By Chimezie Godfrey
Media practitioners in the country have been cautioned against patronizing fake news.
A cross-section of professionals including veteran journalists, engineers, policymakers, and a host of others made the call on Friday in Abuja at the “4th Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) Nigeria Media Awards”.
They asserted that fake news is destructive and should be avoided.
Mr. Francis Nwosu, Executive Secretary, Nigerian Press Council in a paper at the event posited that fake news if left unchecked is capable of threatening the foundation of the country’s democracy, foster distrust in institutions, undermine individuals’ right to truth, and potentially increase social polarization among other negative impacts.
He said,”Fake news is rustled up by individuals or groups to deceive the public, cause ill feelings, influence people’s views, push political agendas, cause disaffection or confusion for specific government policy, or disparage or malign a person’s character.
“It is indeed written and published with the intent to mislead in order to damage an entity, agency, person, and/or gain financially or politically, using sensationalist, dishonest, or outright fabricated headlines to increase readership.”
On why Science journalists must stay with the science, Nwosu said that fake news is both anti-ethical to the journalism profession and injurious to the polity.
“A cursory look at our polity will portray one at the mercy of fake news. Like in some other climes, the issue of fake news has become a serious challenge in our country.
“A school of thought had postulated that there has always been fake news.
“The difference today is that social media platforms have enabled fake news to spread widely and more quickly than ever before.
“While social media is the biggest source of fake news, the media gives prominence to it through the publication of fictitious stories.
“As science journalists, staying with science places you in a vantage position as specialized journalists,” he said.
Nwosu urged media practitioners to ensure that the information they give out to the public is correct.
“The public must trust that your information is correct – you must be rigorous, not necessarily the first to publish a story. You must double-check your facts and present facts in layman’s terms as much as possible.
“Make your facts more compelling and with a focus on the human story of the science. Ensure you always point out the lack of rigor and fallacies of the fake news. Lay emphasis on the breadth and depth of scientific consensus that unpins current knowledge.
“As science journalists, you are enjoined to move against fake news.
“You must continue to help in rebooting science journalism in an age of the internet and ensure that science journalism and science journalists will continue to survive in the new media ecosystem,” he stressed.
The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu in a speech at the occasion called on science journalists to avoid fake news and focus on factual news that promotes the deployment of technology in agriculture as the government strategizes on how to feed the teeming population in this COVID-19 Pandemic era.
Onu noted that Biotechnological tools such as genetic engineering are assisting many countries of the world to address some of the challenges facing their agriculture.
He added that in Nigeria, the media has also given voice to opponents of a technology that threatens the nation’s effort to attain food security.
The Minister who challenged the media to remain focused added that “While it is believed that the media has earned for itself a pride of place in the minds of the common man over the years, I strongly advise that this be maintained”.
Dr. Rose Maxwell Gidado, Country Coordinator, Open Forum On Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa, Nigeria Chapter, said that those who will be recognized at the event are doing inspirational work: humanizing science and bringing it to the people for sustainable development in the communities and the country at large.
“It has never been more important that we recognize the work of journalists in science reporting than it is today – as false information is increasingly being spread to undermine the big role science plays in solving our present-day challenges including COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, food insecurity, among others.
“Journalists serve as a bridge between science and society; they play a crucial role in informing and educating the public and policymakers on advances in science and technology including agricultural biotechnology,” she stressed.
The high point of the event was the giving of awards by OFAB to journalists who have done outstandingly well in telling the stories of science and agricultural technology in Nigeria.
The overall Winner was Pretty Ngozi Onyejiaku of AIT. She went home with a laptop and five hundred US Dollars.
The Winner for Best Entry for Print category is Vincent Ayaka Yusuf of Daily Trust, the Winner for Best Entry for Radio category, Rabi Hope Momoh of Radio Nigeria, and the Winner for Best Entry for TV is Pretty Ngozi Onyejiaku of AIT.
Others are 2nd Runner up for Print category, Chibuzor Kelechi of Daily Independent, 2nd Runner Up for Radio category, Maureen Chioma Ekezie of FRCN, and Sylvester Thompson of NAN Abuja who won the award for Best Coordinator.