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Fake news: Believability of public information fast depleting – Osinbajo

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…INEC, NGE, Soyinka, BBC, others proffer solutions

By Michael Eboh

Abuja – Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Wednesday, warned that if the rising trend of fake news is not curtailed with utmost urgency, the believability and integrity of public information would drastically reduce, thereby damaging forever, our most critical means of communication.

Osinbajo
VP Osinbajo

Speaking in Abuja, at a conference organised by the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, tagged, ‘Nigeria 2019: Countering fake news’, Osinbajo lamented that the proliferation of fake news, mostly on the social media, noting that the trend might become dangerous with advancement in technology.

He said, “Aside from the damage done to the integrity of public information, the capacity of fake news to cause harm and even fatal violence has been demonstrated time and again. But what is worrisome should be for us, what harm is done to public information. I think that a time would come, if nothing is done, that nothing would be believed and nothing would be believable.

“This is because as technology improves in its capacity to manipulate, after a while, there would be perfect videos, using artificial intelligence and all other tools of digital journalism, that would bring a perfect video of a person reading a speech that he never read, at an event that never happened; then it would become more and more difficult to distinguish what is true and what is not.

“I think that if we discredit public information, it is a massive danger for society itself. Aside from the capacity of fake news to cause physical harm, I think once we destroy the believability of public information then really, the means of communicating with each other has been soiled forever.”

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Osinbajo further highlighted the major issues of concerns in curtailing fake news to include the extent to which local media players and owners can be held to account and how to regulate fake news without infringing on freedom of information and freedom of the press.

He said, “To what extent can we hold local players, especially local media owners to account. What we have at the moment, usually a lot of the disinformation we find on the social media, the traditional press is much more responsible. And the simple reason is because there is consequence.

It is easier to sue the traditional media, they are bound by local laws and it is much easier to hold them to account.

“The second point for me is how to deal with the consequence, without of course infringing on the freedom of information and also freedom of the press. These freedom means my freedom to own a blog and freedom to disseminate information. The question therefore now is how do we regulate that without infringing on these fundamental freedoms?”

To address the issue of fake news, the vice president advocated increased collaboration among countries and a situation where countries would draw up conventions or enter into agreements that would help regulate the social media much more effectively.

He also called on the media to invest and engage in news and fact checking to help them present what the real facts are.

“It would be impossible to regulate social media. It cannot be left in the hands of the government or legislature without creating an over-bearing government or legislature,” he argued.

The conference had in attendance, the presidential candidates of the Young Progressives Party, YPP, National Interest Party, KOWA Party; politicians, academicians, the Nigerian Police and journalists, while the panelists included Professor Wole Soyinka, Mr. Jamie Angus, Director, BBC World Service Group and Mrs. Funke Egbemode, President, Nigeria Guild of Editors, NGE.

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Other members of the panel are Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Mr. Mahmood Yakubu, represented by National Commissioner, Information and Voters’ Education of INEC, Mr. Festus Okoye; and Mrs. Uche Pedro, Founder, Bella Naija.

Professor Wole Soyinka maintained that those spreading fake news are sick in the head and cowards, while he advocated the use of technology to tackle fake news, especially as it is promoted by technology.

Soyinka further stated that if care was not taken, the world would be plunged into World War 3 due to fake news, adding that the news would most likely be started by a Nigerian.

Also speaking, Funke Egbemode noted that newspaper houses are constantly and increasingly faced with fake news on a daily basis, while she added that purveyors of fake news were not professional journalists.

According to her, traditional news media houses and professional journalists are careful with the kind of news they publish, especially with the knowledge that publishing fake news items would erode the credibility of the media houses.

She further urged media houses to be responsible, while calling on government agencies to provide critical information when requested so as to help curb the menace of fake news.

Mahmood Yakubu, INEC Chairman, disclosed that fake news had become an issue of concern in the forthcoming general elections, while he blamed the spread of fake news on the inability of state actors to put out the right information in the public space.

According to him, if government agencies and parastatals are proactive as regards information dissemination the incidences of fake news would drop drastically, adding that government agencies has to find a way to get on to the numerous platforms through which fake news are being peddled to disseminate the correct information.

Yakubu, who was represented by Festus Okoye, further stated that the traditional media has enough laws regulating them as regards fake news, while he added that the social and new media need robust enforcement of existing laws to check their spread of fake news.

However, he said, “We should be careful not to enact laws to stifle creativity.”

In his own contribution from the audience, Public Relations Officer of the Nigerian Police Force, Mr. Jimoh Moshood, said there are adequate laws to prosecute purveyors of fake news, while he called on the media and every Nigerian to reject fake news whole-hearterdly.

Speaking in the same vein, Presidential candidate of the YPP, Mr. Kingsley Moghalu, said fake news was one of the greatest threats of social stability, while he accused the traditional media of spreading fake news through its claims that the 2019 elections was a two-horse race between the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and the All Progressives Party, APC.

He said, “This is one fake news that is doing a great disservice to this country. If you ask around in the streets, you would find that Nigerians are sick and tired of the APC and the PDP and are also tired of these old and recycled political leaders.”

In addition, Mr. Ralph Akinfeleye, a Professor of Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Lagos, said purveyors of fake news are not professional journalists and are not practicing journalism, but journalese, while he added that the correct term should be social platform and not social media.

He further stated that fake news cannot be curtailed by legislation, but through a situation where everyone involved see its stoppage as a corporate social responsibility.

In addition, Jamie Angus of the BBC World Service Group, said the Corporation would make available the necessary fact-checking tools to curtail fake news, while he added that the BBC would provide adequate coverage of the Nigerian general elections.

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