July 25, 2021

TNN Newspaper

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On Bayelsa’s Rumour Mill

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The governor of Bayelsa State, Henry Seriake Dickson once described Bayelsa as a rumour mill. The ugly trend became so worrisome that during his first term, Dickson had to set up a committee on rumour mongering. Headed by Chief Francis Doukpola, the committee was saddled with the responsibility of verifying all important information, especially those that concerned government, before they are made public. It was also charged to work with security agencies to arrest and punish those peddling untrue information. Though the idea was fantastic, the committee did not see the light of the day. Nobody was arrested for spreading fake news until the rumour committee died a natural death, a few months after its inauguration.
Since then, the rumour market has continued to thrive in all parts of the state. Unverified pieces of information fly freely in the state and often perch on gullible and vulnerable minds who become automatic fertile grounds to grow seeds of animosity, rancour and bitterness. Most of the conflicts in the state are products of unconfirmed information.
In recent times, Bayelsa State has suffered the scourge of misinformation especially as the state tilts towards the November 16 governorship election. Some of the political actors see rumour mongering as the most accessible veritable tool for hoodwinking the electorate for scoring cheap political points.
In the past few weeks, the lzon speaking state has had a full dose of unverified information served on unsuspecting citizens capable of doing serious harm to the already volatile security situation in the state.
For insurance, it was recently rumoured that the state deputy governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John-Jonah had resigned. The baseless information which was being peddled mostly on the social media created so much tension in the state and would have incited violence in different parts of the state especially his senatorial district but for the mainstream media that brought the situation under control.
Again, the rumour mill was on it last weekend. The social media space was inundated with an unfounded report that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had published two names as governorship candidates for the All Progressives Congress (APC) on its website for the forthcoming election.
What that implied was that the party had no authentic governorship candidate. Sadly enough, some supposedly important personalities in the state joined the fray in spreading the falsehood, not minding its negative implications. The mainstream media industry was again put on its toe, disseminating the true information on the issue.
The social media has been identified as the major driver of the modern trend of rumour mongering in the state and other parts of the country. The social media should be used for societal development and not as instrument for destabilization. New media users should always verify information before dishing them out for public consumption, bearing in mind the injuries such unverified information may cause society.
It is also our view, that government media managers should avoid the mistake of hoarding information meant for the public. Rumours are spread when government officials are involved in foot dragging when it comes to releasing certain information over controversial issues of public interest.
This ought not to be because it fuels speculations. Government officials should be open and make their offices accessible to media practitioners in the state. A situation where the media team of government shies away from their responsibility of informing and educating the general public on the activities of government is uncalled for. Accurate and verified information released to the public at the appropriate time is the antidote to the deadly rumour mongering bedevilling the state.

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