By Sekyen Dadik
As Nigerians go through the 2015 general elections, one issue that has lingered which no doubt has a devastating effect not just for the elections but after the elections is the prevalence of hate speech.
Though this was experienced during and after the 2011 general elections with its resultant effect manifesting in the post election violence that followed, little was done to check mate such, neither was any culprit brought to book.
Hence, the 2015 electioneering campaign were largely characterized by hate speeches largely by politicians and media outfits. It has become so prevalent that it is uncertain if there is any Nigerian completely free from this ill.
From ‘comments’ on social media platforms to one on one discussions on ethnic, political and religious issues and also provocative statements in the media by political, community, ethnic and religious leaders, it has become clear that hate speech is gradually becoming a menace in the society.
This results to bitterness, discrimination, harassment and violence as well as harmful criminal acts. Consequently, there is hardly any hate-motivated violent attack on any group without hate speech and the hatred it spews as a contributing factor.
Thus, it has become imperative for all stakeholders involved to effectively play their part in ensuring a violent free election by saying no to all provocative statements and campaigns in the media; considering its tendency to heighten ethnic, political and religious intolerance, thereby threatening our peaceful coexistence as a nation as was witnessed in the 2011 general elections.
It was in response to this that the Africa Media Development Foundation (AMDF), a non-profit Media and Communication Development Organization committed to developing the media and journalists in Africa organized a one day Media Clinic for Media Executives, Reporters, Religious Leaders, Civil Society Organizations and Development Partners among others, to x-ray the issue of ‘Hate speech’ in the Nigerian Media.
The meeting was aimed at creating awareness on dangers of hate speech in the media; identifying ways of minimizing hate speech and calling on the media to wake up to its social responsibility to the society and censor materials that will incite or promote hate.
Presenting a paper on ‘Effects of Hate Speech on the Society’, the Executive Director of Aid Foundation, Mr. Emmanuel Bonet, noted that Hate speech is any speech, gesture, conduct, writing or display that could incite people to violence or damaging actions.
The effect of such, he says, begins with bitterness, avoidance and then it results to violence. He also pointed out the different stages of hate speech to include: Normal speech; Avoidance of people whom hate speech is directed at; Physical Attack and Extermination.
Bonet decried the way attention is not given to the consequences of hate speech and maintained that “it is time to look at the dying consequences of hate speech before it gets out of hand”. He added that `if truly the media sets the agenda; it should truly come up with ideas to make things work’.
One of the Panelists, Mr. Joseph Edegbo, a Media Manager berated the regulatory agencies, NBC, APCON and NPC for being silent while the issue of hate speech lingers in the media.
He called on the regulatory bodies to wake up to their responsibility and also enjoined Journalist to carefully select and sieve their messages before giving it out to the public if they are to ensure the development of democracy in Nigeria.
In his remarks, the representative of the Head of Department Mass Communication, Kaduna Polytechnic, Mal. Ahmed Sa’id lamented the use of hate speeches in the media, adding that issues of hate speech concerns stakeholders in the academia more than the politicians.
He maintained that being gatekeepers provide them an opportunity to interface within the phenomenon of hate speech, hence their desire to harness every measure possible to see what needs to be done to critically reverse the situation which he attributed to an institutional failure.
Participants also noted with dismay the use of the various platforms of the social media in fanning hate speeches, which was largely blamed on the collapse of our social values.
Consequently, participants at the meeting came up with resolutions as a wake-up call to all media and non-media actors to effectively play their role and restore sanity in media messages and reportage:
1. We encourage citizens to test the laws and seek redress over libel and defamation in court to serve as deterrent to future occurrences.
2. There is a need for value re-orientation specifically to checkmate hate speech in the social media, we therefore call on agents of social change (parents, Schools, community and religious bodies) to inculcate good morals in their wards.
3. We call on media and non media actors to enlighten people on the long term consequences of hate speech.
4. The media managers should ensure maintenance of ethics and standards of the profession.
5. Religious leaders should ensure balanced dissemination of information to their followers and also ensure unity among different sects in our religions.
6. AMDF should partner CSOs and other organizations that have understanding of legal and institutional frameworks to ensure regulatory bodies (NBC, APCON, NPC) play their roles effectively without bias.