increased from five hundred thousand (N500,000.00) to five million (N5m).

The information and culture minister who disclosed this while unveiling the reviewed Nigeria Broadcasting Code said that recommendations made were approved by the president.

He said that the amendments were made necessary by a presidential directive for inquiry into the regulatory role of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and conduct of broadcast stations before, during and after elections.

Alh. Mohammed said that the recommendations approved by the president were to reposition the National Broadcasting Commission to better perform its regulatory roles in areas of political broadcasting, local content, coverage of emergencies, advertising and anti-competitive behaviour.

But speaking in an interview, Barrister King said the fine against hate speech should not be to “muzzle” free speech. He also asked if it was not the court that should determine what hate speech is.

The human rights advocate said for someone to be convicted for hate speech, he should be tried in court and asked the National Assembly to look at the issue.

He said for National Assembly to look at the issue and pass it as a law someone would need to sponsor it as a bill.

King also said for someone to pay the fine, he should first be convicted in a court of law, saying that it would be wrong to impose the fine if the intent would be to smother free speech.

He also said that the law-making body should consider the issue side by side with circumstances in the country.

According to United Nations, hate speech is “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor.”

The UN said this is often rooted in and generates intolerance and hatred and in certain contexts could be demeaning and divisive.

Alhaji Mohammed, justifying the new fine against hate speech, said: “We remain unperturbed because we are acting in the national interest. The broadcasting code is not a static document. As we often say, broadcasting is dynamic. Therefore even the sixth edition of the Code shall be reviewed at the appropriate time.”

The minister further said: “The law on registration of web broadcasting grants the country the opportunity to regulate negative foreign broadcasts that can harm us as a nation. Such harms could be in the area of security, protection for minors, protection of human dignity, economic fraud, privacy etc”.

However, many Nigerians including Nigerian Bar Association reacted to the fine on hate speech.

The association speaking through its outgoing National Publicity Secretary, Mr Kunle Edun, said: “This is an unconstitutional attempt at gagging the press. Gagging the press by increasing the fine for hate speech by 900 per cent is anti-people”.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome, also said that the increase in the fine against hate speech was unconstitutional. He also said if the federal government were to enforce the fine, it would be challenged and outlawed adding that it lacked the force of law and should not be taken seriously.

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