Govt mustn’t deprive citizens of free speech just to control fake news – Gbajabiamila


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The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila says controlling the spread of fake news should not be enough justification to deprive citizens of their rights to free speech.

However, he cautioned Nigerians against spreading fake news due to its devastating effects on nation-building.

Gbajabiamila gave the advice at a two-day National Conference on Information organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values in Abuja on Thursday.

The speaker also charged leaders and followers in the country to combat fake news to keep the unity of the country.

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He said that technology tools have made information gathering and dissemination cheaper and faster than it has ever been in the history of the world.

According to him, citizens all over have become broadcasters and publishers capable of influencing the opinions of many from the quiet of their enclaves.

“Nigeria is with diverse cultures and religions, still working towards achieving a more perfect union, hate speech and other forms of misinformation and disinformation can quickly have a devastating real-world effect.

“Therefore, countering misinformation by whatever proper and legal means available is not a theoretical question but a responsibility that goes to the heart of our ability to continue to exist as one nation in peace, unity and prosperity.

“Let us all be aware that in trying to prevent the worst consequences of misinformation and hate speech, there is a danger of going too far in ways that smother the marketplace of ideas and deprive citizens of their free speech rights.

“That would be most unfortunate, and as leaders and government policymakers, we must avoid that outcome by all means,” he said.

He added:“To do that, we must also focus on building legal systems and protocols that support free expression and robust public debate .

”Whilst holding to account those who in service of their narrow interests will seek to subvert our societies and harm our country using choreographed and mischievously curated misinformation.”

The speaker said that information management was central to defeating insecurity and safeguarding the country.

“Our laws, systems and practices, and the policies that guide our strategies for information management were written for a world that no longer exists.

“Unfortunately, from the government to the private sector around the globe, there has been failure to recognise this and reluctance to act to fix the problems it portends.

“This is a grave error for us in Nigeria, a country with a dark and documented history of expensive and deadly conflicts considering the faultiness that exist in our society,” he said.

Gbajabiamila, however, commended the committee for organising the conference and drawing

the attention of critical stakeholders on the need to ensure proper management of information.

Earlier, Rep. Olusegun Odebunmi (APC-Oyo) the Chairman, House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values, said that the importance of information management to national development cannot be overemphasised.

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