Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara, has charged journalists to consciously desist from promoting reports that will lead to hate speech, adding that while the press must be given all necessary freedom to carry out its functions, care must be taken to ensure that it is not abused.
Speaking at the inauguration of the new executive members of the House of Representatives Press Corps in the National Assembly, he also challenged journalists to always be objective and uphold the truth in discharging their functions and avoid disseminating fake news.
“The truth is that no institution that suffers from public scorn will be very effective. The endeavour from outside has been to portray to the National Assembly, this great institution of our democracy, as everything that is wrong with our democratic practice,” he said.
“You are taking leadership at a time that the truth is very scarce; the truth is a scarce commodity. This is an era that is known as the post truth era. As a matter of fact, any report that does not fit into certain narrative, that does not promote certain vested interest, is regarded as fake news. So, to be able to draw the line between fake news and real news these days is extremely difficult,” he charged them.
He added, “Democracy thrives on the culture of conflict and that is why nobody should be encouraged to embark on censorship. Whatever it is that we do as an arm of government should not be hidden from the public. They should know, so that people can scrutinise the activities of their representatives in government, ask questions and where they must disagree, they should be free to disagree because it is in the process of disagreeing that the truth is unveiled. Without the truth, everything loses its essence, as a matter of fact, we cannot make progress.
“Democracies that are noisy are healthy; but there is a distinction between noise that leads to hatred that incites people to violence and some kind of noise that leads to debate. One that incites people to violence is called hate speech and the one that encourages debate is called free speech. So, we must draw this line, this very, very thick line. When our society is charged on account of needless killings, violence, kidnapping and sundry acts of insecurity perpetuated, you must draw the distinction between hate speech and free speech. And even in your reportage, try to confine yourself to the service to democracy with speeches that encourage only debates, rather than propagate hatred.”
Going further, he urged them to promote the importance of the parliament in a democratic system of government such as Nigeria’s, saying while the press should not hide happenings in the parliament from the public, care must be taken to also report the positive achievements of the parliament alongside the unpleasant in order not to create a negative image of the National Assembly to the public.