By Fortune Abang, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
“Do not let fake news erode your integrity and credibility,” were the words of President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, to Nigerian journalists to commemorate the 2021 World Press Freedom Day.
The day celebrated on May 3 globally reminds government at all levels, civil society organisations, the academia and media practitioners of their obligations to uphold press freedom and tackle issues about professional ethics.
It is also a day to remember journalists who lost their lives in the performance of their duties.
Lawan also assured that the Ninth Senate and the National Assembly in general, would never pass any law that inhibits the freedom of the press, but rather work with the media to further enhance practice of the profession.
“It is in this light that I call on the practitioners to purge their noble profession of the bad eggs, whose nefarious activities are denting the credibility and reputation of the mainstream journalism.
“The leadership organs of the media profession also need to adopt strategic practical measures on fact-checking the activities of the purveyors of fake news.
“My belief is that the menace of fake news is capable of eroding the integrity and credibility of the media in general, and this should not be allowed to happen,” Lawan said.
On his part, Gov. Nyesom Wike of Rivers who spoke at a public function, stressed the need for media practitioners to be more circumspect, while reporting issues that could polarise the country.
Wike said: “The media must play its role through fact-checking in order to ensure stability, peace and unity of Nigeria.
“Journalists should play their roles in stabilising the country, it is not everything you must report, do not try to escalate things and when you do that, you are not helping the country.”
Speaking in the same vein, Dr Tunde Akanni, warned journalists against fake news, saying the dissemination of falsehood could cause and encourage electoral violence.
Akanni, a Lecturer, Department of Journalism, School of Communication, Lagos State University, who spoke in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), urged journalists to be more sensitive in reporting governance issues.
Akanni said: “Media practitioners must avoid turning an opinion into fact, journalists should always note that ethnic and religious sensitivities of the people are often exploited by political class, to divert the attention of the people away from main issues of national development, as precondition for achieving selfish objectives.
“The media has to be more responsible in dealing with very important issues, because false political news diffuses further and faster than truth.”
Mr Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Premium Times Ltd who spoke on the issue, reiterated the need for adequate investment in the study of fact- checking.
He said that fact-checking would help to improve political discourse on proper ways to expose inadequacies, accountability in governance, corruption and also help to reduce spread of misinformation in public space.
Olorunyomi, also Chief Executive Officer of the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), an NGO, spoke on the sideline of the official inauguration of the third edition of the Dubawa Kwame Kakari Fact-checking Fellowship training programme organised for journalists by the centre.
He said that fact-checking skills could be used for political debates, evaluate political party candidates, influence electorate’s opinion about political party ideologies during electoral processes and inform choices of voting or not to vote for a candidate.
“The defining future of good journalism is truth and accuracy; the question about this is that there are things we needed to invest in.
“There can be no meaningful journalism where there is no accuracy and truth in reporting, and that is why journalism must be based on fact-checking,” he said.
Mrs Grace Yussuf, a Deputy Editor-in-Chief, with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), said that training journalists on fact-checking would help to boost fight against fake news.
According to her, cutting-edge journalism thrive through research and fact finding, that underscore the need for journalists to always engage in fact-checking as tool to verify facts for correctness in their news reporting.
“As journalists, it is important to fact-check claims and give the public right information, as well as tackle fake news in the media space and correct misconceptions,” Yussuf said.
Since fact-checking is key to detecting and identifying fake news, use of fact-checking should be deepened in order to tackle the menace of fake news.