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An investigation of public perception on the role of mass media in reportage of the hate speech bill in nigeria

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY

Although, as societies evolve, this innermost yearning has more frequently been faced with repressive tendencies in the shape of harsh laws, expulsion, physical torture, and so on meted out by the ruling class, man has remained fearless in his pursuit of free expression of views (Layefa and Johnson, 2016). According to Oloyede (2008), despite the peerless usefulness and unique indispensability of free speech and press freedom to the proper and progressive functioning of society, many repressive and fascist governments, as well as numerous nefarious groups and institutions, and diabolical individuals, continue to harass, maltreat, victimize, terrorize, imprison, and persecute the noble institutions. Indeed, despite the ominous dangling of the sword of repression, torture, and death, among other things, against free speech and free press, man continues unafraid in his pursuit of the same, much to the dismay of opponents of free speech.

Democracy is often regarded as the most popular form of governance on the planet. It is widely regarded as the government of the people, for the people, and by the people. According to Obasanjo and Mabgunje (1992), as cited in Ogah and Ogeyni (2014), democracy as an ideology is the governance philosophy that places a high value on citizens’ basic freedom or fundamental human rights, rule of law, the right to property, the free flow of information, and the right to choose between alternative political positions. Simply defined, democracy is a political system in which the people have sovereignty rather than a tiny clique or oligarchy, and where the rule of law, majority rule, and constitutionalism are essential guiding principles of governance. In this context, Ramaswamy (2007) proposed that democracy meant rule by the people as opposed to rule by one person or a group. He went on to argue that, unlike other systems such as monarchy, dictatorship, or oligarchy, where there is a separation between the ruler and the ruled, it is the people who are both rulers and rule.

Nigeria became a member of the League of Democratic Nations in 1999. One of the defining characteristics of a real democracy is freedom. The ability to be free is most evident in one’s ability to express oneself freely without fear of bodily or psychological repercussions (by the government or otherwise). The boundaries of freedom of expression have grown more pliable. This might be ascribed to globalization, which has physically eliminated all boundaries and is mostly driven by the internet. The internet has revolutionized freedom of expression, which was formerly restricted to the boundaries of television, radio, and print media, among other things. Today, we have social media, which allows individuals or groups to sit in the comfort of their bedrooms or offices and, with the click of a mouse or the tap of a screen, express themselves freely to millions of other users who are not bound by the physically defined borders and boundaries of countries or regions (Joel, 2013).

However, freedom of expression and press is the right to say anything one wants, subject to the repercussions of the law as the case may be; which laws in a constitutional democracy must be fair and fairly justiciable. Thus, liberty or freedom of expression and the press refers to two distinct concepts. These include imposing no previous constraint on publishing and press liberty; this implies putting no prior limit on what to publish or not publish. There should be no prior publication reprimand. Everyone has the freedom to express his or her feelings, facts, information, or publications to the public. To deny this right is to undermine freedom of expression and the press (Joel, 2013).

Nigerians were recently informed that the Senate was considering a highly contentious law. Senator Aliyu Sabin Abdullahi, head of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, is the primary proponent of the proposed bill, dubbed the Hate Speech Bill. According to its Senate sponsor, the Hate Speech Bill aims to eradicate hate speech and prevent harassment based on ethnicity, religion, or race, among other things. It imposes harsh punishments for offenses such as ethnic hate. It says that anybody who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, furnishes, distributes, and/or directs the performance of any written or visual material that is threatening, abusive, or insulting, or involves the use of threatening, abusive, or insulting language, commits an offense (Punch, 2018).

If that isn’t enough to scare you, the penalty for these offenses include a five-year prison sentence, a N10 million fine, or both. The prescription for the death sentence, if any type of hate speech results in the death of another person, tops it all off (Punch, 2018).

Hate speeches are utterances, written papers, advertorials, musicals, or any other kind of writing meant to criticize an individual, a group – religious, social, political, or business – gender, or race. In certain nations, hate speech can be prosecuted as sedition, incitement to violence, verbal abuse, and other offenses (Fasakin, Oyero, Oyesomi, and Okorie, 2017). According to Ezeibe (2015), hate speech is any statement, gesture, behaviour, writing, or exhibition that might encourage others to violent or prejudiced action. In essence, such remarks deprive others of their dignity.

In general, the definition of hate speech is broad, perhaps include comments that are disparaging to those in authority or minority groups, or degrading to people who are particularly conspicuous in society. During important periods, such as election campaigns, hate speech may be manipulated; accusations of supporting hate speech can be exchanged among political opponents or used by those in power to suppress dissent and criticism (Ezeibe, 2015).

The spreading of hate speech and filthy language is a recent trend in the country’s media misconduct. Indeed, the press fell into the trap of covering hate speech by directly citing from interviews, press releases, advertorials, and, in some cases, claimed internet sources. A case in point is the 2015 general elections, when popular Nigerian media outlets such as AIT, Channels, This Day, Vanguard, and The Nation, among others, were flooded with campaigns by various political parties displaying blatant abuse of the right to free expression, including hate speech and other types of foul language (Olowojolu 2016).

