The Vice President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) has advised online publishers to self-regulate their activities by willingly signing on to a code of ethics and opening themselves to some kind of peer review in order to ensure their credibility to the reading public.
Prof. Osinbajo also advised online publishers to actively support local and international frameworks for preventing the misuse of social media and to encourage and promote forums such as this for online practitioners to engage and develop by interaction with others.
He gave the advice in the remarks he made at the third Annual New Media Conference of Online Publishers Association of Nigeria (OPAN) on January 16, 2019.
Recalling his involvement with the press, he disclosed that he co-author a book titled “Media Law in Nigeria” in 1991 adding “one of the very important things that came up then was the whole concept of Press Freedom”.
He noted further that at that time, regulating the media was easy as, according to him, “the only problem existing then were people called pamphleteers … people who just make pamphlets and distribute them at bus-stops”. He noted that today the story is different as people now have websites that can communicate with millions of people or thousands of people depending on what that may be within seconds, reaching even greater number of people than the traditional media in many cases.
He pointed out: “we’re in an interesting place today. The free press has arrived at its best possible time and also possibly its worst time. It is the best time for the free press because digital technology and the internet have handed is the ultimate definition of freedom of expression: all of us can have access to and even own a medium. Any medium of communication is available to us now.”
“But it also means anyone, even a crazy person, an anarchist can use any medium on the internet to spread inciting messages, hate speech, distorted facts or just false news or fake news as it is called today. The media then can be either a responsible gatekeeper or an enabler of fake news,” he added.
He also noted that “At the moment the latter sadly appears to be the case – mainly because no importance is attached to fact-checking.”
Saying it is important to situate news reports within the context of actual, verifiable, truth, he pointed out that a situation in which all that is reported is what people said, without bringing scrutiny to the issues at stake, is untenable.
He cited Premium Times as an example of an online medium that actually does some fact-checking adding the medium actually takes the trouble to check.
Prof. Osinbajo reminded them that that integrity pays, and that “being the first to break the news, especially when it is unverified, might bring in some traffic initially, but it doesn’t take that long to lose reputation. And once the credibility of the publication is damaged, people will not take the news seriously.”
This election cycle, he pointed out, offers a unique opportunity for online publications to examine the prospects of agreeing to some ethical baselines, and to even appoint an Ombudsperson paid for by OPAN whose business will be to receive reports of ethical violations and recommend correction or some agreed sanctions.
He added: “There is also an opportunity here for online media to establish a firm reputation as not just an unavoidable presence, but as credible interlocutors and purveyors of information.”