FAKE NEWS: Sahara Reporters’ unethical practices undermining FG’s fight against corruption

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By Moses Idika, Abuja

The media has the capacity to shape the narrative, but what it does not know is that that capacity is dwindling.

“It’s fast dwindling because more and more Nigerians are beginning to say, “wait a minute these people often don’t tell the truth.” “These people often don’t investigate.” The media are losing credibility.

“Gone are those days when you pick up the paper and what you read you know is gospel truth.”

Those were the words of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila while engaging with journalists that cover the activities of the House of Representatives on July 2nd, 2020.

With the coming of the internet leading to the democratization of the media practice this creating the emergence of a new brand of journalism, the idea of fake news crept in too. With the internet at the finger tip of people everywhere in the world, citizen journalism was born. Everyone with a phone can practically report events (news).

Today, every news medium now has the “eye witness” segment where citizens who may not be professionally trained journalists generate content for media houses by recording and sending such events to the media outlets for publication.
Indeed, there is no sphere of human endeavour that has been affected by the advent of the internet like the media.

However, even with the plethora of “news” activities in the internet space, online news media remain distinct from “citizen journalists” and bloggers. The difference here lies in the fact that online news platforms or online newspapers actually practice journalism according to the established rules and ethics of journalism which basically stands on the mantra that says “when in doubt, leave out.”

As a practicing online journalist and a member of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), it saddens me that we (online journalists) are rather becoming our own biggest enemies. It is now a common thing for people both in public office and private individuals to constantly use such comments like “I read it in the social media,” “it was all over social media,” “you cannot rely on social media account” and many such comments which primarily aim to belittle the source or make it look like since it was not delivered on print or television the “credibility” of the news is in doubt!

It becomes even more painful when practitioners of online newspapers play into the hand of the those whose sole aim is to discredit the new media by peddling lies and conjectures in the name of “exclusive” news items and reports.

Sahara Reporters is one of the very first online newspapers in Nigeria. Though published from the United States of America, nearly 100% of its news content come from Nigeria or concerns Nigeria.
However, of late Sahara Reporters has consistently put those of us in the online newspaper business at risk of serious public distrust.

Just last week (July 7, 2020), the newspaper reported that 50 members of the House of Representatives had tested positive to the dreaded coronavirus prompting the the House to adjourn for a week.

This particular report which has since been found to be false triggered series of unpleasant consequences for everyone working in the complex as even their families became alarmed and jittery. The House through its spokesman, Hon. Benjamin Kalu in a press statement refuted the Sahara Reporters claim, but even then the damage had been done.

There has been series of outcry by people and organisations that had been “victimized” by this news medium. One of the outstanding cases was documented on pages 19 and 20 of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s recent book: Fighting Corruption is Dangerous.

In her account, Okonjo-Iweala, two time Nigeria’s former Finance Minister wrote, “Friends and family alerted me to a spate of articles that had began to appear in a Nigerian online news outlet, Sahara Reporters, that were attacking me and the notion of my return to government as Finance Minister.

“…One night I received a call on a private phone line that I had reserved for use only by my family. When I picked up the phone expecting a family member, a voice said this was Omoyele Sowore of Sahara Reporters and he had some questions for me to answer. I was outraged… shortly after, a tape of our conversation appeared on the internet. Not only had this man violated all rules of decent behavior, but he had gone beyond to do something as unethical as taping our conversation without my knowledge or permission. I did think this was a news medium worthy of any attention.”

As a journalist practicing in an online news outlet, I am deeply worried that the tactics and practices of Sahara Reporters as an online news platform may eventually overwhelmingly discredit us all to a point that we may be ran out of the market.
The era of fake news, distortion of facts and subjective presentation of information by the media is becoming worrisome. It is more devastating when as an established media organization like Sahara Reporters dwells on junk journalism.

We have credible online newspapers that have distinguished themselves as very credible news sources, yet the action on one single medium continues to tar every one with a brush of ignominy.

It has therefore, become imperative to call on media regulatory agencies, media rights based organizations, including the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Nigerians Guild of Editors, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Nigerian Press Council, Media Right Concerns, International Press Council among other stakeholders to speak out against these unethical practices to nip in the bud this ominous signs looming as a result of the tactics and practice of journalism in the hue seen from Sahara Reporters.

Idika is an Abuja-based journalist. He writes and edits www.eparliament.ng

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