The Nigerian Fact-checkers Coalition on Tuesday, in Abuja, held a conference to deliberate on the scourge of misinformation and disinformation and how these could be curbed ahead of the nation’s 2023 general elections.
The conference, tagged ‘Curbing Information Disorder’ had in attendance officials from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the police, election monitoring groups, civil society groups, the media and the diplomatic corps.
The Executive Director, International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Dayo Aiyetan, and Tobi Oluwatola of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) in their opening remarks, harped on the need for more sensitisation of relevant groups as the polls approach, hoping that the conference would proffer solutions to stop the spread of fake news before, during and after the elections.
“We know that there will be frequent disinformation this year and that’s why it’s important we work together,” Mr Aiyetan said. “Politicians and their aides will be weaponising information deliberately.”
“On our part, we are going to be up and doing. But, fighting fake news and misinformation, it’s not the job of the media alone. We are ready to work with INEC, others to fight misinformation before, during, and after the election.”
Umaru Pate, the Vice Chancellor, Federal University, Kashere, Gombe State, in his keynote address, noted the challenges that could bedevil the upcoming polls. He also highlighted the solutions.
He also said the success of the polls would be largely dependent on how all key stakeholders and groups play their parts ahead of the election.
Speaking on understanding elections in the current era, he noted that fake news thrives due to the attitude of stakeholders, desperation of politicians and inability of institutions involved in the process to enforce the law just as many state owned media jettison broadcasting and professional ethics.
“There is also the mindset about power and politics, the role of the state on society, ethnicity, religion and political succession,” Mr Pate said. “Many media professionals masquerade with subjective political biases and in some cases engage in naked libellous publications.”
“Election times are exciting times that are characterised by high competitive spirits, variety of exchanges, high volume and velocity of information flow and much more.
“The political economy of current information management and dissemination climate in the country will significantly feature and affect the pattern of election info dissemination.
“People depend largely on the media to create images, form opinions, and quite often, get guidance on issues and candidates in the electoral process. And that’s why the media must live up to expectations in providing informed explanations on issues at stake.”
These are times of uncertainties,” Mr Pate said. “Truth is under attack from factories of fake news, agents of disinformation and weaponisation of information characterised by intensification of hate and dangerous speech.”
As the 2023 election approaches, the vice-chancellor said: “The high prevalence of misuse of digital, online, and social media has intensified to the extent that channels of the conventional media are deeply involved, too.
“They manifest in the spread of fake news, offensive speech, and provocation of conflicts and crises.”
Going forward, he recommended the establishment and promotion of fact checking desks in media houses, strict adherence to professional and ethical codes, professionalism of the media, civil society groups and agencies involved with elections.
“The media should be more confident in investigating politicians, fulfilment of promises by incumbents and strengthening of critical units like the police, INEC and other agencies.”
Panel sessions were also held on Media in Elections: Tackling misinformation and disinformation in the 2023 elections. How false information affects elections and the role of security agences; Fake news: Engaging political stakeholders in the 2023 elections and Dialogue on effects of misinformation on elections in Africa: Case Study of Kenya, Uganda and Ghana.
Allwell Okpi, Community Manager, Africa Fact Check said: “Journalists contribute to the fake news menace. Most of it occur when they try to interprete data.”
Mr Okpi urged journalists to undergo more training and develop a sense of responsibility to combat misinformation.
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Ajibola Hamzat, Managing Editor, ICIR, said: “Journalists are complicit but we can’t say they are engaged in disinformation. What is common among journalists is ignorantly writing and sharing information. Continuous training will go a long way and build the capacity of journalists. I also encourage mainstream fact-check desks across newsrooms.”
Theophilus Abah of the Daily Trust Foundation said, “going into elections, journalists must demonstrate that their job is to do reporting. They must always ask questions and go the extra mile to verify the information.
“It’s also important for newsrooms to collaborate. Partnerships with other fact checking outlets will help in curbing misinformation and have some sanity in the society.”
Abiodun Banjoko, another panelist said: “Every Nigerian should have a sense of responsibility to verify information before sharing it.”
Meanwhile, Garba Abari, DG National Orientation Agency said every Nigerian must combat misinformation, hate speech, and fake news.
“Despite the limitations, we have a responsibility to make Nigeria great,” he said. “We must be very careful of what we receive. We must authenticate the source of what we receive. We must satisfy ourselves with the sources of information we receive before sharing.
“All of us must be good ambassadors for ourselves. Good ambassadors of our country and love our country.
“The political parties will be the principal beneficiaries of voter turnout, therefore, we are calling on them to sell (their plans) to the citizens positively, so that the citizens will be convinced to know that their votes will count.”
The coalition includes the ICIR, Dubawa, Africa Check, FactMattersNG, the Insight, FactCheckHub, the Cable, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and Daily Trust.
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