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August 19, 2018

The Freedom Of Expression, Internet Content Restrictions, Jurisdiction, Law And Politics (1)

The Emergence and Proscription of the Indigenous People of Biafra
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You are welcome to an argument in which perhaps your views are likely to be ignored or irrelevant unless it agrees with what I h

ave to say; that the freedom of expression is an inalienable constitutional right that no law can take away without adverse consequences to society.

In recent times, the local media was on fire with the news of a law in the pipeline by the National Assembly to restrict internet content and punishing offenders for purported infringements. No doubt we are fast approaching an era of criminal libel to protect the best wishes of elected and or public office holders from ‘false’ accusation.

This politically motivated law if passed and assented will restrict the constitutional guarantee of the freedom of expression and the dissemination of information freely online in Nigeria where it has aggravated individual and public sensitivity. Those deeply affected by the upcoming threats are media organizations, journalists, online publishers; social media users, Bloggers; and those deeply rooting for the new law who are mainly the vibrant enigmatic Nigerian political class, public officials and the rogue priviledgentsia, afraid of the written truth or speculations about their activities.

They believe that their criminal activities and subjugation of our people’s rights should be beyond revelation, speculation, discussion, analysis, condemnation, vilification, accusations, and public judgment especially on the internet which is a browser away on every handset rendering a sphere of globalised audience.

The internet has become a forceful revolutionary information cyber park which has improved public enlightenment and has become a threat to despots, dictators and corrupt public officials including the priviledgentsia and those who aspire to degrade the dignity of the human person and keep us mute in slavery.

What they do not want is an enlightened mass that demand for their rights and are guided to challenge the status quo and the thickening miasma of political banditry and organized plunder of the common purse. Their target is to silence the mass media, many of which are engaged in self censorship and afraid to publish the truth .

The concept of media regulation is not only common to African countries. In every country of the world, journalists have not advocated for absence of regulation but acceptable standards of regulation which would not stultify freedom of expression or create arbitrary, pervasive or selective censorship.

According to a source, Under the European Union, “The national models of media regulation across Europe vary significantly, from models of self-regulation to statutory regulation. These models of regulation can impact negatively on freedom of expression through the application of unnecessary sanctions, the regulator’s lack of independence from politicians and laws that create a burdensome environment for online media. Statutory regulation of the print and broadcast media is increasingly anachronistic, raising questions over how the role of journalist or broadcaster should be defined and resulting in a general and increasing confusion about who should be covered by these regulatory structures, if at all. Frameworks that outline laws on defamation and privacy and provide public interest and opinion defences for all would provide clarity for all content producers.’

The source continues, “ In the majority of countries, the broadcast media is regulated by a statutory regulator (due to a scarcity of analogue frequencies that required arbitration in the past), yet, often, the print media is also regulated by statutory bodies, including in Slovenia, Lithuania, Italy; or regulated by specific print media laws and codes, for example in Austria, France, Sweden and Portugal…. many EU member states have systems of media regulation that are overly restrictive and fail to protect freedom of expression.”

The spectacular difference that makes the Nigerian regulation undesirable is because Nigeria is a very corrupt country where nothing works including the system of law enforcement and justice. It would be anarchical to regulate the freedom of expression in a manner to promote silence and self censorship in servitude.

In Nigeria, the degrading of the rights of expression have been expressly threatened by a proposed legislation to check the freedom of expression online and offline. This is a legislative regulation with sanctions targeted at the restriction of content and adverse comments against elected and public officers and in particular members of the National assembly who have repeatedly come under public criticisms.

According, to a report: “The Nigerian Senate, on Thursday, hit back at critics of a proposed law which sets out heavy sanctions for people who “falsely” criticise public officials or institutions.

The bill, sponsored by Bala Ibn Na’allah, a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress from Kebbi State, has been widely criticised, and is seen as not only a significant clampdown on freedom of speech, but a deliberate targeting of critics of federal lawmakers and the National Assembly.

Nigerian lawmakers frequently come under the media spotlight because of the huge salaries they draw with relatively little output.

Mr. Na’allah’s bill, titled “A Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other Matters Connected therewith” seeks to compel critics to accompany their petitions with sworn court affidavit, or face six months imprisonment upon conviction.

The bill says, “Not withstanding anything contained in any law, it shall be unlawful to submit any petition, statement intended to report the conduct of any person for the purpose of an investigation, inquiry and or inquest without a duly sworn affidavit in the High Court of a state or the Federal High Court confirming the content to be true and correct and in accordance with the Oaths Act.

“Any petition and or complains not accompanied by a sworn affidavit shall be incompetent and shall not be used by any government institution, agency or bodies established by any law for the time being enforced in Nigeria.

“Any person who unlawfully uses, publishes or cause[sic] to be published, any petition, complaint not supported by a duly sworn affidavit, shall be deemed to have committed an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for six months without an option of fine.”

Even the proposed Bill is framed in bad grammar but not its effect on journalists which remains clear and punitive.

The proposed Bill states: “Any person who acts, uses, or cause to be used any petition or complaints not accompanied by duly sworn affidavit shall be deemed to have committed an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for a term of two years or a fine of N2000000.00 or both.

The proposed Bill also provides, “Where any person in order to circumvent this law makes any allegation and or publish any statement, petition in any paper, radio, or any medium of whatever description, with malicious intent to discredit or set the public against any person, or group of persons, institutions, of government, he shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction shall be to an imprisonment term of two years or a fine of N4,000000.00.


 

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