Executive Director of Media Career Development Network (MCDN), Mr. Lekan Otufodunrin has appealed to Nigerians to exercise caution and beware of fake news currently flying around the country in the midst of nationwide crisis.
Otufodunrin who was Nneota Egbe’s guest on Channels television Saturday morning program, Sunrise, said there are ethics guiding the media profession.
According to him, these ethics prevent the journalists from publishing just anything. He said the ordinary man on the street may not know that journalists do not have to publish just anything because of the code of ethics guiding the profession.
In ensuring a balance between truth and sanity for individuals and journalists, the former Online Editor and Director of Special Publication at the Nation newspaper said, “The first point to make for the journalist is that there are ethics that guide what we are supposed to do.”
He added that, “One of the things that have come out of this present crisis is that the ordinary man on the street, the protesters or people that are leading the campaign think that the journalists are supposed to just take everything they see on the social media and publish.
“So for us in the media we are guided by the ethics that says truth is very important, there must be fairness, there must be balance and if in doubt, you leave out. That is what guides our work,” he said.
Otufodunrin who began his journalism career with the Punch newspaper in 1987 stated further that the ordinary man on the street must be made to understand that information sharing is very delicate because of the various implications.
“For the ordinary man, we need to understand that information sharing is very critical. You don’t just receive anything and share. You need to verify what people are sending across to you so that you can make informed decision and that is why media literacy is very important.
“We live in a time where we have information overload and too many things are being thrown at us. It is important that we maintain our sanity, it is important to know that information is very empowering, we must know the truth before we take our positions on any matter,” he said.
Talking about the war of supremacy between the mainstream media and the social media, how to ensure freedom of the press and freedom of the ordinary individual, Otufodunrin, a media trainer differentiated between a journalist and a social media influencer.
“There is the issue of online media practitioner; a journalist is not a social media influencer. A journalist is one that is guided by professional ethics. There are things we can do and there are things we cannot do.
“In the broadcast media for example, there is a code that guides us, they make us ensure that what we put out is true and what we broadcast should not inflame passion.
“We have a sense of responsibility to be sure that what we put out there is the truth, what we are saying is that for the ordinary person he also has the responsibility to establish the fact about everything.
“People have been accusing the traditional media that we are not publishing the things they are seeing and as it has turned out, there is a lot of debate about what is true and what is not true,” he said.
About the unfortunate Lekki shooting and information sharing, Otufodunrin said, “The Lekki shooting took place, we all saw it. The question is who died who did not die, the fatality have not been established. Some people that have been suggested to have died have come out that they are alive and people should stop doing RIP for them. This is the dilemma we face where there is too much information that you can’t verify.
“We need to verify our information whether we are professional or an average individual and that is why we must not receive something and just forward. A journalist is bound to keep to the rule of information dissemination and the public should not expect us to just disseminate information; we need to verify the information, we need to get all sides. There are many sides to a story but we must show a sense of responsibility.
“We are seeing looting and destruction, it must affect all of us including the people who are engaged in these things. That is why we must maintain our sanity. Information dissemination is very critical,” he insisted.
He added that, “Disinformation is when you know that this is falsehood and you are sharing it. Some people don’t know it is falsehood but some people deliberately sit down to concoct information that is false then cause disaffection and that is what is happening now.”
Also talking about the various biases that have tainted the media due to ownership, Otufodunrin said, “People need to understand that somebody will own one media house ot the other and even as an individual, you have your own bias. It is not peculiar to Nigeria that media houses are owned by politicians and business men.
“I have the privilege of working in a private media house that is owned by a politician and one that is not owned by a politician. I think it is a matter of how we operate. There is a lot of assumption. People assume that once someone owns a media house, he dictates. The public has been very unfair, many people don’t watch these stations but only assume that these stations do one particular thing.
“Due to the work I do, I monitor the media and I can say confidently that even the one that is owned by the state or by politicians have discharged their responsibilities very well. They have looked at all sides, they have risked their lives to report the people that are on the street but people don’t watch these things before assuming things. I think that is very unfair. The matter of being tainted is not an issue because somebody must own a media house and there are various interests.
“Even for those working in the media houses, the counsel is that we must do our best to ensure that we reflect all sides and they have been doing that. One of the stations that was affected in the crisis won the award of the station of the year last year because it did so well. So I think it is very unfair to label some stations because they are owned by some people.
“The people who work there are individuals too, media houses have been attacked and people are losing jobs. The attack on the media is very unfortunate and the people should stop the mob mentality of attacking the media.
“We talk of freedom of the media, if you intimidate the media professionals, you are also affecting their freedom,” he said.