Hate speech: NBC’s clampdown on TV stations and matters arising

The recent clampdown on five major television stations by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) over airing of what the commission described as hate speech is generating mixed reactions. SAMSON BENJAMIN in this report examines these reactions against the backdrop of the dangers that hate speech poses to the society.

The director-general of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Mr Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, recently disclosed the readiness of the commission to sanction some television stations in the country over hate speech.

The affected stations, according to Kawu, are the Africa Independent Television (AIT), Channels Television, Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and Television Continental (TVC). Kawu said letters to the affected organisations notifying them about the sanctions “have already been written.”

He said there are new entries in the Nigerian Broadcasting Code and that the sixth edition of the code “contains very strong entries about hate and dangerous speech and the consequence of such broadcasting in the country.”

Kawu further said since the commencement of election campaign for the 2019 general elections on October 18, based on the guidelines of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), television stations became agog with sponsored live rallies by political parties, particularly the two main parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC).

He said NBC observed again “through monitoring of the stations that politicians have refused to learn from mistakes of the past, despite efforts of the NBC to sensitise and remind them of their responsibilities.”

He said: “We monitored live rallies and campaigns of the parties, and, in recent times, live political rallies of political parties have been laced with indecent and abusive languages or language, name-calling and vehement allegations and use of hate speech.

“For instance, on January 10, 2019, at the presidential campaign rally of the PDP broadcast by the AIT, the national chairman of the party accused INEC of rigging previous elections and threatened crisis if election is rigged in 2019. Some of the excerpts were; ‘we want to warn INEC, all the previous elections you rigged and you escaped, the 2019 elections, you cannot escape unless you want to cause crisis in Nigeria. Let us warn Professor Yakubu: If you want to cause crisis in Nigeria, rig the election. If you want peace, elections must be free and fair.’ That is from the PDP.

“At a live APC governorship rally held on Friday, January 3, 2019, and aired on NTA, a stalwart of the APC, Rotimi Amaechi, was quoted as saying: ‘I will just continue to say the truth. One of the truths I will tell you is that they are telling Nigerians that Nigerians are hungry. Indeed, if Nigerians are hungry, if these people left money they stole, will Nigerians be hungry? Exactly the $2 billion that they stole; at least, I know about that one, we will not be here today.’

“The party chairman also added: ‘You must remember that the last PDP government turned Plateau workers to slaves and so on and so forth.’

“The expressions and languages in the excerpts captured can be seen to be abusive and not descent for broadcast, contrary to certain sections of the Nigerian Broadcasting Code: 525, 533.

“So, based on the foregoing, the four main channels that have been broadcasting, AIT, TVC, Channels TV and NTA, were culpable and contravened the provisions of the code on political broadcast, in line with the provisions.”

Sanctions for erring stations

The executive secretary of Nigerian Press Council (NPC), Mr Nnamdi Njemanze, commended NBC for its action, urging it to sanction more radio or television stations that broadcast hate speech, as part of efforts to stem the growing tide of hate speech in the country.

He said:  “As a matter of fact, the challenges facing the NBC have never become more daunting, considering the increasing propensity of some radio and television stations across the country to turn over their platforms to the purveyors of hate speech. It is the responsibility of the NBC to put these broadcast stations in check before they set the country on fire.

“I urge the commission to redouble its efforts in discharging its mandate. The NBC must ensure a strict adherence to the Broadcasting Code, and errant stations must be sanctioned accordingly to serve as a deterrent. The nation looks up to the NBC to restore sanity to the broadcast industry. The commission cannot afford to do any less at this critical time. It cannot afford to fail the nation.

“The ignominious role played by a radio station in fueling the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, which led to the loss of over 800,000 lives in 100 days is still fresh in our minds, NBC must not to allow the purveyors of hate speech to lead Nigeria to the path of destruction.

“If you tune into many radio stations, for example, you will be shocked by the things being said, the careless incitement to violence and the level of insensitivity to the multi-religious, multi-ethnic nature of our country. Unfortunately, even some of the hosts of such radio programmes do little or nothing to stop such incitements. Oftentimes, they are willing collaborators of hate speech campaigners. This must not be allowed to continue because it is detrimental to the unity and well-being of our country.”

The media must be responsible

Similarly, the Head of Department (HoD), department of mass communication, University of Benin, Dr Ambrose Uchenunu, advised the media not to make their platforms available as purveyors of hate speech by desperate politicians and unscrupulous elements whose agenda is to divide the nation by instigating crises in the society.

Speaking with Blueprint Weekend, Uchenunu said: “The recent decision by NBC to sanction some media stations allowing politicians use their platforms to purvey hate speech is a welcome development.

“While the constitutional right of freedom of speech and association remains inviolable; political campaigns and speeches in whatever form should be issues-based and within the limits of the rules of the game.

