Executive Director of Media Career Development Network (MCDN), Mr. Lekan Otufodunrin was guest on Channels Television programme, Arise to discuss information dissemination during the recent upheaval across the country.
Otufodunrin spoke on fake news, misinformation and disinformation and urged Nigerians to be careful of information overload and verify contents before sharing.
The former Managing Editor with The Nation Newspaper also faulted the notion that Nigerian journalists are not doing investigative reports. DAYO EMMANUEL monitored the programme,
How do we create and find a balance between truth and sanity for individuals and the journalists during the crisis period like the present one?
I think the first point to make is that for the journalists, there is the ethics that guide what we are supposed to do. One of the things that have come out of this present crisis is that the ordinary man on the streets, the protesters or people that are leading the campaign think that the journalists are supposed to just take everything they see on the social media and just publish.
Journalists however are guided by the ethics that says truth should be the guiding principles for our reporting. There must be fairness. There must be balance and if in doubt, you leave out; that is what guides our work. The public needs to understand that information sharing is very critical. You don’t just receive anything and share. They need to verify what people are sending across to them so that they can make an informed decision and that is why media literacy is very important.
We live in a time where we have information overload and too many things are being thrown at us. So, it’s important that we maintain our sanity. It is important to know that information is very empowering. We must know the truth before we take our positions on any matter.
In recent weeks we have a war of supremacy about mainstream media and the social media being part of the online media. A lot of things being thrown out influence a lot of the actions we see today. What should be done to ensure freedom of the press and freedom of the individual at a time like this?
For the avoidance of doubt, a journalist is not a social media influencer. A journalist is guided by professional ethics. There are things we can do and there are things we cannot do. In broadcast media, for example, there is a code that guides them. They must ensure that what we put out is true and we don’t also inflame passion.
We have a sense of responsibility to be sure that what we put out here is the truth. What we are saying is that even for the ordinary person he or she has the responsibility to establish the fact about everything before sharing.
People have been accusing the traditional media that we are not publishing the things they are seeing online and as it has turned out, there is a lot of debate about what is true and what is not true.
The Lekki shooting took place, we all saw it. The question is who died, who did not die. The number of fatalities has not been established. Some people that have been reported to have died have come out that that they did not die. This is the dilemma we face where there is too much information that you can’t verify.
We need to verify our information whether we are professionals or individuals and that is why we must not receive something and just forward. A journalist is bound to keep to the rule of information dissemination and the public should not expect us to just disseminate information; we need to verify the information, we need to get all sides.
There are many sides to a story, and we must demonstrate a high sense of professional responsibility in what we report. We are seeing looting and destruction and it must affect all of us including the people who are engaged in these things. That is why we must maintain our sanity. Information dissemination is very critical.
Disinformation is when you know that this is falsehood and you are sharing. Some people don’t know it is falsehood, but some people deliberately sit down and concoct information that is false and cause disaffection, which is part of what is happening now.
The ability of the traditional media has been tainted sort of, considering the ownership of some organisations by politicians, can you respond to this?
What people need to understand is that somebody will own one media house or the other and even as an individual you have your own bias. It’s not peculiar to Nigeria that media houses are owned by politicians and businessmen.
I have had the privilege of working in a private media house that is owned by a politician and one that is not owned by a politician. I think its matter of how they operate. There is a lot of assumption. People assume that once someone owns a media house, he dictates what they do. The public has been very unfair, many people don’t watch these stations or read the newspapers, and they assume that they are biased in their reporting.
Because of the work I do, I monitor the media and I can say confidently that even the one that is owned by the state or by politicians, they have largely discharged their responsibilities very well. They have looked at all sides. They have risked their lives to report the people that are on the streets, but people don’t watch these station and they just assume because this station is owned by this person they will not report the true situation.
I think that is very unfair. The matter of being tainted is not an issue because somebody must own it and there are various interests.
My counsel for those working in the media houses has always been that they must do their best to ensure that they reflect all sides and they have been doing that substantially. The television station that was burnt won the station of the year because they have done so well.
So, I think it is very unfair to label some stations because they are owned by some people. The people who work there are individuals too. Media houses have been attacked and people are losing jobs. The attack on the media is very unfortunate and the people should stop the mob mentality of attacking the media. We cannot talk of freedom of expression and the media if people intimidate journalists and want to dictate what they should be reporting.
Should the social media bill be passed to check social media?
I am very wary of a bill sponsored by someone that has an agenda, especially politicians. There are existing regulations that can be used to check any excess. In this country, bloggers have been arrested and held in prison, there is cybercrime law, there are other media laws and they are enough. What is important is that everyone who goes online must understand that what you push out may make or mar. It could misinform people. So if you have this kind of sense of responsibility you will not go out of your way to misinform people.
Fake news is news that is not correct so if you disseminate it, chances are that people getting it may not know, but disinformation means people deliberately want to incite people. There are guidelines to know what fake news is. When you get any information you need to check the source, who is sending it and what is his or her interest?
You also double-check from reputable organizations. There are organisations that have built trust over a period of time and you know that their information is true. If people exercise that caution we will have less misinformation and disinformation. Nobody is denying that there was shooting, nobody is denying that some people may have died, but when we saying these things let us be sure of our facts to be able to know what we are talking about.
Many Nigerians do complain that journalists are not doing investigative reporting any longer. What is your response?
We can do more, but to say we no longer have major investigative reports is not true.
Apart from many reports by the traditional media which have won the local and international awards, I am aware of the work International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) for example has done; they have sponsored many of investigative reporters over a period of time with grants from funders.
When people talk of investigative reporting, they are thinking about one earth-shaking report. Yes, it can be, but not all the time. There is Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Reporting, they are sponsoring a lot of reports, there is the International Press Centre in Nigeria, there is Media Rights Agenda, Premium Times and others across the country. There are individual journalists like Fisayo Soyombo who have risked their lives to produce many investigative reports.
Recently the Thompson Foundation shortlisted journalists around the world doing investigative reports for its Young Journalists Award and three of them are Nigerians.
What are people talking about? People need to educate themselves and know that investigative reports are not what you do every day. It doesn’t come cheap, and people should know we are doing our best within the limited resources available to us. Journalism is a profession that is guided by ethics and it is based on lots of fact-checking, that is how it is all over the world. We are doing our jobs, we have done it over the years and still doing it. Let them take time to go through these media houses and see what they are doing, and they will see we are doing our best.
We can do better, but to say we are not doing like before is not the right assessment of the media in Nigeria.
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