#WorldPressFreedomDay: How journalists can combat fake news – Howard University professor

#WorldPressFreedom19: organised by Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) in partnership with the Rule of Law and Anti-corruption (RoLAC) Programme of the British Council.
#WorldPressFreedom19: organised by Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) in partnership with the Rule of Law and Anti-corruption (RoLAC) Programme of the British Council.

An assistant professor at Howard University, Jennifer Thomas, has said the need for focused fact-checking and balanced story-telling with “great accuracy” has become very important for journalists around the world.

Ms Thomas spoke Friday at a World Press Freedom Day event organised by the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Mission in Lagos.

The 2019 World Press Freedom Day was themed ‘Media for Democracy: Journalism and elections in times of disinformation.’

“My basic advice: be sceptical, consider the source, check the URL, look at the byline and quotes, review the photo. Be a curious journalist – question everything,” said Ms Thomas, who teaches at the Howard University Department of Media, Journalism, and Film.

“Today, there are websites dedicated to separating fact from fiction and even quizzing readers to see how savvy they are at detecting such information.

“Even with these measures in place, we know that a tweet can become world headlines before a spellcheck is even conducted and a rant on a blog post may be repeated as a lead story on a newscast, without the news outlet doing its due diligence.”

Ms Thomas said disinformation or” fake news” and the subsequent demonising of the media have created a climate for the news industry synonymous to a thunderstorm.

“Add the unpredictability of social media and it becomes the perfect storm. In order to quell this tempest, journalists must ride out the storm and steady the ship through adhering to the fundamental principles of the profession.

“In turn, journalism professors must be vigilant at teaching media history, literacy, and ethics while underscoring excitement for the profession. It is a daunting, yet surmountable task.”

Ms Thomas noted that while the relationship between the U.S president and the American media had traditionally been a “frosty” one, the recent verbal attacks had led to increased incidents of intimidation and, sometimes, even violence against journalists by citizens.

“Let me be clear – journalists are not the enemy of the people; we are the advocates for the people. Yet, the constant barrage of the term ‘fake news’ is apparently having an impact on the public’s perception of the industry,” she said.

Earlier, in his opening remarks, Russell Brooks, the U.S. Consulate Public Affairs Officer, said the goal of the U.S. Mission is to promote democracy, to strengthen democratic institutions in Nigeria and all over the world.

“We believe, as it has been said many times, that the media represents the fourth estate of any democracy. It is crucial that the media play a significant role in holding the other three branches accountable,” Mr Brooks said.

“It’s also been said that the most important element of any democracy is the citizens themselves and their right to vote. And while that is true, for citizens to exercise their votes in a responsible way, in an informed way they need the media to provide them with accurate information that will allow them to do so, to vote in a responsible fashion and ensure that their representatives are serving their needs in the fashion that they wish.

Mr Brooks said the media in Nigeria, the United States, and around the world is under enormous pressure around the world.

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“Whether it’s a matter of economic pressure, physical intimidation, violence – some cases have resulted in the media paying the ultimate price, for that reason we deserve to honour them at least once every year.”


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