“A section of the political broadcast Code clearly said no broadcast shall encourage or incite to crime, lead to public disorder, be repugnant to public feeling or contain an offensive reference to any person, alive or dead, or generally, be disrespectful to human dignity.”

“I urge political, religious, traditional and other leaders to lead by example and have self-control as well as guide their aides and followers against making hate speeches.

“As watchdog of the society and the ‘fourth estate of realm’, journalists should stem the trend of hate speech but encourage freedom of speech as guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution.”

 Politicians to blame

However, the chairman Nigerian Union of Journalist (NU), Imo state council, Mr Innocent Igwe, observed that the media cannot make hate speech on its own, but report, amplify or disseminate hate speech made by certain persons or politically exposed individuals.

Igwe siad in the process of reporting, the media is blamed for perpetuating, encouraging or promoting hate speeches.

 “Nigerian media space is heating up as hate speeches among politicians and their supporters are taking a skyward move. They are filling the media space with hate speech to paint their opponents negatively and promote their own stand.

“Just like in the run-up to the 2015 elections when hate speech nearly tore the country apart, there is a gradual increase in the level of abuse and tantrum in the media.

“Though the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has said it was stepping up efforts towards ensuring decent broadcasting and fair-play before, during and after the voting period, politicians and their supporters are not relenting in their tirades.

“Verbal and non-verbal communication symbols are already being deployed to promote self-interest and to denigrate opponents. Politicians and their agents are using unethical content in the media and online platforms to bring down their opponents.”

Similarly, the Director, Centre for Democracy (CDD), Dr Idayat Hassan, blamed the political class for majority of incidences of hate speech in the media. Speaking with Blueprint Weekend, she said: “In Nigeria hate speech is seen by supporters, party members and even some candidates as part of the campaign. What they usually think is that in politics, all is fair.

“In the political arena, our political parties don’t have a proper manifesto and clear-cut ideology. This reduces political discourse to non – issues to personality discourse. In such circumstances, personalities are discussed, their characters maligned and personality impugned.

“We are living in democratic times or more appropriately, in a period of democracy consolidation in our country. By its nature, democracy presupposes the vigorous contestation of ideas, by political parties as well as by politicians.”

“I am worried about the level of hate speech in the media. Any peace – loving Nigerian who believes in development will be worried about hate speech. Instead of politicians to use campaigns as avenues of reeling out their achievements or what they intend to do if elected, the rather resort to insults, name calling, black mail while ignoring more important issues .

“First and foremost, the political elite need to realise that the essence of democracy is for the betterment of the people and the nation generally. Engaging in hate speech will create more division and that is why both the people and the politicians must come up with strategies to curb hate speech.”

However, Kawu insists that stations would, henceforth, be held liable for any infractions against the political broadcast code.

“Politicians tend to just say anything on air; they demonize the opponents, they profile them and say the most horrendous things.

“The political parties are not our licensees, so, we cannot hold them liable. However, the TV stations that broadcast the rally live have an obligation. Any station that broadcast live materials that flout the national broadcasting code, will be held liable.

 “They have to get their acts together and begin to discuss with the people who come to pay heavy sum of money to do live broadcast, that there are certain things you cannot say,” he said.

 What exactly is hate speech?

Significantly, the clampdown on the media by NBC has once again brought to the fore the argument as to what exactly constitutes hatespeech.

Barrister Israel Alade an expert on media law told Blueprint Weekend that the NBC should clearly define what they meant by ‘hate’ so that people could understand what it means. He said: “It is important to draw the borders of what can be characterised as  ‘hate speech ‘ as against libel, slander, insults against political leaders, satire, comedic jibes against floundering politicians , anti-government propaganda, legitimate protests against government policies, political dissension either as a group or as individual, and even malevolent wishes against political leaders.

“If history has taught us anything, it is that the government cannot be given freehand to draw the borders of free speech. By setting up units to monitor radio and television commentaries, it will not be unthinkable for them, at some point, to forbid people from protesting the conditions of their oppression.”

 However, Uchenunu said the media “have been guilty of allowing politicians use their platforms to disseminate hate speech since 2015.”

“Hate speeches are materials carefully prepared by politicians to create divisions along various lines. One of the clearest examples of this was the anti-Buhari so-called documentary that was aired by the AIT and NTA in 2015 in which he was presented as religious bigot who hated Christians and southerners.

“Some examples of hate speech that appeared to be spontaneously uttered by politicians during campaign rallies in 2015, which were then aired by the broadcast media; include the call by then first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan for her supporters to stone APC candidates, the call by the Oba of Lagos to drive into the Lagoon (a euphemism for murder) all Igbo who refuse to vote for his candidate, and the call by former governor of Rivers state and current Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, that the APC should be prepared to run a parallel government should the PDP rig the elections.

“In all of these expressions of hate and dangerous speech, the intention of the perpetrators had been not only to divide the people but also to incite one group against another. So, what definition do we need?” he said.

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