“There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the information by which to detect lies”—Walter Lippmann
In plain English, “news” is a truthful account of recent events or places that must be of interest to the public. By further simplification, the reporter of these events is “blind” to religious consideration, ethnicity and regionalism.
Inversely, “fake news” involves dangerous twist, misreportage and wrong colouration of events; or dishonest fabrication of a news story purposely to spark social agitation or malign the character of a person(s), tribes or their religions.
In relation to the former (news), the reporter is always guided by the canons of journalism such as objectivity, truth, respect for privacy (where need be) and morally professional. In relation to the latter (fake news), the purveyor regardless of his professional training, is a peddler of falsehood, an enemy of social cohesion who carries contents of tribalism, ethnicity with disregard for journalism ethos. In short, the purveyor of fake news is a crusader of social disharmony and conflict, who is always in a hurry to break fake news in order to impress the less-informed, less-educated gullible members of the public.
It is too common today in Nigeria to see press statements from politicians, organisations and individuals disputing certain news stories about their personalities or their organisations’ policies as “fake”. It is however quite worrisome that many Nigerians tend to believe fake news and take it as genuine news they read or see most at times from the new media platforms.
With the ubiquitous nature of smart phones and the proliferation of countless new media platforms, it’s easier for one to understand why an average citizen with limited access to various genuine sources of information and having low perception ability could be seen making blatant arguments in the midst of peers on policies of government and issues within the nation he claims to know while making firm reference to his fake sources of news diet. How sick!
Elective office holders, political actors especially the opposition parties of the day and interest groups are mostly the main sources of fake news for its purveyors. As news makers, these political parties, politicians and all sorts of interest groups issue press statements at will and organise press conferences where they mislead the media with the belief that many journalists (though not all) are too lazy to cross-check facts but rather more concerned about getting the ‘brown envelopes’ to publish drivel. The height of abnormality today in journalism profession is the habit of some journalists in relying on information given by their friends in other media organisations whom they believe were at a news event; and when on the field, some journalists lack patience to seek divergent views as possible but only few views of audience that are in tune with their sentiments. These sad realities are why an individual’s reputation can be defamed with ease.
More so, owners of media organisations and news editors are sometimes more at fault when it comes to this menace. With regards to the former, they are fond of being overbearing or threatening to sack their employees. With relation to the latter, news editors in order to keep their jobs, while exercising their responsibilities, abuse the use of news headlines by sensationalising them sometimes such that the reports do not even have headlines that have any relationship with the bodies of the stories; whereas sensational headlines also heighten tension in every society.
To severe this scourge, journalism practice must be sanitised and seen as a profession meant for ‘trained communicators.’
In this vein, NUJ and other relevant associations must be united, decisive and sanction any erring member with adequate publicity that membership of the affected person has been withdrawn.
The Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, Nigerian Press Council and other relevant bodies must go beyond issuance of licenses and sanctions against some media organisations perceived as “anti-government of the day”.
They must do more to enlighten the citizens against the dangers of fake news and educate them on how to spot fake news diets.
The government should set up a specialised agency such as “Fake News Investigation and Prosecution Tribunal” or under any nomenclature to specifically try the purveyors of fake news and wield the long stick of the law against them. With this in place, the unpopular decision to regulate social media will be immaterial.
The Nigerian Press Council should have its offices in at least each six geo-political zones of the country to make it easier for the victims of malicious and fake news to seek redress without stress.
Muhammad Danjuma Abubakar writes from Minna, Niger State.