Media should set up fact-checking desks —Osun Commissioner for Information 

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Abimbola Abatta, Osogbo

Osun State Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation in the State of Osun, Funke Egbemode, has prescribed that media platforms in Nigeria should create fact-checking desks to confirm and refute inaccurate stories.

This is in reaction to the volume and rapidity of fake news constantly flooding the digital media space.

Egbemode who is also a veteran journalist said that the existing fact-checking organisations must be more alert discharging their mandates of public protection.

Egbemode, while addressing Nigerian Military Personnel at the Media Workshop of the Nigerian Army School of Public Relations and Information, on Wednesday, said more than at any time in history, public information must now be done in the most prompt, efficient and transparent manner.

According to her, this is to keep pace with the nature of communication on social media while also establishing trust between official sources and the citizens.

Egbemode, who presented a paper on the role of media in countering fake news for national security, said fake news (or its variants such as hate speech, disinformation and falsehood) rank high as potent tools that could threaten national stability, especially in a multi-ethnic society like Nigeria.

She added that evidence abound globally on how ‘information’ has been weaponized as a  tool for social disaffection, disharmony and outright instability among people.

“In recent history, there is ample evidence to underscore how the prevalence of  fake news has fuelled electoral violence, ethno-religious conflicts, leadership mistrust, jungle justice, among others.

“Fake news can enable discriminatory and inflammatory ideas to enter public discourse and be treated as fact. Once embedded, such ideas can, in turn, be used to create scapegoats, to normalize prejudices, to harden us-versus-them mentalities and even, in extreme cases, to catalyze and justify violence.

“There is no doubt that fake news has emerged as the greatest threat  to public safety and national security in contemporary society. This, therefore, calls for urgent solutions, part of which include fact-checking as integral media content, prompt and true information from official sources, fidelity to ethical standards, aggressive citizens’ orientation, more participation of professionals in the digital space and increased partnership between the government and the media.

“It is important for the media to avoid being used to peddle falsehood by individuals and groups with questionable motives. We must note that it is not enough to just publish press releases in the name of news stories, but pay attention to verifying all facts to ensure absolute conformity to best ethical standards.

“The media industry must also collectively respond by resuscitating an industry-led ombudsman that can work and make media operators accountable for whatever they do,” Egbemode explained.