Media, fake news and 2019 elections

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The Nigerian media have played significant role in the political evolution and development of the country. The traditional media was at the vanguard of the struggle for independence and the enthronement of democracy after several years of military dictatorship. Since the birth of the current democratic governance, the media through agenda setting, have promoted the issues of accountability and good governance, development, fundamental human rights, justice and the rule of law among others. Given the democratic gains achieved so far in such a short time, the Nigeria media must be commended for its patriotic contributions to the restoration and sustenance of democracy. The media has wielded enormous influence in the determination of public perception concerning the conduct of our politicians and other aspects of the country’s democratic practices.

As our democracy advances, new frontiers have now opened and more enabling environment created for expression. This freedom has somewhat been abused as some media have been found to indulge in professional misconduct. The media, like any other profession, have also been subjected to abuses arising from practices that run foul of professional ethics. Apart from this, there are still pertinent issues and questions that the media must continue to reflect upon so that it can remain focused in its continuous efforts at shaping democracy in Nigeria. Furthermore, despite the elaborate provisions in the Electoral Act on issue of reporting and evaluating electoral processes, there has emerged a Media culture, which may not be helpful especially in time of election.

On some occasions, electoral crises and conflicts are caused when some media fail to process information well, thereby encouraging fake news.

However, irrespective of the partisan coloration of a reporter, there are certain basic minimum professional standard to which the Media must adhere to foster democratic culture and attitudes.

On the other hand, social media has brought a lot of development to humanity, as it has brought closer, the government and the governed. It also makes possible, increased participation of the people on national issues and given voice to the voiceless. But as beautiful and laudable as these may sound, there is also increasing negative side of social Media that was thought to be a tool that would strengthen democracy and enlighten the populace because of its tendency to be manipulated to spread fake news and misinformation.

Access to information is crucial to sustaining democracy. A review of the role of the mass media since 1999 underscores the need for Media Practitioners to be prepared to play a supportive role before, during and after elections for the survival of democracy. The media can leverage its capacity and experience in analysing facts and reporting electoral events objectively in order to mobilize the public towards conscious participation in electoral process.

Both traditional and social media have an inexorable responsibility to work for the sustenance of democracy in the country. They are in best position to defend the political rights of Nigerians and the Constitution of Nigeria, as well as exposing corruption and fraud in elections through painstaking investigations. The traditional and social media have moral and professional duty to save the nation’s democracy by re-intensifying efforts to encourage their members to be more patriotic and more committed to the ethics of the profession.

Both the traditional and online Media must be objective, fair and balance in reporting political events as they unfold. The question of professional ethics must come into play by ensuring that the right thing is done at all times.

Enlightening people on events and issues bordering on political participation, party symbols, manifestoes, voting procedure, activities of political parties and their candidates must be the focus of the media during election year. Most importantly is the fact that they must educate against political violence such as thuggery, vandalism, and assassinations.

While it is important to publicize political campaigns and encourage political participation, organizing, conducting and publicizing political debates is equally very significant in order to uphold and protect democratic and political ideals and structures.

The Media must avoid fake news and fuelling political crises through inflammatory reports, as the country marches towards 2019 general elections. The culture of objective, fair and balanced reporting of political events must be promoted while any act capable of truncating electoral process must be avoided. They must continue to contribute in strengthening democratic institutions and placing national interest above other considerations.

Fake news must be curtailed as it is created and spread to misinform the general public in order to influence their judgment. Fake news is a poison that divides society, blinds the mind, reinforces sentiments and plunges society into unending conflicts that can hinder our nascent democracy and by implication, national development. Fake news is not just a threat to the peace and security of a nation but also a threat to the forth-coming general elections. Both the traditional and online media must therefore endeavour to avoid fake news and work for the success of the election by reporting electoral events in an objective and fair manner. While it is important that the traditional media cross-check and confirm the credibility of their source of the stories before publishing, they should also not be seen to be relying on the social media, particularly the online newspapers as source of their stories without proper investigation. This is important because of the potential danger this poses to the existence of the country. The traditional media also have a major role to play in sensitizing Nigerians to the dangers posed to the electoral process and indeed the corporate existence of Nigeria by the menace, and the fact that each and every Nigerian has a responsibility to play in curtailing the spread of fake news in line with the principles of true journalism.

The social media users and online newspapers on the other hand need to embrace patriotism and ethics of journalism by doing what is right and refrain from transmitting fake news. The National Orientation Agency has embarked on the “Say no to fake news” strategic campaign, using its social media platform, particularly on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to reach social media users, particularly the youth as part of measure to confront and tame the menace. Journalists, media organisations and digital citizens are therefore urged to join in this effort to make the campaign go viral. Digital citizens are also urged not to share, post, retweet or spread any fake news. We have a responsibility to defend and protect our democracy.

• Aminu is Director of Documentation, Translation and Publication, NOA Abuja

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