“Fake news threatens authentic information, investigative reporting”

Part of the World Press Freedom Day 2022 activities included assessing press freedom around the world and defending the media from attack. While identifying fake news and its negative impacts on the practice of journalism and society as a whole, experts during a panel discussion stressed the importance of disseminating accurate, fair and thorough information while avoiding fake news intended to mislead and attract public attention. OZIOMA NGWU Reports

Recently, social media has learned that Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele has been sacked. The alleged news that followed the public outcry over his resignation/sack over his perceived interest in contesting the 2023 presidential election was ultimately proven to be false. The presidency quickly denied having fired him. Situations where fake news articles not only trend, but attract massive traffic online, are now common.

Often this creates enormous responsibilities for the mainstream media, which travels to town to seek out the true position of the issues and re-present them for the benefit of the public. Fake news materials and the threats they pose to the practice of journalism and the general public were among the issues discussed not so long ago at an event that was part of the World Day of Freedom of the Press 2022, organized by the Consulate General of the United States (US) in conjunction with the Media Career Development Network.

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly in December 1993 declared May 3 World Press Freedom Day, following the recommendation of the General Conference of UNESCO. The World Press Freedom Day event held at the Ikeja American Corner in Lagos was themed: “Journalism Under Digital Siege: The Impact of the Digital Age on Freedom of Expression, safety of journalists and access to information”. The conversation touched on many aspects of digital media and their challenges for today’s mainstream media.

Negative impact of bloggers

One of the panelists, Ms. Adesola Ayo-Aderele, former Online and Digital Operations Editor at The Punch, pointed out that bloggers are now working unethically; they just spread news or rumors as content and then the backlash trickles down to mainstream or reputable media. She described this style of distributing unverified reports by many bloggers as unserious and unethical. On the contrary, teachers in mass communication classes and journalism schools point out that ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of accurate, fair and thorough information.

Therefore, an ethical journalist acts with integrity. The company declares these principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media. Applying ethical journalism has been shown to result in the quality information people need to live their lives. If followed accordingly, fake news will not be disseminated as news. Additionally, Ayo-Aderele also highlighted another trend where the female gender is often attacked online. According to her, online media is also used to express comments on a particular/specific news topic.

Other panelists on the program were: Dr. Tunde Akanni, Associate Professor of Journalism and Director of the Center for Digital Media Research at Lagos State University (LASU); Mr. Fisayo Soyombo and the founder of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism; Mr. Kunle Sanyaolu, Editorial Page Editor, The Guardian Newspaper.

Ms. Wemimo Adewuni, a journalist with Nigeria Info 99.3 FM, moderated the conversations. Also, contributing to the discussion, Mr. Sanyaolu focused on why many media stations have online platforms where they post news but do not follow up much. He said follow-ups should be part of the news for the media, especially the print media, which takes a long time to process the news and most of the time it becomes stale during this process.

Sanyaolu therefore advised for follow-up creativity and adaptation analysis to gain new angles for the news, such as trying to find out what happened between when the news broke and the time of its publication. He added that the online space can also help with news to allow the public to get an idea of ​​what it is all about before reading the details of the print or paper version. On his part, Wemimo also noted that citizen journalism is rampant and that followings as well as gaining new angles is the best way to tell a story as there are many platforms disseminating news these days. Additionally, Soyombo spoke about the threat that fake news poses to the real and authentic information of investigative journalists. According to him, allegations of fake news by online users and sometimes government agencies, knowingly or unknowingly, go to great lengths to discredit news by creating traffic and misleading the masses about what is happening in different industries. .

Tough times for journalists

He added that we are in a time where almost all news is considered fake news and it is more difficult now as a journalist to operate in times like this as many agencies now prefer to publish statements or figures that favor them rather than the proper and correct information. The figures. The founder of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, however, urged journalists to always cross-check their facts to avoid disputes.

In addition, Dr Akanni answered a question about the search for journalists through internet spaces, which would seem to make things easier due to the digital age and said that the early years of the internet were exciting as many people relied on the internet for information. thus qualifying it as “technology of freedom”.

He hinted that intelligence must be added to use the Internet. He took the example of Wikipedia, saying it is a reliable tool on the Internet because it is easily editable by anyone using a smartphone or personal computer. Akanni added that journalists need to be skilled enough to determine what kind of information online is correct or useful because most of the time it is not verifiable.

Akanni continued that journalists should know what they want and should have a fair idea of ​​what they need when using the internet, as bloggers have no ethics or guidelines when disseminating information. unlike professionals who have knowledge of access control who should not start from editors alone but journalists too.

The issues of easy access to government statistics, figures and information and their credibility were raised by Wemimo after reading a message from President Muhammadu Buhari to celebrate World Press Freedom Day 2022, considering that most government agencies do not give information freely. In response, Soyombo replied that most of this information is not easily verifiable, as there are many figures from different agencies.

According to him, just as journalists write to inform, agencies write to persuade and therefore write from a favorable angle. According to Ayo-Aderele, when a source responds or does not respond, it is news because it becomes difficult to report the news even if we have information all over the place. She said journalists should be wise when gathering research information. Mr. Akanni added that the government is reluctant to release information and opposes relevant research.

The failure of governments

Governments barely leak information to relevant media outlets, Akanni said. Sanyaolu also reiterated that governments do not appreciate or see the value in giving the right information. He added that journalists should check facts and go out to verify information rather than waiting for government agencies. He also advised practitioners to be careful when looking for information.

The panelists advised everyone in the media space to verify information and avoid reporting rumors and fake news. While confirming the importance of verification, Amarachi Ubani of Channels Television said journalists should verify information before reporting it. Wemimo added that the urgency to break the news often helps kill the news.

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