THE Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has described the Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries introduced by the Nigerian government as an attempt to regulate the social media through the backdoor.
The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) had while announcing the development of the Code of Practice said was based on a directive by President Muhammadu Buhari.
NITDA also explained that the development of the Code of Practice was in accordance with its mandate to standardize, coordinate and develop regulatory frameworks for all information technology practices in Nigeria.
However, in a statement dated June 14 and signed by the Programme Director, Ayode Longe, MRA accused the Federal Government of trying to regulate social media and other online platforms through the backdoor.
MRA said the development would breach the constitutional rights of Nigerians.
The statement said, “The Federal Government is clearly attempting to circumvent the legislative process in favour of a backdoor approach to regulate social media and other Internet platforms. It is curious that the Government has chosen to use an administrative document to surreptitiously create criminal offences as the document states unequivocally that any platform or internet intermediary responsible for violating its provisions will be liable to prosecution and conviction.”
The Media Rights Agenda further noted that the Federal Government is planning to muffle the right to freedom of expression online, adding that the use of the term “Code of Practice” was an attempt to deceive Nigerians and make them believe that it is seeking to protect them.
“The name is problematic. Although it is termed a code of practice, it is in fact not intended to provide guidance for the implementation of any specific law or regulation. Rather, it creates criminal offences which are not contained in any existing Law and attempts to legitimize them by a vague reference to its enabling Act and other laws, which is beyond the remit of any such administrative document,” the statement added.
MRA described the reasons for many of the provisions in the document as unrealistic, noting that the requirement that platforms take down “unlawful content” within 24 hours after receiving a notice or complaint from any authorized government agency constitutes an attempt by the Federal Government to control content published on social media and other online platforms while bypassing the judicial process that defines the content that is illegal or unlawful.
“In today’s globalised world, is it possible or realistic to expect global Internet platforms like Facebook, Twitter and others to register with the government of every country in the world where they have users and set up offices in all those countries, which is the implication of the Federal Government’s demand? Conversely, Nigeria’s external broadcaster, the Voice of Nigeria, broadcasts its signal and content to dozens of countries around the world and runs a website that is accessible globally; is it registered and does it have offices in all the countries where its signals are received as Nigeria is now demanding of platforms registered in other countries?,” MRA asked.
The MRA called on the government to abandon the “Code of Practice” and present an appropriate bill to the National Assembly to address legitimate issues rather than violating the rights of Nigerians and other members of the public on the pretext of protecting them from fake news and misinformation.