SPECIAL REPORT: Battle against fake news: Why the war may remain unwinnable

AUSTIN OYIBODE, EDITOR

Media practitioners and other stakeholders in the Nigeria project have said that following the growth of technology and the ability to possess smart phones, the battle against fake and unverifiable news may remain unwinnable. While it remains unwinnable, it has caused much disaster to nations and individuals across socio-political and economic divides.

Emerging facts have shown that great destructions and disaffections have been caused and political fortunes battered following the spread of fake news which prior to discovering it is fake news, much calamity has been done.

Investigations revealed that the spread of fake news became prominent in Nigeria from 2015 when the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) took over the government from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Aides of politicians from the two major political parties, in a bid to outsmart the other and earn public sympathy on one side and cause disaffection to the other, began the spread of fake news.

It was also heavily prominent in the heydays of the pro-Biafran groups led by secessionist leader, Nnamdi Kanu. It was one of the biggest weapons used by the group to promote its agenda and cause disaffection for the federal government under President Muhammadu Buhari.

Consequently, the fight against fake news formed the fulcrum of the two-day convention organized by the Delta online publishers’ forum (DOPF), an association of Delta online newspaper publishers held in Asaba, the Delta state capital on Wednesday November 7, 2018.

Professor Abigail Ogwezzy-Ndisika of the department of Mass Communication in University of Lagos, who took the lead paper presentation, warned against the spread of fake news, insisting that its effect in nation building could be catastrophic.

This, according to her, is why the Nigerian minister of information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has been on his toes, calling for an end to the spread of fake news among Nigerians and especially citizen journalists and some unscrupulous online media organisations.

Speaking on curbing fakes: the role of online news media, Professor Ogwezzy highlighted the role of the online media in the war against fake news as the 2019 elections gather momentum.

She agreed that the online media has grown with the aid of technology, adding that everyone has the power to be a content creator, publisher and consumer at the same time.

She said: “The desire to be the first to break the news on face book, twitter or on other online platforms without first confirming has been the bane of the era we live in. Some have created online platforms in order to make money through click baits and other nefarious reasons. As the country gears towards another electoral season, we, as stakeholders in the media industry, must be on guard.

“I strongly believe that fake news is a threat to our cyberspace. To me, fakes should have no place to thrive. The damage it does far outweighs its advantages, if there is any. Therefore, there must be a mechanism through which fakes are eliminated. Stakeholders in the media industry must stop at nothing to ensure that truth prevails.”

The event which drew stakeholders from all fields including human right, the judiciary, academia, religion and others had a session devoted to panel discussion where experts from various fields made submissions on fake news and its concomitant effects on nation building.

The panelists involved the erudite Professor Ogwezzy-Ndisika, Ugwumadu Malachy, national president of committee for the defense of human rights; Dr. Newman Richards, secretary of the NBA Asaba branch; and Dr. Sunny Ekakitie of the department of Business Administration of Delta state university, Abraka.

Ugwumadu in his submission, blamed journalists for the spread of fake news, saying some journalists are bent on ensuring their news sells with the statement ‘if it does not smell, it doesn’t sell’ adding that wrong information travels faster than verifiable news.

He said politicians employ the instrument of fake news to push out their propaganda to the public while Dr. Sunny Ekakitie believes that with fake news, the right to accurate and credible information to the public is distorted and abused and people’s sense of judgment is also distorted.

Barrister Richards, who responded to the role of the Nigerian judiciary in fighting the spread of fake news, said the judiciary has limitations, insisting that the judiciary cannot be blamed but the system operating in Nigeria does not allow the judiciary to carry out its job.

He said there is lack of political will to implement laws in Nigeria adding, however, that “whether offline or online, if you defame someone, you are liable, the law is there and it will catch up with anyone who violates its provisions.”

The Delta state chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mike Ikeogwu, in his submission noted that fake news will remain in Nigeria, basing his argument on the fact that as far as people have access to smart phones, “you cannot regulate fake news, one can be in the comfort of his room and push out anything to the public.”

At the end of the convention, the Delta online publishers’ forum presented a communiqué detailing the position of the body with reference to fake news and its propagation in Nigeria.

BELOW IS THE COMMUNIQUE PUT TOGETHER AFTER THE CONVENTION

A COMMUNIQUE ISSUED BY THE DELTA ONLINE PUBLISHERS FORUM (DOPF) AT END OF ITS CONVENTION HELD IN ASABA ON 7TH NOVEMBER 2019

The Delta Online Publishers Forum (DOPF), a certified corporate organization, held its annual convention with the theme: The Role of Online Media In 2019 Election: Managing Fake News on Wednesday 7th November 2018 at Asaba, Delta state.

At the convention, the lead speaker, Prof. Abigail Ogwezzy-Ndisika tackled the topic in her lecture paper which was discussed and solutions proffered to how fake news can be curbed by a high profile constituted panelists.

The two-day convention also featured a workshop training on Business Management and Customer Care, and Online Optimization for Online Media Practitioners, from a highly rated business coach and Google certified trainer from Google Nigeria, award to deserving personalities and induction of new members.

At the end of the brainstorming deliberations, the convention resolved as follows:

  1. That professional media practitioners must show commitment to continuing to wage the online war against fakes and its adverse effects by distinguishing ourselves from purveyors of fakes and not join the bandwagon of those who rush to break the “news” on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or other online platforms without confirming same.
  2. That we are determined to keep faith to the principles of our formation which are centred on the tripod of Ethics, Professionalism and Service in the delivery of our journalistic mandate as publishers and purveyors of credible news and authentic verifiable information.
  3. That we strongly condemn the scourge of “fake news” which has become an international phenomenon and would continue to re-brand our online news portals as source of verifiable and authentic news carriers.
  4. That we express our concern about how the social media was used as a tool by politicians to spew hate speech, lies, abuse, divisiveness and distraction during and after the 2015 general elections and therefore resolved that we must collectively fight the menace which has become anti-people and anti-development as 2019 general elections approach.
  5. That the DOPF would continue to ensure that its members provide unbiased platform devoid of partisanship, favouritism and fakes.
  6. That we will not be part of the copycat machination of those who build online platforms in order to make money through click baits and other nefarious reasons, rather as professional journalists in the media industry we will ensure mechanism through which fake news are eliminated and ensure that truth prevails at all times.
  7. DOPF charged stakeholders in the industry to publish what is true, accurate, balanced and in support of national unity as well as employ independent fact-checking mechanism.
  8. We resolved that as the 2019 general elections draws near, the media must endeavour to accentuate its agenda setting capacity by advocating issue-based campaign among politicians.
  9. It held that the media must ensure a robust and articulate debate among the various presidential candidates so that the 2019 general elections do not go the way of fake news, hate speech and other rhetoric.
  10. That seasoned online journalists must work at the credibility problems in the online media by ensuring whatever they publish has all the elements of credibility as the menace of fakes has continued to tarnish the good work of seasoned journalists and online news media publishers.
  11. Conclusively, the Convention maintained that as Nigeria prepare for the 2019 general elections that will usher in a new set of leaders, the media industry especially online media practitioners must be at the fore front of ensuring that the right narrative are in the public domain. And that the media practitioners must not allow themselves to be used by politicians to throw tantrums at each other.

Signed:

Joe Ogbodu, Chairman

Communique Drafting Committee

John Egie, Secretary

Communique Drafting Committee

For: Delta Online Publishers Forum (DOPF)

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