Stakeholders, among them policy makers and media managers, have accused the Nigerian media of allowing its obsession for bad news and screaming headlines to obstruct the principal mandate of setting the right agenda toward building a united and virile nation.
Some of them, who spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria across the nation, expressed disgust at the promotion of bad and sensational news over developmental stories crucial to bringing Nigerians together and maximising their potential.
They specifically decry the preponderance of fake news that had caused sharp divisions along tribal, religious and geographical lines leading to mutual distrust, suspicion and hatred that had constituted a huge threat to Nigeria’s corporate existence.
While some accused the unregulated social media of being the worst culprits of this situation, others pointed out that the traditional media had not fared any better as they all partake in the primitive struggle to be “first with the news”, a situation that had seen the media sacrificing national interest and patriotism.
Such tendencies, the stakeholders noted, have always exacerbated insecurity across Nigeria as the media publish stories and pictures that fan the embers of organised hate leading to the escalation of little disagreements in some obscure corners, into major conflicts and crises.
Dr Nura Ibrahim, a Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Communication, Bayero University Kano, while decrying the ugly situation, ascribed the spate of fake news to inept attitude of media practitioners to elicit readership.
Ibrahim, Head, Department of Information and Media Studies, observed that the crave to break news often leads to misrepresentation and fabrication of facts on the conventional and social media platforms.
“The issue of partisanship is one of the reasons journalists easily spread fake news; they want to appease certain individuals, politicians, groups and ethnic biases.
“Most journalists are being manipulated by the actors that spread the fake news, disinformation and hate speeches.
“Journalists are easy targets of lies and hoaxes by the manipulators of fake news, hate speech and disinformation.
“I think there is also the issue of money inducement from the politicians, the advertisers and from every quarter.
“Negative and fake news always make the headlines because the majority of people always want to hear or read bad news; fake and negative reports are in the form of bad news.
“Editors and reporters often get desperate to attract people to read their newspapers, listen to their radio or watch their television channels. Fake news purveyors know this and will always dangle such baits at them,” he said.
The lecturer also decried the competition between the social and mainstream media, citing it as another factor responsible for easy spread of fake news in the society.
“Studies indicated that majority of the readers don’t read the full news; they only scan through the headlines. Most of the fake news that make the headlines, if you read the content, they are never in tandem with the headline.
“The effect of such fake news, hate speech and disinformation is clear – individuals are denied the right to know the truth and the actual fact, thus, leading to uninformed decisions which translate into bad decisions.
“Ultimately, it affects national integration and harmony, the nascent political democracy, economic stability, cause corruption and promote crises,” Ibrahim lamented.
Abbas Ibrahim, Chairman, Nigerian Union of Journalists, Kano State chapter, shares the lecturer’s concerns.
“Journalists should serve as the watchdog of the society, but recent trends have affected this age-long obligation.
“Overzealousness, quest for financial gain, followership, political, ethnic and religious partisanship have blurred the visions of media practitioners, reducing some of them to mere pawns in the hands of evil men.
“We have a duty to ensure that we disseminate accurate and balanced information, devoid of incitement and nepotism,” he counselled.
Malam Umar Usman, Information Officer, Federal University, Gusau opined that the desire to defame people’s character had led to the rise in negative and fake news.
“Negative and fake stories make headlines in today’s society simply because people want to hear negatives over positives.
“People also like to hear scandalous stories instead of developmental ones. Unfortunately, journalists pander to such destructive tendencies instead of the developmental stories.
“The solution to the problem is to enforce all media laws. Journalists need to be educated so as to realise the existence of media laws and their applicabilities.
“Professional unions and associations, especially the NUJ, should emphasise the training and retraining of its members across the country.
“To reduce the circulation of fake news, social media platforms need to be regulated in order to avoid ‘sharing as received’ without making further investigation to determine authenticity of the information.”
But Alhaji Nasiru Biyabiki, Chairman, Zamfara Media and Publicity Consult, believes that the ownership and control of media outfits determine their content.
