Social Media: Osinbajo, MFWA Chair Counsel Against Regulation

Social Media: Osinbajo, MFWA Chair Counsel Against Regulation

…Fear It May Lead to Infraction on People’s Right to Information …Want a More Discreet Approach to Posts that Could Cause Violence, Conflicts The Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, has counsel against the regulation of the social media by government, saying it is not necessarily the way to go. This is coming few days after the

…Fear It May Lead to Infraction on People’s Right to Information

…Want a More Discreet Approach to Posts that Could Cause Violence, Conflicts

The Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, has counsel against the regulation of the social media by government, saying it is not necessarily the way to go. This is coming few days after the out-gone Chairperson, Board of Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Mr Edetaen Ojo expressed fears that regulation of the social media may lead to infraction on the right to information.

Osinbajo, who spoke at an inter-faith tolerance dialogue organised by the United Arab Emirate (UAE) in Abuja, however cautioned Nigerians against the abuse of social media, noting that it can precipitate war and violent conflict, if used to misinform.

The Vice President specifically warned against using social media platforms to promote religious disinformation, which he said could easily lead to a breakdown of law and order.

Calling on religious leaders to go beyond talking about tolerance to making sacrifices that were required, Osinbajo said: “As religious leaders and media personalities, also as people of faith in general, we share a common calling to apprehend the truth. We absolutely need to be careful in our use of social media and if we do not want to promote the kind of conflict that can go completely out of hand, we must be sure that we are policing and regulating ourselves, especially, with social media.

“I don’t think that government regulation is necessarily the way to go, but I believe that we as persons of faith and we, as leaders, and those of us who use the social media actively owe a responsibility to our society and to everyone else, to ensure that we don’t allow it to become an instrument of conflict and instrument of war,” Osinbajo says.

While speaking at the recently concluded West Africa Media Excellence Conference and Awards (WAMECA) held in Accra, Ghana, Mr Ojo says, “It seems to me that given the present state of the jurisprudence in the area of freedom of expression, it is unlikely that we will ever be able to legitimately and legally regulate social media in order to guarantee the truthfulness of the information shared or distributed on social media platforms.”

As the Inter-American Court held many years ago in the Schmidt case, he further explains, “A system that controls the right of expression in the name of a supposed guarantee of the correctness and truthfulness of the information that society receives can be the source of great abuse and, ultimately, violates the right to information that this same society has. ”

Ojo, who recently stepped down as chairperson of the board of MFWA after six years on the saddle, concedes that “Social media, on the other hand, is a free for all. It has no guiding principles; there are no professional standards to guide users and we really have no assurance or guarantee that we will find the truth or even a semblance of the truth in that stratosphere of communications.”

The antidote to the nuances of the social media, he argues, can be countered by commitment to professional journalism. “By strengthening professional journalism to improve content production and ensure better distribution of their content, we can provide the public with reliable sources of news and information and thereby mitigate the negative effects of fake news and false information shared and distributed through unregulated social media platforms.”

Akin to some different strokes, Ms Jean Mensah, chairperson, Electoral Commission of Ghana says the social media has been extremely beneficial to the work of the Commission.

“Social media has made it possible for us to reach our targeted audience with our messages. It has reduced the cost of information. Unlike before when you have to hold press conferences at every turn, all we do now is to put our press releases on our platform and the media will hook on. It has allowed us to inform the citizenry on extensive voter education.”

Although she says, “We’ve received our share of fake news either to malign members of the Commission or undermine our work,” Ms Mensah disclosed that her Commission has a team that “responds timely on what we do as a way of countering any false information.”

Aligning with this view, Mr Ahmed Newton Barry, Chairperson, Electoral Commission of Burkina Faso contends that “Social media has become indispensable since the people have embraced it” but says “We have not seriously educated our people on the use of social media.”

“As an extension of freedom of speech, we support the social media but it does not respect the ethics of journalism profession. We have a problem with total mismanagement of communication. It’s important we understand that the social media cannot replace the work of the traditional media,” Barry says.

Mr Ojo, also executive director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), a leading media rights advocacy group, is however more concerned by the increasing restriction on media freedom in many countries in Africa including Nigeria where the clampdown on journalists has become rife.

“Another issue, which I would like to put on the table for consideration, is how we can better protect media freedom and freedom of expression in our region.  In recent times, there has been a noticeable regression or rolling back of the progress that has been made in the last few decades. 

“In my country, Nigeria, the onslaught on the media and on journalists has been relentless and we are now routinely assaulted with images of journalists in handcuffs, charged with treason and terrorism for simply doing their jobs and treated worse than the actual terrorists.

“This situation will gradually spread across the region given the tendencies of our governments to share “worst practices” and borrow ideas from each other about how to repress their citizens.

“Given the loss of global leadership from western countries in the promotion and defence of freedom of expression, our governments are largely free from the fear that they will be challenged internationally for their negative human rights practices and some of them are becoming quite lawless.

“We must come up with countervailing measures to respond to this new reality, otherwise we are soon likely to witness democratic regression in our region or even across the continent, especially when you consider other legislative measures and administrative practices that our governments are adopting to shrink civic space in many countries” Ojo says. 

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