Last Friday, this year’s World Press Freedom Day was marked globally with the theme Role of media in Elections and Democracy. One of the sub-themes of the celebration which I had the opportunity of speaking on at one of the events in Lagos organised by the Civic Media Lab was Journalism and Elections in the times of disinformation.
Disinformation which is defined as a type of untrue communication that is purposefully spread and represented as truth to elicit some response that serves the perpetrator’s purpose has become a major issue of concern more than ever before.
Especially with more channels for disseminating information in digital age, fake news and other false information are now so common that it is sometimes difficult to know what to believe even in the traditional media. Individuals, organisations and government are engaged in all forms of disinformation.
While the traditional media with trained journalists used to be the main gatekeepers of information, practically everyone that has one gadgets or the other can now share information without verification.
The freedom to share information by all has unfortunately led to disregard for the ethics journalism which should guide the practice of the profession even by trained professional who should uphold them.
The preamble to the code of ethics for journalists in Nigeria states that journalism entails a high degree of public trust, and to earn and maintain this trust, it is morally imperative for every journalist and every news medium to observe the highest professional and ethical standards. In the exercise of these duties, a journalist should always have a healthy regard for the public interest.
“Truth is the cornerstone of journalism and every journalist should strive diligently to ascertain the truth of every event,” the code stated.
In sourcing information and various content, it is necessary for journalists to avoid being purveyors of disinformation which is a present danger that must be curtailed. Nowadays, false claims are made by government officials and the media is fed with falsehood by supposedly reliable sources that have ulterior motives.
How can the federal government for instance justify the claim that Boko Haram insurgents have been decimated and peace restored to some parts of the country where killings continue on regular basis?
We have had claims that some sections of the country enjoy 24 hours electricity supply, unbelievable amount of money spent on feeding the detained Shitte leaders among others what government officials want us to believe.
Except journalists become more discerning, it will further erode what is left of its credibility and loose the public trust and patronage.
Journalists need to be more vigilant and refuse to be used to mislead the public. There is need for more fact-checking of claims and pronouncements. It shouldn’t be that government, especially, is allowed to get away with questionable claims.
The more government officials and other members of the public know that their claims will be subjected to necessary scrutiny, the more they will be more careful about attempting to churn out falsehood.
Journalists should shame those who engage in disinformation through fact-check reports for the public to know the truth of any issue of public interest.
The good old rule of journalism practice is that when in doubt, leave out. This should still be the case instead of competing with faceless online platforms to encourage disinformation.