“The media houses have to comply with the directives given to them by their owners and most media owners are serving their personal, political, religious or tribal interests. Government must provide regulatory agencies to ensure proper control of social media practice in the country.”
On his part, Alhaji Sa’idu Maishanu, Chairman, Zamfara State Radio and Television Services, is concerned that professional journalists freely engage in circulation of fake news.
He lamented that the social media had made everyone a journalist.
“Fake news and hate speeches dominate social media platforms because every citizen has access to a little cellphone with which to spread news and manipulate pictures and videos. We must regulate social media in the country,” he said.
For Hamisu Danjibga, a veteran journalist, negative news sells better and that is why media practitioners hunt for it.
“Some do that out of laziness. They won’t carry out investigation. Others do that in order to be the first with the news.”
Muhammad Shehu, spokesman of the Police Command in Zamfara, also decried the media’s obsession for fake news and reminded practitioners of the obligation to inform accurately and avoid creating disharmony in the society.
He attributed the spate of nagative, fake news and disinformation to political influence, corruption and lack of proper monitoring and supervision of journalists by media managers.
Muhammad Nasir, a former executive member of Zamfara Correspondents Chapel of the NUJ, said the media must remain a source of credible information, to remain relevant.
He expressed fear that that the nation would be plunged into deep crisis if the spread of fake news was not checked.
A politician, Alhaji Sani Dododo, also described the spread of fake news as a serious threat to national cohesion.
“Fake news is being spread in Nigeria every day, every hour and every minute, generating a lot of problems in all segments of life in the society.
“There was nothing like fake news in conventional journalism until recently when the social media came into existence.
“Fake news emanated from social media where most of the operators are not professionals. People just sit down in the comfort of their rooms to fabricate what they like, including pictures, which they post to mislead and deceive.
“Some snap pictures of anything they see around their environment, whether good or bad, and post same, without minding the consequences.”
Dododo, Publicity Secretary of the All Progresives Congress in Kebbi, called for collective efforts to fight the ugly trend.
In his contribution, Gambo Isah, spokesman of the Police Command in Katsina State, noted that fake news had contributed to the current insecurity in the country.
“Fake news in its entirety leads to insecurity, apprehension, fear, uncertainty, crises, among many other effects.
“Government has to do something urgently to stop the spread of wrong information in the social media,” he said.
Some stakeholders have also attributed the decline in professionalism to the lack of adherence to entry requirements as obtained in other professions.
Some of them told NAN that other factors like poor training, poor funding and remuneration, geo-political, tribal and religious sentiments had also affected the quality of news content served to members of the public.
Abdulrasheed Tulu, a lecturer with the Department of Mass Communication, Abubakar Tatari Ali Polytechnic, observed that apart from other factors, laziness on the part of most journalists had been their greatest undoing.
He said that their reluctance to go extra mile in digging out information had contributed immensely to the propagation of fake news and misinformation in the country.
“The traditional media should serve as a check on fake news, hate speech and disinformation, but unfortunately, they also engage in it.
“In a situation where those that are expected to solve the problem become the ones contributing to it, the drift along the dangerous route will continue,” he said.
He also blamed proprietors of media outfits for not living up to the expectations of providing the appropriate working conditions, thereby breeding an environment that encourages malpractices and desperation.
“The effect of fake news, hate speech and disinformation can be very devastating, especially in a conflict situation, as it aggravates tension, thereby creating panic,” he argued.
On possible solutions, the lecturer advocated ‘reasonable’ regulation of the social media, as well as sensitisation of both practitioners and members of the public.
He also explained that gatekeeping processes should be intensified in media organisations so that editors could regulate and enforce ethics.
Umar Sa’idu, Chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Bauchi State chapter, also stressed the need for appropriate sanctions on defaulters to serve as deterrent to others, just as he pointed out the desirability for training of professionals.
Ishola Michael, North-East Zonal Editor, Nigerian Tribune Newspaper, observed that unnecessary competition between traditional and social media, as well as the commercialisation of media content, had done a great disservice to the profession.
“The social media wants to break the news, not minding what would follow, and the traditional media wants to keep its status of authority, honesty and credibility.
