The Federal Government has said there was no going back on its move to regulate social media in the country.
As a proof to that, it has contacted the two major social media platforms — Facebook and Google — over the issue.
The government cited recent instances of fake news that made it resolve to go ahead with the plan to ensure that damages were not done to the country through the social media.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, made these known at a news conference in Abuja yesterday.
He also explained why the ministry requires $500 million loan from and tendered an apology to air travellers for the diversion of Lagos-bound flights to neighbouring countries, especially Ghana.
Mohammed said: “We are pushing ahead with our plan to sanitize the social media, working with stakeholders. By March 2, 2020, we will inaugurate a stakeholders committee that will deliberate and recommend the way forward.
“We are also planning a major international conference that will bring together the tech companies, media practitioners, policy makers and others as part of efforts to tackle this growing canker-worm
“Last week, I met with representatives of Google and Facebook for the same purpose. The situation is dire, and no nation that values its peace, security and stability will allow an irresponsible use of the social media.
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“There has been a spike in the dissemination of fake news and the use of disinformation in recent times. This is not accidental: Fake news, disinformation and hate speech have become the weapons of choice to create tension in the polity and destabilise the country.
“And those behind them, the naysayers, are not about to relent. Those behind this campaign of fake news and disinformation have also deployed new tactics, top of which is the recycling old news items and videos.
“For some people, the 2019 elections are not over. They are stuck in the pre-election mode. And they must continue to use these weapons to put Nigeria on edge.”
He described report of plans by the government to float new ‘communication regulations’ aimed at recording all calls, monitoring WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook as “fake.”
Mohammed added: “Another good example is the video of the over 400 young men suspected to be Boko Haram members who were intercepted in Abia State in 2014.
“About two weeks ago, the video came back into circulation, creating panic in the polity. The intention of those behind it is simple: to create tension and panic in the country.’
Other recent instances of fake news, according to the minister, are reports that President Buhari will be travelling to the United Kingdom for 20 days before proceeding to Saudi Arabia and Austria; that the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, was attacked at Rigasa train station in Kaduna and that the Nigerian Air Force killed 250 Boko Haram insurgents.
The minister advised Nigerians “to be circumspect in believing or circulating fake news.”
He also clarified that the $500 million loan being sought from China is not for the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) alone.
Mohammed explained that the loan was for three major projects contrary to the “hysteria” created over it in a section of the media.
A section of the media had reported that the minister, while defending the loan before the National Assembly, said it was for the upgrade of facilities to enable NTA compete with the likes of United State’s Cable News Network (CNN).
His words: “In an era of social media, the real news is usually sacrificed on the altar of sensationalism and disinformation.
“That’s how I will describe the hysteria, in a section of the media, over the reportage of the 500 million dollars loan being sought from China.”
The minister said the loan would be used to construct a headquarters complex and transmission network for Integrated Television Services (ITS), the Federal Government-owned signal distributor and a major component of the country’s Digital Switch over (DSO).
He said the loan would also be used to build an ultra-modern media city in Ikorodu to have, indoor/outdoor shooting area, animation production facility and digital media training centre.
Mohammed said other facilities in the city would include world class cinema, a four-star hotel, an amusement park and amphi-theatre.
The minister said the loan would also be used for the acquisition of digital movie production equipment for rental as well as power system
He disclosed that the media city training academy was only the second of its type in , the first being in Egypt.
Mohammed said the facilities would be used to train Nigerian broadcasters and filmmakers in the production of high quality media content programmes and make Nigeria a hub for digital movie production in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The minister also disclosed that the loan would be used for digitisation of all NTA stations at the headquarters, 12 zonal stations, the 36 states and the FCT as well as 78 community stations.
He said the fund would also be used to upgrade, purchase and install relevant digital TV broadcasting equipment compatible with DSO products and accessories.
Mohammed stressed that the equipment were necessary for the production and broadcast of digital programme contents in addition to provision of power system and manpower training.
The Minister, who apologized to Nigerians on disruption of international flights in Lagos in the last one week, gave insights into technical issues which accounted for the challenges.
He said the two runways at the airport in Lagos have now been calibrated for CAT III ILS and notice sent out to airlines.
The minister said: “Let me apologize to all our citizens and other travellers who have had to endure inconveniences resulting from the diversion of their flights. This is highly regretted.
“I will also like to quickly take us through what caused the problem. In its commitment to passenger safety and security, the Federal Government has recently taken the decision to upgrade the navigational facilities at some major airports across the country.