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2023 Election Reporting: Fact-checking to stem fake news dissemination

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As the 2023 general elections draw near, some communication experts have warned against spreading fake news by journalists and media practitioners as such is capable of heating up the polity and truncate the nascent democratic experience of Nigeria. While the Campaign for Democracy and Development (CDD) had recently warned and trained some media practitioners on how to avoid the pitfall of misinformation, disinformation and mal-information, the West Africa Broadcast & Media Academy (WABMA), a body dedicated to building the capacity of media practitioners and media institutions for a free, independent and diverse media in a democratic West Africa, has also explored the route, training journalists on a wide spectrum of detecting and avoiding fake news. With the advent of social media and the unregulated phenomenon of bloggers who churn out all manner of information to the media space, not minding their veracity or not, many experts believe that if not checked, the 2023 elections might be endangered by a flood of fake news making the rounds in the country. As media practitioners and information gate-keepers, some experts from WABMA last week organised a 2-day training workshop for some journalists in Ibadan, Oyo state capital, where series of fact-checking Apps and tools were revealed to mitigate the disastrous effects of fake news in Nigeria. The two-day workshop was held at the American Corner, Jericho, Ibadan, Oyo state, where journalists’ knowledge was sharpened and widened on how to write and report editorially and pictorially without dishing out defamatory and insidious news items capable of truncating the coming general elections.

Fact-checking

Using the recent letter purportedly written, signed and circulated by Mr. Festus Okoye of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the alleged drug indictment of presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, which some media organizations reported, and which was eventually found to be a fake item, Prof. Chris Ulasi, (Dean, School of Communication, Southern University, Houston, USA), said the embarrassment could have been avoided if the media organizations affected had waited a bit to fact-check the genuineness of the letter before publishing it. As the Lead facilitator of WABMA, a training agency in print and broadcast media, Prof. Ulasi lectured the participants on: “Nigerian Political landscape in lens”; Political Communication and the Electoral Process”; “Ethics of Visual Storytelling in Journalism”. Another trainer, Mrs. Grace Ekpu, an Investigative Journalist with the Associated Press (AP), lectured on: “Basics of Planning a Documentary”; “Introduction to Mobile Devices”; as well as, “Elements of Photojournalism”, while Mr. Ken Ike Okere of the Enugu Literary Society, took the participants on how to handle: “Digital safety during election coverage”; “Fact-checking and detecting Misinformation”; Tools for factchecking, as well as, digital and personal safety, among others.

Story balancing

Prof. Ulasi urged journalists to always “balance your story and your perception of anybody. A picture may worth a million words. Always differentiate between reality and imitated reality, as a picture taken could have been edited, altered through technological devices for ulterior motives intended to deceive and cause chaos. Do not take an adversary stand against your establishment or the government for the sake of being seen to be tough”. He went further by encouraging participants to “embrace the doctrine of ethical behaviour which is the moral compass that determines what you do or the type of judgment to be passed. Images can inspire hope and understanding. The image you put forward should represent the intention. Images can also be used to callously damage if manipulated”, he warned. Ekpu explored the field of storytelling via videography and film photo and the type of questions and techniques a reporter needs to master in order to carry out a good and unbiased report. To her, whatever device or strategy a journalist intends to use in carrying out his duty,especially during elections, one thing that should be uppermost is self protection. Many overzealous security operatives would not want some events investigated or photo taken, and sometimes assault and beat up journalists or destroy their cameras.

Field experience

A photo-journalist at the workshop relayed his experience on how he craftily beat some DSS operatives to it when his camera was seized while on duty. According to him, “After I took the shot and the security man saw me, he attempted to grab my camera, but I had smartly removed the micro chip memory card in the camera. I threw it into my mouth and as he dragged the camera with me, I allowed him. He searched it and searched my body, but could not find any evidence. I was talking with him with the small memory card at the corner of my mouth. Believing that I must have hidden the camera in my mouth, the security man asked me to open my mouth and I quickly swallowed the chip. He had to allow me to go eventually. The second day, I passed the micro chip out through my excreta”, he narrated the risk he took. To fact-check the authenticity of news or photo, another trainer, Okere said that: ‘www.projectfactchecknigeria. org.com’ could be googled and genuine or fake items can be detected. He equally took the participants on a journey of techniques of editing images, citing: “snapseed, third party app, google pixell, quickbut, In-shot, capcut” etc.

Societal checks

To film on mobile phones with clarity and effectiveness, Okere said: “A photojournalist must think of sound; use a microphone; think about the light (bum to the sun); clean your lens; think about the battery and memory space; etc”. Asked why many fake news are shared by people, it was detected that many people do so because of their ‘unconscious bias and confirmation bias’, meaning that some people will just not want to fact-check because they are gullible or too lazy to do so. To avoid this pitfall, the trainer advised that: “you check what news outlet published it; check the published date and time; who is the author?; look at what links and sources used; check whether it is a joke or satire”. Any journalist can therefore fact-check his information, according to him, through: Company Information Extractor (cac.gov.ng); Dato Capital for foreign company search; Reverse Image Search (re-purposing); TinEye.com; Google Reverse Image; Yandex; Big Invid Fake News Debunker; Jeffery’s Image Metadata Viewer (for photo check); Fact-check hub; Dubawa. org; Africa check etc”.

Avoid fake news

Journalists were therefore urged to avoid misinforming the public as misinformation amounts to “false information mistakenly shared”. However, disinformation is “false information deliberately created and distributed to sway opinion or achieve a pre-determined end or to sway opinion”. A perfect example of this type is common with government where propaganda is used to turn black to white.. Mal-information should also be avoided as “it is a true information but maliciously distributed. It is often of no public interest, shared to da.age someone. An example is the sextape of Tiwa Savage”, the trainer said. Emphasising adherence to facts before publishing or sharing any information, journalists were enjoined to be wary of hasty judgment, but rather decipher between fact and assumption or opinion. “Fact is an objective reality whereas opinion is a subjective statement. Facts can be verified with the help of evidence or statistics. On the contrary, an opinion may not be supported by any evidence. As election is around the corner, the workshop therefore considered how fake news have caused apathy in many electorate. It was researched into and discovered that many people, particularly, the youths no longer wish to vote during elections because they believe that their votes won’t count. To them, the elderly politicians would have written results of the elections even before the polls.

Workshop gains

Many of them believe that they could not afford to queue up in empty stomach in the sun when they could utilise such precious time on the Social Media. That the holiday declared and restriction of movement imposed on the day of the election will deprive them of their daily earning ,as those of them that engage in commercial Okada riding would not be able to make money, as usual, on that day.

It is always believed also that elders won’t allow their opinions and voice to be heard in matters that concern them. However, youths should be educated to know that as they united during the 2020 end- SARS protest, they should get themselves involved in politics, vote, so that their voice can be heard by the elders. With the amendment of the Electoral Act, votes of many of the electorate didn’t count, but with the introduction of electronic voting, votes now count. The youths should be made to be aware of this fact and be dissuaded from the fake news making tje rounds that their votes will not count.

To the facilitators of the workshop, if all the above safeguards and education could be adhered to professionally by media practitioners, there would be less sharing of defamatory, damaging, derogatory, inflammatory and hate reports and news which could truncate the 2023 elections in the country.

 

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