“That situation has brought about competition. So, in order to remain relevant, the traditional media, particularly private-owned, are gradually tilting the way of the social media.
“Again, no matter what a client wants dished out, he or she is obliged, so long as there is willingness to pay for the airtime,” he said.
On his part, Malam Saidu Malala, Chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists, Gombe State Council, urged journalists to always live up to the ethics of their profession.
“Unless journalists imbibed the spirit of placing the interest of the country above other things, development will hardly be attained.
“As journalists, we must take into cognizance our responsibility as watchdogs of the society and always keep to best practices.
“This could only be achieved by dwelling on reports protecting national interest and developmental stories devoid of destructive sentiments,” he said.
Also speaking, Comfort Mukollo, Chairperson of Nigeria Association of Women Journalists in Gombe, said media practitioners should be conscious of the dangers of sensational journalism.
She attributed the rush for sensationalism to the misplaced belief that only such approach would ensure marketability in the news industry.
In Borno, stakeholders attributed the rise in unwholesome journalism practice to the advent of online media.
They observed that while many people had access to social media to post all sorts of fake and negative news, some journalists, out of laziness or sentiment, join the fray instead of doing what was expected of them as professionals.
Alhaji Bulama Talba, Chairman of NUJ in Borno, said that efforts by NUJ and others to regulate activities of members was being frustrated by the advent of the social media.
According to him, the profession, by default, has become open to all comers who do not subscribe to rules or regulations, just as they engage in all sorts of activities in the name of journalism.
He also noted that the quest for cheap labour had made many media outfits recruit unqualified persons as Journalists, with all the attendant consequences.
“Fake news and hate speeches, particularly in Nigeria, have increased religious, regional and political sentiments.
“There should be punishment for perpetrators; we saw how US blocked Twitter messages of a former president considered offensive,” Talba said.
Also speaking, Dr Mairo Mandara, Special Adviser to Borno Governor Babagana Zulum, and Coordinator on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Humanitarian Services, said that the role of journalists in a state like Borno, or a nation like Nigeria with security challenges, was critical, hence the need to emphasis on peace-building.
Malam Alkasim Bala, a lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication, Federal Polytechnic, Damaturu, said that many factors were responsible for the unprofessional conduct of some journalists.
“In Nigeria, many factors influence decisions and actions of media practitioners, some of which include regional, tribal and religious differences that determine way we think and do things.
“Many people try to defend what they see may affect their tribe, religion or where they come from,” Bala explained.
He regretted that some people take advantage of being media proprietors to spew hate speeches, while the appropriate authorities hardly bother to check their excesses.
According to him, such media owners only see and assess things from their own points of view and hardly consider overall national interest.
Bala noted that the media, as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, had critical role to play in the society, pointing out that any lapse on its part would have dire consequences for the country.
Amb. Fati Balla, former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Botswana has, however, attributed the challenges being faced as a result of the unwholesome activities of some media outfits to lack of proper supervision by the appropriate authorities.
“Media is a very important instrument in shaping and educating every society, through accurate information. It must be regulated to ensure protection of public interest,” she told NAN in Yola.
Also contributing, Ishaku Dauda, a Media Consultant based in Yola, observed that lack of regular training for Journalists was one of the causes of poor service delivery by professionals.
“The regular training of Journalists is no more a priority in almost all media establishments, as such, what comes out as news is often characterised by poor judgment.
He said that with the proliferation of news outlets (social media) devoid of proper regulation, most news items had become questionable and dangerous.
Also in Jigawa, stakeholders attributed the increase in unethical practice by journalists to inadequacy of training, absence of proper supervision of social media, and the quest to satisfy the yearnings of most people who have preference for sensational news.
The stakeholders, comprised of media executives, reporters and editors in private and government-owned print and electronic outfits, suggested proper funding and training of practitioners to enable them surmount the challenges posed by the emerging new media.
They also called for a law that would ensure that private media proprietors had the needed resources before being allowed to float radio, television or newspaper outfits.
