Ahead of the forthcoming general elections in Nigeria, the Nigeria Union of Journalists NUJ, in partnership with NITDA and PRNigeria, recently organised a one-day Digital Journalism and Fact-Checking Workshop for journalists in Rivers State.
National Chairman of the NUJ, Chief Chris Isiguzo, who was one of the resource persons, granted TNN’s EDITH CHUKU audience in this interview where he spoke on fake news as a threat to democracy, the importance of social media in information dissemination, safety of journalists during the election among other issues.
Today, in the city of Port Harcourt, leadership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists is partnering with some organizations to hold a digital journalism and fact-checking workshop for Journalists in Rivers State. What do you intend to achieve with this programme?
What we are doing is to prepare journalists for the forthcoming elections. We are no longer talking about 2023, we are talking about this year’s elections. And you will agree with me that there is a global information disorder, and that’s why we are trying to prepare journalists who are strategic in the delivery of credible elections, so that they don’t muddle up things.
When we talk about the strategic stakeholders, as far as credible election is concerned, you talk about the election management body, INEC, you talk about the media and you talk about the security. That means these three must work together in order to ensure that a credible election is delivered to the populace.
So you said you are interested in the fact-checking, knowing full well that the disorder in the information system is not good for our collective humanity, today we talk about fake news, as simplistic as that term is, it is harmful, it is a threat to democracy, and that’s why we have come to prepare journalists.
We are actually doing this workshop across Nigeria to prepare journalists, let them understand what misinformation means, what disinformation means, what mal-information means, what propaganda means, what fake news is generally, so that they could also avoid those pitfalls, as they go about their journalistic activities because if we allow fake news to continue to fester as it is at the moment, we are not going to have election that will represent the wishes of the people. Politicians always use this period to inflame the polity and we are not comfortable with that. The only way they will thrive with their inflammatory remarks, campaign rhetoric is when journalists give them life and that is why we are preparing journalists, let them be properly equipped, imbibe the boldness, the courage and the capacity to be able to sieve between this rhetoric and the reality so that when you feed the public, you will have that responsibility of informing, educating, mobilizing the public ahead of an important election and indeed, all elections.
So you must have to feed from the standpoint of knowledge, not from the standpoint of ignorance. That’s why we are preparing them so that when they churn out these facts, when they churn out fiction, when they churn out data some of them false, you will be able to decipher between the real and the fiction.
That’s exactly what we are doing and by the time we succeed with this, preparing hundreds of journalists, you would have been able to capture a sizeable number of population within the profession and they will do the country a whole lot of good. That’s exactly what we are doing. We are in Port Harcourt now and you see a good number of journalists that are here, these are people that are going to take part in the coverage of the election, and now, it will be a lot easier for them, they remember what they’ve been taught, the papers that have been presented, and it will guide them in their practice, so what impact is it going to have, it obviously going to make positive impact on their lives, on the profession, on the country, on the election and everybody, it’s a win, win situation for all of us.
Now, the NUJ is arming journalists with the knowledge of the dos and don’ts in preparation for this election. What happens with the social media influencers who are not journalists, because there are claims that INEC is also recruiting influencers to cover the election?
Who are the people operating within these social media platforms? Journalists should not exempt themselves because as a journalist, you are the one that is prepared for such work, you must have to show substantial appearance on the social media platforms; on Whatsapp, twitter, on LinkedIn, instagram, Facebook, all of them, Wechat and all of them. You are supposed to show presence because when these people that are largely untrained to handle such journalistic work come to the social media, you that is seen to be trained and prepared for such job, you would be able to counter events of fake news or falsehood that is spread on the social media. So, all of us must be there and it will be substantially difficult for anybody to think that we can operate without the social media now, it has become part of our lives. We must also prepare ourselves to be able to come to terms with what comes with it. All of us are there, you cannot expect INEC to ignore a chunk of the populace that exists, they begin their day, end their day on the social media and you say no, because the handlers are not trained and all that. If I ask you, do you have a twitter account, you probably don’t, even if you do, you probably don’t have up to five followers, but that social media influencer has followers running into millions and there is no way you will tell an organization not to take note of what happens there, so they are very, very strategic. In fact, an organization would rather deal with that man that has large following, whose one post can reach out to millions instantly, than you trained journalist working with a recognized medium, but you don’t have following on the social media.
Let’s look at the safety of journalists in this forthcoming election, what must they do to avoid been the news in the news?
Journalists must be extremely careful and not be emotional about the report or news or stories they are going after. You don’t need to attach sentiments, the only sentiment is patriotic sentiments; sentiments about the country, about the people, not about your emotions. No matter what news or story it is, it’s not worth your life, if you report today also report tomorrow and don’t become the report tomorrow. Very important. But beyond that, we are also improving our engagement and interface with the security agencies because they are the ones that have got the constitutional mandate to secure us, so we are also increasing our engagements with them so that they will all know that we are all partners in progress, give us some level of protection while we also discharge our responsibilities, these are very, very important, and that we are doing, the past election, the number of journalists that were caught in the harm’s way reduced substantially, because of the kind of engagement we have brought to bear, you know, and this time around we are also intend to even crash the number, why, we are going to put up a situation room where everything that is happening across the country, we will be watching it from our situation room, that makes it a lot easier, if it’s happening in Rivers State I can see it from my office in Abuja, if it’s happening in Kano, we will monitor that, that’s what we are going to do across the country, we did it first, during the 2019 election, this year’s election we also intend to replicate that, that way whatever happens anywhere, we will be able to get across to the powers that be, or the security agencies that are there to tackle it quickly so that it doesn’t go beyond that moment, that’s what exactly we are doing as a union, and I believe that we will continue to succeed along that line.
Can journalists enjoy some personal benefits during the election?
You are not expected to enjoy some personal benefits that would to some extent affect what you would churn out to the public. If that your report is going to be influenced with pecuniary interest, you are going to be induced for that report, you are no longer doing journalism, you alone know what you are doing.