While conventional media continues to combat hate speech, the development of new media has widened the battleground in the hate speech story. Because of its decentralized, anonymous, and participatory nature, new media provides an excellent platform for quickly adapting and spreading diverse statements and harsh language. In Nigeria, the frequency of harsh speech and bad language on social media encroaching on political and national problems, as well as social contact, is growing concerning, particularly on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. This is due to the fact that it contributes to disaffection among tribes, political classes, and religions, as well as among friends in society (Alakali, Faga and Mbursa, 2017).

While some argue that the desire to criminalize hate speech violates citizens’ rights to free expression protected by the Constitution, others argue that hate speech is not free speech and that criminalizing it would not impinge on citizens’ rights to free expression in any manner. Instead, criminalizing hate speech is more akin to making individuals accountable for freely stated opinions, promoting accountability in communication (Alakali, Faga and Mbursa, 2017). The purpose of this study is to investigate Nigerians’ perceptions of the Hate Speech Bill and its impact on freedom of expression in Nigeria, utilizing inhabitants of Akungba Akoko as a case study.

1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

Political participation in Nigeria has been hampered by the ubiquitous threat of hate speech, disinformation, and false news since the establishment of the country’s fourth republic. The practice, which has now become a standard service in media outlets as recognized by Nigerians and the government, is concerning. It should be noted that hate speech and fake news, if not checked, are tools of social disorder within the environment. Given the potency of these social evil twins, scholars (Allcott, and Gentzkow, 2017, Neisser, 1994,  Adisa, et al. 2017), were of the opinion that deviance from societal values and goals caused more dangers and impediments to social tranquillity. This is considered to be anti-social ideals and standards. The tendency of hate speeches and fake news directed mostly towards the presidential candidates of the two main political parties (PDP and APC) during the electioneering for the 2015 presidential election was very concerning. There has never been a more spectacular compilation of hate speech in Nigerian electoral history. This was not just a technique for influencing voters’ voting decisions during the election, but it was also a necessary plan to dislodge and capture future votes.

As Adisa et al. (2017) pointed out, social media, unlike the conventional media, is recognized to be held to rigors of truth, fact-checking, and fairness, among other things, because of its valued texture in a social fabric. Unfortunately, its salience to societal progress and tranquility has been harmed by profits and illegal perks. Traditional media, as well as social media, are assisting in the propagation of distorted and unsubstantiated speeches coordinated by politicians and friends (Kayambazinthu and Moyo, 2002). There is little question that the resurgence of self-government, as well as increased incidents of racial and religious strife, can all be traced back to the growing epidemic of hate speech and disinformation. These had undoubtedly ingrained certain attitudes and views among Nigerians in a polyglot culture. It is now a worry as to what hate speech and false news imply to Nigerians, as well as who is to blame for the development of hate speech and fake news in the Nigerian environmental scene. The entire meaning, perception, and impact of hate speech and disinformation on Nigerians’ freedom of expression and association.

1.3 OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY

The major objective of this study is to investigate public perception on the role of mass media in reportage of the hate speech bill in Nigeria

  1. To determine how Nigerians perceive newspaper reportage on hate speech bill.
  2. To determine the effects of lack of coverage by newspapers on the hate speech bill.
  3. To investigate the role of the mass media particularly newspapers in reporting on the hate speech bill.

1.4 RESEARCH QUESTIONS

  1. How do Nigerians perceive newspaper reportage on hate speech bill?
  2. Whatare the effects of lack of news paper coverage on the hate speech bill?
  3. Whatis the role of the mass media particularly newspapers in reporting on the hate speech bill?

1.5 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY

This study will be significant as it will bring awareness on the role of mass media particularly newspapers in reporting on the hate speech bill in Nigeria. This study will be useful to the media in assisting them recognize their importance in disseminating information about the hate speech bill.

1.6 SCOPE OF THE STUDY

This study will only cover Abuja, Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) to be precise as the whole of Nigeria cannot be sampled for this study. This study will look into how Nigerians perceive social media reportage on hate speech bill as well as the effects of lack of coverage on the hate speech bill by the mass media and the role of the mass media in reportage of the hate speech bill.

1.7 LIMITATION OF THE STUDY

This study was limited to FCT Abuja, Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) to be precise. The findings of this study will be limited to this particular location and only applicable to this area. The researcher also faced some form of financial constraints in the execution of this study which led to a delay in the completion of the study. The study is also limited to three newspapers; The Vanguard, The Punch and This Day newspapers.

1.8 DEFINITION OF TERMS

  1. HATE SPEECH:Simply refers to any abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.
  2. MASS MEDIA:Mass media refers to a diverse array of media technologies that reach a large audience via mass communication. The technologies through which this communication takes place include a variety of outlets. Broadcast media transmit information electronically via media such as films, radio, recorded music, or television.

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