SUNDAY Dare, the Minister of Youth and Sports Development on Friday says there is a need for legislation, persuasion and cooperation in Nigeria in order to successfully address the scourge of fake news in the country.
“The effort to legislate against fake news, in as much as it looks really cancerous, its implementation will bring about some level of censorship and in our job, censorship is not what we want to hear,” Dare said.
“But should government criminalise fake news, I think that some forms of legislation might be necessary but such legislation must be collaborative legislation where the government and critical stakeholders will meet to agree on some minimum level of some regime of enforcement and laws that can ensure that whoever has been found to perpetuate fake news is made to answer.”
The multi-layered approach suggested by the Minister would require civil sanctions against fake news peddlers and corporate bodies indicted of such offence.
He also advocated for an improved awareness to forestall the trend.
Dare who described fake news as problematic and cancerous disclosed made the suggestion during a webinar organised by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) in partnership with the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ).
The event titled, “Gaining Trust for the Media in the Fake News Era,” was put together to discuss issues of misinformation, roles of the traditional media and how misinformation could be curtailed to the barest minimum.
Though, the minister emphasised such sanctions would come as a civil process but not criminal, he stated that most of the responsibilities would dwell on the traditional media to ensure they publish factual information.
He said, for instance, a fake news purveyor whose false information had caused some damages in the society might not get equal sanction as those who disseminated false information out of ignorance.
While recommending that journalism should be professionalised by issuing licenses or certifications, he stated that legislation might not necessarily have been an option if stakeholders in the media industry had adopted a standard rule of professionalism, citing the Medical and Law professions as instances.
The nation, he noted would have been recording multiple deaths, for example in the health sector but for the ethics guiding the medical professionals.
“We need to set up a regime of certification, not just that every newcomer walks into journalism. So long you can write, speak English, does that makes you a journalist? he said.
“We must look at the path of licensing rather than legislation. Look at other professions, are we also applying the rule of professionalism?
Dare advised tertiary institutions in the country to incorporate news verification processes to check further spread of fake news in their training modules for students of journalism.
He applauded efforts of different Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) including the ICFJ, CrossCheckNigeria, and Facebook towards checking the scourge of fake news.
“We must all declare war against fake news,” the minister noted.
“We must debunk, reject and expose fake news at our individual levels whenever and wherever they are perpetrated.”
Meanwhile, he disclosed plans to infuse captivating messages against fake news in a proposed ‘Choose a Life’ campaign of the Ministry of Sports and Youth Development, which according to him, is designed against drug abuse among Nigerian youths.
He also challenged journalists to play the watchdog role, especially once government officials disseminate false news.
Presenting the true version of misinformation, he stressed would project such Ministries, Departments and Agency (MDAs) in public ridicule.
“You must investigate and find out…the rule of the thumb is that, if you are in doubt, don’t publish,” Dare added, stressing that, “when there is fake news from government, we should do what is required by the ethics of our journalism…query and call up those involved in that information.”
Dayo Aiyetan, Executive Director of The ICIR in his opening remarks, described fake news as a threat to democracy.
He noted that politicians have been weaponising fake news to influence the public in making the wrong choices, adding that too often, politicians or government office holders distort information for personal gain.
“Politicians, individuals even government officials see fake news they deploy as part of governance,” Aiyetan said.
He advised the media and National Orientation Agency (NOA) to live to the responsibility of fighting misinformation.
In her presentation, Ejiro Umokoro, award-winning broadcaster and media executive identified a need for people to stop believing that every popular news is true, nothing that false information can go viral.
“When information is popular, people think it is true, but that is no longer the case when false information can go viral,” Umokoro said.
She also emphasized on the need to separate opinion and bias from facts in order to be able to combat fake news, adding that shoddy journalism is also part of the problem of the perpetuation of fake news.
During his presentation, Fisayo Soyombo, multiple award winning investigative journalist expressed worry over the booming of fake news in recent time, noting that some people are deliberately sponsoring fake news to minimize movement, particularly that of journalists.
He expressed worry that those who detest critical journalism are the ones branding true work of journalists as fake. But, he urged the public to always define their interest before sharing any information.
“Before sharing or sending a piece of information, ask yourself why you are doing so?” Soyombo said.