Writing in The Guardian of November 3, 2020 on the theme, Social media: Helpful or harmful? , one of Nigeria’s living media gurus and iconic columnist, Ray Ekpu said: “Those that are not trained have no reputation to worry about and no solid journalism skills to deploy in what they do. They simply speculate, distort, exaggerate and mislead the public with outright lies, half truths or outright fabrications for the purpose of making quick money. They quote dishonest, unverified, misleading sources or no sources at all.”
Mr. Ekpu added: “If you want to be titillated by gossip or fiction, it is fine to go to these (social media) platforms. But if you want credible information, your best bet is to go to either the mainstream media or social media platforms that are manned by people with mainstream media experience. The collection, processing and dissemination of information are a rigorous process that involves checking and cross-checking. The idea is to be able to satisfy the professional canons of fairness, objectivity, balance and accuracy. If those four canons are observed, what you will get, will, to a large extent, come close to the truth because it is factuality that leads to the truth. The reckless method of dishing out information on most social media platforms without checking and cross-checking cannot.”
If I add anything to what Mr. Ekpu said above, it is just for its fun, a mere embellishment, otherwise he captured, summarily and yet succinctly, the scenario this short piece by yours sincerely is meant to deal with. I am glad that I am one of those who learnt at the feet of Mr. Ekpu and who believe that journalism is one of the noblest professions anyone can think of.
Not only are journalists partners in progress in a democratic setting like ours, real minders of the sector like Mr. Ekpu are also conscious of the fact that the work they do can make or break the system. All over the world, genuine practitioners of the trade function with the mindset to mirror the society for public good. That the job the journalists do is tantamount to public trust is never controvertible. In other words, the journalists cannot inform, educate and entertain the people if they do not earn their trust. Because trust is key and reciprocal here, you cannot afford to do the unthinkable capable of causing you to lose that trust by peddling what is regarded as falsehood. What the citizens read on the pages of the newspapers, watch on television and listen to on radio stations are not expected to be a subject of equivocation. It therefore amounts to tragedy of a sort if the information so read, watched or listened to from mode of information dissemination by the media is prone to doubts or even turns out to be outright falsehood. Anytime such a thing happens, it hurts the place of objectivity as the hallmark of journalism practice, whether traditional or new media and makes the reading, watching and listening public to rethink their source of information delivery.
Today, fake news gains ground as the new normal as far as journalism practice is concerned. Unfortunately, many people today guzzle it the way they drink water and beverage. Purveyors of fake news are not interested in the damage their work does to the system and to the society. One also doubts if those behind fake news understand what is called developmental journalism which requires that the application of the processes of the four professional canons of fairness, objectivity, balance and accuracy as Mr. Ekpu alluded above are followed. To them, the Machiavellian principle of the end justifying the means, which is money in their pocket, is what matters. But the more they go about dishing out what is absolutely false and summarily unprofessional, the more they cast a big slur on the nobility of the highly cherished journalism practice. And that is where I worry. Imo State is lucky to be one of the states in the country with large vibrant media practitioners. Both the traditional and new media platforms are not in short supply in the state. Ordinarily the ubiquity of national, local and online publications that litter the landscape of Imo State capital, Owerri, is supposed to be to the advantage of the state and its people. But is it?
Of late, our dear state seems to be ranking first as far as the dissemination of fake news is concerned. As the Chief Press Secretary/Media Adviser to His Excellency, Distinguished Governor Hope Uzodimma, I have had cause to severally rebut fake reports that were deliberately dished out to undermine, not only the system and government, but to create in the minds of the good people of Imo State an impression the purveyors know is anti-development. Instances of the deliberate deployment of fake news in Imo State to undermine the polity are legion. From the fake report that Governor Uzodimma wanted to rename Imo State University, Owerri, after the late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Abba Kyari to the one on alleged establishment of five Almajiri Schools, to that of Fulani Herdsmen hiding in different parts of the state, among others, all were targeted at distracting and portraying the government of Governor Uzodimma in bad light before the people.
Shortly after the Edo governorship election in September, there was a fake report that trended on the social media which claimed that Governor Uzodimma rejected the result of the Edo State governorship election. The authors of the said fake news had gone further to allude that His Excellency spent N3billion and $5million respectively on Edo governorship election. I am sure many people did not know that they had been fed with outright balderdash by the author(s) of the report. As the said fake reports trended on social media you could see from the comments of unsuspecting members of the public how the fake news agents have not only repressed the psyche of the people, but have damaged what is left of their ability to make informed judgement on issues.
This is where I get so worried because our society is fast sliding into the abyss because we are so much in a hurry to believe whatever is thrust at us on social media without asking those fundamental probing questions such as the reasons behind what we are meant to either read, watch or listen to as of right. Yes, many people feel that in politics every weapon is game, including the use of fake news by the opposition, but that is at the heart of what I call our collective conspiracy to deny our society the needed development because if we are not able to draw a line between politicking and governance we will continue to go round the circle and blame others but ourselves for our woes. The right to be fed with correct information by the media should not be compromised. The people must demand credible and untainted information at all times as of right. They must also as of right take responsibility for allowing fake news to fester in a society where social media platforms are deployed in other climes for developmental causes.
Nwachuku is the Chief Press Secretary/Media Adviser to Gov. Hope Uzodimma