Saturday, 16 January, 2021

Letter from Africa: Fake news and Nigeria’s media

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In our sequence of letters from African writers, Nigerian novelist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani demonstrates on the impact that fabricated news tales can have.

Nigeria’s well-known ThisDay newspaper a short while ago released a tale headlined: “Drama as US Embassy Denies Bishop Oyedepo Visa”.

It described how David Oyedepo, founder of Winners’ Chapel, and one particular of Nigeria’s revered and influential religious leaders, allegedly threw a tantrum at the US consulate in Lagos immediately after he was refused a visa.

According to the story, the bishop was “obviously flustered”. It quoted an unnamed source as declaring that the religious determine had “instantly sent for his bodyguards to get his telephones so he could make some phone calls”.

In a nation where religious leaders are famous people, and their each individual action or inaction scrutinised, the specific story promptly went viral.

Feedback on, and criticisms of, Bishop Oyedepo’s alleged behaviour poured out.

‘False news alert’

But there was a single issue the ThisDay story turned out to be entirely false.

“Fake information warn,” the US embassy said in a greatly posted statement, referring to the alleged visa row.

“If you have viewed this made merchandise in the media, support defeat this misinformation by communicating to everyone that it is entirely bogus.”

A spokesperson for Winners’ Chapel also launched a statement, expressing that the bishop had a legitimate US visa, so there was no require to have visited the consulate.

A number of times later on, ThisDay printed an apology, then suspended the journalists dependable for the tale.

“The two deputy editors unsuccessful to abide by the properly-established traditions of carrying out the vital checks and confirmations envisioned of staff of their status in a delicate story of that mother nature,” the management stated.

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Media captionDebunking bogus news in Nigeria

Right after the outrage at the first tale arrived the disgust.

“How could this kind of a sensational tale, about these types of an influential figure, have escaped the consideration of gatekeepers at this sort of a significant-profile organisation?” men and women asked.

The gained wisdom was that when a selected recklessness is to be anticipated of tales published on social media, an set up newspaper ought to be additional liable.

If only this was a just one-off.

Performing as a journalist in Nigeria is hard – even getting officials to verify simple information can be difficult. In the facial area of this, lots of retain substantial requirements.

Yet, that is no justification for destructive fiction to be introduced as fact, as is much too generally the case in some newspapers right here.

‘Voodoo curse’

Composing in his 2013 autobiography, condition governor Nasir el-Rufai described an incident that took position decades back, when he was the mayor of the cash metropolis, Abuja.

“I arrived into my business and noticed one thing that appeared like a modest tortoise on my seat,” he wrote.

“This was supposed to be some voodoo curse intended to scare me… I just eliminated it, settled down and started performing.”

But this was not the end of the subject.

Mr el-Rufai ongoing: “The incredibly following working day, a single Nigeria newspaper, the Day-to-day Moments, experienced a tale about how I came into my business office, saw a tortoise, and collapsed, and had been flown out overseas in a coma…

“My [head of security] desired [the reporter] arrested, but I did not see any feeling in that.”


Folks I know have had exceptionally hazardous lies printed about them”

When federal government officials, like Mr el-Rufai, usually have at their disposal state forces they can use to vent their frustrations on offending journalists, the typical Nigerian does not.

At numerous periods, persons I know have had very perilous lies printed about them, and the very best they could do was cellular phone all over to all their close friends and perfectly-wishers and guarantee them that the tales were being totally untrue.

Planting stories

Suing for libel would entail high priced litigation and drawn out proceedings.

As a result, Nigerians continue on to endure the laziness of journalists willing to publish rumours picked up in bars and natural beauty parlours.

And the dishonourable mother nature of those who, in trade for lucre, plant unsavoury stories calculated to embarrass the payer’s enemies.

There is no suggestion that this transpired in the scenario of Bishop Oyedepo.

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Boko Haram militants specific the Abuja places of work of ThisDay in 2012

Boko Haram militants took a different route.

In April 2012, the message carried in a single of their video releases had been distorted in some area media reviews.

In reaction, the jihadist group took direct action and bombed two newspaper offices, together with a branch of ThisDay.

Although declaring accountability for the carnage, a Boko Haram spokesperson claimed: “Just about every time we say anything, it is either transformed or downplayed.”

Journalists must not live in worry for their life if they get one thing completely wrong, but they must be very watchful about earning issues.

Lifetime is difficult for reporters in this article. At the very least 19 journalists and bloggers were arrested in Nigeria amongst January and September 2019, according to Amnesty Intercontinental.

That is troubling, and the govt of President Muhammadu Buhari surely requires to strengthen its history on flexibility of the press.

But at the identical time, some people today at the helm of journalism want to increase their file on point-checking.

There ought to be no area in the newsroom for tall tales.

A lot more Letters from Africa

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