With the focus on the negative reports getting even worse, some of the stakeholders have emphasised the need for more focus on development journalism in order to promote growth, cohesion and unity necessary for development in the society.
They defined development journalism as the brand of media practice that promotes and contributes to human development which focuses on helping people to meet their basic needs and realise their goals and aspirations.
It also helps to mobilise people to articulate their concerns and manage their own affairs.
They particularly urged journalists to avoid dissemination of fake news and negative reports in the course of their reportage because their mandate was to build, not destroy, society.
One of them, Salihu Mohammed-Alkali, Chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Nasarawa State Council, said journalists should engage more in development journalism to help in building a united and prosperous country.
Mohammed-Alkali said that even though it was the responsibility of journalists to expose the wrongs in the society, it was also important for them to report the good things in order to market the country to the outside world.
“Development journalism is capable of attracting a lot of benefits and investors to the country, because journalists mirror the society to the public.
“If journalists continue to report only bad news, it would give an impression that the country is made up of only bad people, thereby scaring away investors,” he said.
Similarly, Adiza Umar, Chairman of the Nasarawa State chapter of the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists, said that “good news is also news when properly packaged’’, and urged journalists to engage in development journalism.
According to Umar, what the media feed the public with is what the public believes.
“People believe what the media say, so journalists should report the good things happening in the country.
“Development journalism is the only way to dispel the fake news being disseminated by quacks, especially in the social media.”
Similarly, the Nasarawa State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Dogo Shammah, said that given the increasing spate of fake news, journalists should engage more in development journalism.
Dogo, who is the immediate past Chairman of the state council of the NUJ, said governments at all levels were doing a lot to improve the lots of the people, and that it was the responsibility of journalists to bring that to the knowledge of the public through development journalism.
On his part, Malam Abdul Idris, Executive Director, Radio Niger, and Chairman of the State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, blamed quack journalists for dishing out unethical contents that had often resulted in destroying, rather than developing, the society.
“It is not enough to be a journalist because you are involved in writing and dissemination of information to the public.
“You must possess the prerequisite qualification required by the constitution to be a professional journalist.
“Non-professionals (quacks) tend to see journalism from the angle that it will benefit them, rather than the entire society.
“For this reason, they end up destroying the society rather than building it,” Idris said.
He said that considering journalists as members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm was a fulfilment of the provision of Chapter 22 of the Nigerian Constitution.
According to him, “it says that journalists must serve as watchdog of the society, which implies that journalists must monitor the activities of government and report to the public”.
The executive director said that the continuous survival of the society could not be guaranteed if harmonious relationship in all sectors of the society was not promoted.
“The existence of the society will be threatened when there are crisis in various sectors of the society.
“It is therefore logical for journalists to report those information that will facilitate or build the continuous survival of the society, rather than reporting those that will destroy the society,’’ he said.
He explained that the watchdog function or role in terms of focusing on the developmental indices that contributed to the growth of the society was in line with the state principles and objectives.
“If you must report negative stories, then make sure that it must be in the interest of the public – issues of corruption, for instance, where an individual or persons embezzled public funds,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Plateau Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr Paul Jatau, has called for measures to control the use of social media.
Jatau said the social media would continue to create chaos in the society, unless measures were adopted to check the platforms.
According to him, most of the news reports put on the social media are not being fact-checked as they are produced by one person who is the content provider and the Editor.
He urged journalists to engage more in development journalism toward building a better society, rather than indulging in the dissemination of fake news.
A civil society activist and the Director of Civil Liberty Organsation, Jos office, Steve Aluko, said that the role of the media was crucial to the survival of any society.
He said that the media as the Fourth Estate of the Realm was expected to play a critical role in shaping the affairs of the society, adding that where the media failed, the society would also fail.
“The media is not playing its necessary role, that is why the society is suffering,” he said.
Aluko said that the effect of fake news and negative news on the society was enormous, noting that wars had been fought on the basis of fake news.
“Fake news also destroys lives, morals and the society. When fake news becomes the order of the day, it would promote bitterness, ethnic and religious cleansing and other negative vices.”
