Participants at the conference organised by British Broadcasting Corporation including Prof. Wole Soyinka, noble laureate, agree that fake news can trigger crisis in the society if unchecked
By Paul Ejime
FAKE news can cause world war lII. This was the sound bite of Nigerian literature Laureate in his contribution during a panel discussion at a well-attended Conference entitled NIGERIA 2019: COUNTERING FAKE NEWS, organised by the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, on Wednesday, January 9.
The venue was the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja.
It was a gathering of persons from different walk of life – politicians, old and young, including some presidential candidates for the 2018 general elections, media professionals, representatives of civil society organisations, IT experts, election management bodies, particularly the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions, ECONEC.
Also in their numbers were bloggers, academics, security personnel, especially the police, and wait for it, those that UNILAG Mass Communications Professor Ralph Akinfele called “information purveyors.”
Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo keynoted the event, while the other panellists were Jamie Angus, Director, BBC World Service Group, Funke Egbemode, President, Nigeria Guild of Editors, Uche Pedro, renowned blogger and founder, Bella Naija, and Festus Okoye, a National Commissioner who represented the INEC Chairman and ECONEC governing board President Prof Mahmood Yakubu.
After the welcome address by Oluwatoyosi Ogunseye, head of West Africa Languages, BBC World Service, the moderator Adesuwa Onwenokwe, veteran broadcaster, publisher and TV programme host, set the tone for the discussion.
For those who had been trivialising “fake news,” the warning from Soyinka could not have been more apposite. All seem agreed that fake news is not only dangerous, but lethal!
It is a human phenomenon, which is not new but only given accent and currency by technology/digital revolution.
In context, UNESCO’s definition was examined, which considers fake news as “disinformation, misinformation, and mal-information.” It could be utter falsehood deliberately put out; misinformation that might not be deliberate but false, or false information based on reality with some truth.
After the long and animated discussions by the panellists and from the floor, it was clear that there is no easy solution. Neither is trading blames or being in denial an answer.
Countering fake news, therefore, is an open-ended, complex, complicated collective venture.
First, you must identify what is fake news to be able to counter it; Some level of technological skill and training is required;
Media literacy is also essential;
More importantly, effective countering of fake news must be a collective social responsibility, involving in Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye’s phrase the “5th Estate of the Realm” – the citizen at large; traditional media must step up their gate keeping role.
Individuals or groups, before you share any news item cross check for authenticity of source, accuracy/veracity and how useful or damaging; What Prof Soyinka calls “healthy scepticism” is required in treating news items; governments/institutions must be upfront with information delivery because when you create a vacuum, something has to fill it;
Creators of new/social media platforms such as face book, whatsapp, instagram and twitter, etc., which facilitate the spread of fake news have a duty in taming the monster they created;
Legislation against or criminalising fake news might sound attractive, but the consensus from the conference is that fake news can be tackled using existing laws – on libel, slander, identity theft etc. This is because some governments might hide under the introduction of new laws to stifle freedom of speech/expression. Instead, an effective regulatory system is preferred.
While the debate continues at various levels, and with Nigeria’s crucial elections several weeks away, Prof Soyinka’s assertion might sound scary, but fake news is real and one cannot overemphasise the harm that it can do, to an individual, society, group nation or the world.
A dangerous problem requires a drastic solution.
The BBC deserves commendation for this great initiative. More of such engagements are required.
As both victims and culprits, the onus is on all of us to separate the wheat from the chaff so we can enjoy a good meal!
Jan. 10, 2019 @ 17:05 GMT |