Journalism is about truth-telling. It is not fictional or creative writing. The canons of journalism practice require journalists to be fair, accurate and balanced in their reporting. Journalists are also required to verify news ideas before publication or broadcast.
It is not journalism to publish or broadcast innuendoes as truth. It is inappropriate for professional journalists or fake journalists to receive information by telephone, facsimile, electronic mail or text message about somebody else and to publish or broadcast that information without crosschecking the credibility of the source(s) and the veracity of the information. It is even worse to lift stories published online or in mainstream media and to reproduce the stories without checking their authenticity.
Every day, people’s integrity and reputations are damaged on the Internet mostly because of reckless publications by individuals, who regard the Internet as a gangster’s paradise, individuals who have no idea what journalism is about, individuals who do not subscribe to any professional code of practice, individuals who seek to earn money on the Internet by establishing online publications that dwell on fiction to attract gullible readers who help them to register high rate of clicks that will pull in advertising revenue. This dangerous practice is growing.
I have always said that freedom of information online or offline is never absolute. That something is online does not mean it is accurate or truthful. That you can publish untruthful stories about other people does not imply you cannot be sued for defamation. Many people are tickled by the freedom the Internet offers but they abuse that freedom deliberately or unintentionally. In law, ignorance is not an excuse for defaming other people.
I will illustrate with two recent events, one involving a highly regarded and innocent managing director of a newspaper whose reputation and character were sullied by an irresponsible journalist. The second example I present here involves an article I wrote in my weekly column in The Sun newspaper and later published on the Nigeria Village Square. That article was lifted by an online publication called “my247update.com”; my article was completely re-written and bastardised by the online publication without authorisation from me. More on this later.
First, let me start by discussing the harm that was done to the Managing Director of The Guardian newspaper, Mr. Eluem Emeka Izeze, and other staff of The Guardian by a journalist who works with an online newspaper. Izeze woke up one morning in June to read stories that stated he had been sacked along with other staff by the management of The Guardian. The news was immediately picked up by other dodgy online publications that twisted and tinted the story to make it more sensational to readers.
Izeze was embarrassed. In his quiet mien, he decided he would maintain his trademark silence. Perhaps, that might have given impetus to those who circulated the false story in online publications. And so the false story spread rapidly. The headlines were melodramatic and something of a hyperbole.
The PM News kicked off the trouble. On 18 June 2016, online publications such as The Gazelle News started publishing the story they said they picked up from the PM News. The Gazelle News published the headline “Breaking: The Guardian Sacks Izeze, Bonuola, 2 Consultants, 100 Others To Go”. Citing PM News, another online publication, NAIJ.com, reported the tenuous story with the headline “Breaking: Top Nigerian newspaper fires MD, to sack 100 others”. Other online publications that carried the story were THE ELITES, OluchiWorld, Nigerian Bulletin, and numerous online publications.
One outstanding and distinctively dishonourable and amateurish element is that none of the online publications bothered to call Izeze to clarify whether the story was correct or false. None of The Guardian staff mentioned in the reports, such as Lade Bonuola, Debo Adesina and Jewell Dafinone was interviewed by the publications. No one bothered to find out their own side of the story, if at all the story was factual. Missing in all the reports were accuracy, truth, balance, fairness, and right of reply.
The stories carried by the online publications lacked sources. They were full of imprecise, ill-defined and spurious attributions such as “sources said”, “investigations revealed”, “it was learnt”, “a staff of the company who craved anonymity said”, and so on. This is the stuff of fiction writers. Absolutely irresponsible journalism, lousy and abysmal style of reporting. In all the stories, Debo Adesina’s family name was consistently spelt incorrectly. This is one of the dangers of online publications, lifting stories from another online site that lacks credibility. Now, back to my own experience.
On Wednesday, 22 June 2016, I published an article in my column in The Sun newspaper. The same article was also published in the Nigeria Village Square where I maintain a column. The article was entitled “Avengers on a vengeance mission”. On 24 June 2016, an online publication that goes by the name “my247update.com” published a completely rephrased and bastardised version of my article. I couldn’t believe my eyes, as I read the article. It was replete with grammar errors, meaningless and illogical sentences, and unsound arguments.
What the online publication posted on its website was fiction, quite unrelated to my original article. This is a growing but dangerous trend. People who manage online publications take the liberty of lifting other people’s articles published in established mainstream newspapers. In the process of re-writing my article, the administrators of the website known as “my247update.com” stripped my article of its original arguments, words, and meanings, and inserted too many grammar errors, rambling and long-winded sentences that didn’t convey any meaning. By doing that, the administrators committed high crime that is actionable in court.
By re-writing my article without authorisation, the website exposed me to the danger of being misunderstood. Many people who read that version would assume that I wrote the article, especially as my name was listed as the author. But they would also wonder how uncharacteristic it was of me to have violated all the basic rules of grammar and advanced those irrational arguments that littered the article they read. They wouldn’t know that I did not write the nonsense that was rephrased and published in that online site. An online publication cannot attribute to me words and ideas I did not write or imply. In this electronic age, many people tend to believe what they see, read or hear on the Internet.
Anyone who wants to see the extent to which the parasites who run their website known as “my247update.com” abuse their privilege by hijacking other people’s articles should visit the site. The url address you need to access my article published on the website and entitled “Avengers on a vengeance mission” is: http://my247update.com/2016/06/24/avengers-on-a-vengeance-mission.
It is possible the administrators of the website might pull down the web page once they read this. However, before they do, here is a foretaste of what you will find. I have reproduced here the introductory and concluding paragraphs of my article side by side the versions of the two paragraphs published on the website. In fact, the last paragraph of my article published on the website was incomplete. That adds another layer of indignity and contempt with which they treated my article.
In the opening paragraph of my article, I wrote:
They arrived with a bang and issued threats to just about everyone within their sight – the Federal Government, multinational oil companies, security forces, and even members of civil society who might want to stand in their way toward more violence. Since their arrival, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) have radically transformed underground movements and their methods of operation. This is why the area has been typecast as a region of insecurity, instability, and a ready training ground for future militants.
Below is how the website rephrased my introductory paragraph in their crooked way of thinking. The website wrote:
They touched base with a blast and issued dangers to pretty much everybody inside their sight – the Federal Government, multinational oil organizations, security constrains, and even individuals from common society who might need to remain in their way toward more brutality. Since their landing, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) have profoundly changed underground developments and their techniques for operation. This is the reason the territory has been pigeonhole as a locale of unreliability, precariousness, and a prepared preparing ground for future aggressors.
The grammar errors are just too numerous. I cannot take ownership of this reworked and modified introductory paragraph because the words, meanings and quality of grammar are embarrassing. The errors in their version of the introductory paragraph cast me, as a careless writer who cannot edit his article before publication.
In the last paragraph of my article, I wrote: “The only way to entrench peace in the Niger Delta is for the government and the militants to engage in negotiations with a will to make a difference, for the benefit of the present and future generations.”
In the website’s version of my final paragraph, they changed the words but worst still, the paragraph was incomplete and meaningless. They wrote: “The best way to settle in peace in the Niger Delta is for the legislature and the aggressors to participate in arrangements with a will to have any kind of effect, for the advantage of the present an”.
As I argued in a related article published in The Sun newspaper of Wednesday, 24 June 2015 (see ‘Who will save us from Internet plagiarists’): “That an article is available in the public domain does not mean anybody can steal that article… The Internet may be a free marketplace of ideas but it is not a free market for looters of other people’s intellectual property.”