“To counter fake news, the right source of information must be pursued, timely and appropriately analysed, checked and filtered, to ensure that the right news is what prevails at the end of the day.”
The activist also called for the recruitment of qualified hands to practice journalism while remuneration should be reasonable in order to mitigate dissemination of fake and negative news in the society.
Tamakat Shingel of the Department of Mass Communication, Plateau State University, Bokkos, defined a journalist as a professional that was trained in the field of journalism who gathers news, assesses the news and presents it to the public.
Shingel stated that a journalist does not work for just one person or group of persons, but for a mass audience.
She said that the role of the media was basically to inform, educate and to entertain, stressing that information and education also formed part of the social responsibility of the media.
“Unfortunately, practitioners engage in the dissemination of negative and fake news mainly because they sell and spread very fast as the audiences tend to have ears more for negative news than development news.”
Shingel said that fake news misleads an individual as it makes such person to take wrong decisions and do things that are detrimental to development.
Terese Tuhwa of the Nigerian Standard agrees with Shingel.
“Fake news make more headlines than development stories because of their sensational nature. They attract high readership; they are always unimaginable. They attract a high readership because they arouse curiosity, people want to know what happened.
“Readers read such stories with anxiety to ascertain what went wrong,” Tuhwa said.
Jerry Iorngaem, a media manager, however, said that fake news had lots of damaging effects.
“When Ebola came, a lady wrote on her Facebook page that salt helps in the prevention of the dreaded disease.
“Before you knew it, people started spreading the fake news without verifying its authenticity.
“Some people, who had hypertension, drank the salted water and died,” Iorngaem said.
He said the prevalence of fake news in a particular country often gives that nation a negative image.
“For instance, if someone tags a country as a corrupt nation even without providing concrete evidence, most people tend to believe it.
“It also breeds distrust because if people discover that a particular medium is used to churning out fake news, even when it publishes authentic news, people will not believe it,” he said.
In Taraba, stakeholders called for the stablishment of a Media Regulatory Agency to check the spate of fake news in the country, observing that the menace had become a big problem to the society,
One of them, Hassan Danzumi, who is the Publisher of the News Hub Magazine, urged the National Assembly and other stakeholders to ensure the establishment of the agency.
Danzumi decried the spate of fake news in contemporary Nigeria, adding that its effect was quite alarming and the pace at which it spreads unimaginable.
“Fake news has caused disaffection among individuals, groups and societies,” he said.
To tackle the menace of fake news, Prof. Ayo Ojebode, a journalism teacher, has said that Nigeria must raise and nurse a generation of critical news users, who would be sharply media literate, to decipher between fake and real news.
Ojebode, Head of Department, Communication and Language Arts, University of Ibadan, said that raising such a generation would need to start from the primary school level.
“This is because it is difficult to stop fake news. If you do, you might be guilty of violating people’s freedom of speech,” he said.
Ojebode said that hate speech had led and continues to lead to ethnic and religious hatred, and violence.
“It is far more evil than we can imagine,” the don said.
Ojebode said that negative and fake news make the headlines more than developmental stories because negative and fake news spread faster and make the headlines because they are sensational, and would always tickle people.
He noted that the traditional role of the media in society included surveillance to keep a close watch on democracy and society and report any threats to them, as well as to educate the citizens, to inform them through news, and entertain them.
Funke Egbemode, former President, Nigeria Guild of Editors has, on her part, declared that those involved in reporting fake news and hate speech should not be reckoned with as journalists.
Egbemode, the Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation in Osun, said a Journalist is one who is familiar with the ethics of the profession, with many years of cognitive work experience, after rigorous study of mass communication.
The commissioner, who said that the effects of hate speech and fake news could not be overemphasised, noted that a true journalist is fully aware of the consequences of spreading fake news and hate speech.
Egbemode tasked the NUJ and government regulatory agencies empowered by the law, to get rid of quack and fake journalists in the country.
She added that the role of the media was to set positive agenda for the government on national issues and not to bring government down with fake news.