Experts and scholars have tasked journalists to lead the fight against fake news in Nigeria by deploying the tools available to them, including professionalism, ethics, and technology. They spoke at a workshop on Misinformation, Politics and the Economy at the School of Media and Communication, Pan Atlantic University, Lagos on Thursday, January 31, 2019.
The Centre for Leadership in Journalism of the School of Media and Communication (SMC) organised the workshop in collaboration with the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Speaking on a “Brief on preparations for the 2019 General Elections and the role of the media, Oluwole Osaze Uzzi, INEC Director of Voter Education affirmed that the electoral body is ready. He said INEC had accomplished 12 of 14 tasks it outlined as the roadmap to the elections commencing on February 16.
According to the INEC Director, the 2019 elections would feature 91 political parties, and 84million voters balloting in 1, 568 constituencies. There are 8809 registration areas or wards, 119, 973 polling units. Voters would have 57, 023 voting points.
Roles for the media, in INEC’s view, are providing information and awareness to citizens, voter education and enlightenment, and mobilisation through serving as platforms for national discourse. The media also need to serve as gatekeepers who hold players in the political system accountable while setting agendas.
Dean of the School of Media and Communication, Dr Ikechukwu Obiaya, asserted that control is at the heart of the challenge of misinformation, politics and the economy. He said the School of Media & Communications considered it a social responsibility to contribute to the discourse on the challenge of misinformation in Nigeria and how to tackle it. Citizens deserve correct and right information as the bases for their decisions in all spheres of life.
Mr Ayinde Soule-Kohndou, First Secretary Economic Affairs of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands said the Netherlands appreciates the challenges and remains focused on collaborations to ensure an enabling environment for economic productivity in Nigeria. He was satisfied with the participation at the event.
Mrs Ijeoma Onyeator, an adjunct lecturer at the SMC and Channels TV anchor, urged professionals and their platforms to look beyond the social media which is the major area of disinformation. She noted the emerging conflicts of interpretations regarding fake news that some try to present as alternative facts. Onyeator said media platforms must note the change from “gatekeeping” to the “gate watcher process” whereby even the media are constantly under surveillance by citizens. She asked platforms to monitor themselves in the era of social to ensure that what they give out meets professional standards. Onyeator asserted that in the social media age, one way to combat fake news would be collaborative gatekeeping. “Collaborative gatekeeping involves mainstream journalists incorporating alternative voices and perspectives, but only after the requisite tests for the principles of journalism”.
BusinessDay senior editorial executive Mr Vincent Nwanma affirmed that misinformation is particularly significant and harmful in the case of the economy and the capital market. Noting that “news moves the financial markets”, Nwanma said that risk pricing is the basis for resource allocation. He said that wrong information creates a misallocation of assets and resources and this could endanger people’s lives, assets and reputations.
Values should be the underpinning for personal and professional ethics for journalists, according to Barrister Tomi Vincent of the SMC. Vincent said journalists should observe professional ethics but go beyond that to ensure that their ethics are not situational but anchored on values. He asserted that “professional ethics are anchored on the values that drive individuals while those values are the core foundations of the moral stance of individuals”.
CLEJ Director and Fellow of the SMC Dr Richard Ikiebe emphasised the importance of equipping citizens with media literacy being the ability to access and consume media messages critically.
Chido Nwakanma, Adjunct at SMC and president of the Nigeria chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), said journalists should activate the tools in the armoury of journalism to tackle fake news. These include the principles of verification, the purpose and practice of journalism, and adherence to the laws and canons undergirding professional practice. Laws that guide practice include the law of defamation, the Cybercrimes Act, the Copyright Act and laws on privacy, obscene and harmful publications, the Matrimonial Causes Act as well as the Children and Young Persons Law.
Twenty three journalists from broadcast, print, online and news agency practice participated in the workshop.