The essence of news is that it is accurate and balanced. According to various scholars and practitioners in the media industry, there should not be anything called “fake news” because incorrect or inaccurate narration of events cannot be associated with news. Despite this stance, not a single day has gone by without reports of people spreading misleading and false information via various technological platforms. The majority of the time, the creators are not trained media professionals. This is not to say that there haven’t been professionals who created and disseminated contaminated messages. As part of this discussion, our analyst spoke with Dr. Mustapha Muhammed Jamiu, a lecturer at RUND University in Moscow and the Executive Director of the Center for Research for Development of African Media, Governance, and Society, about the effects of polluted messages on African democracy and other sundry issues.
Tekedia: Growth and development cannot happen without some forms of research issues and needs in society. As a scholar from Africa, who is schooled in the continent and one of the countries in the global north, what’s your take on research and development in Africa, especially towards advancing media and public communication?
Mustapha Muhammed Jamiu: Thank you. To be sincere, there are many existing works of African scholars on the advancement of media and public communication and also on information management. However, not all are of high quality and not many are practically based in their focus. For example, many of us young scholars tend to supplement academic papers from the global north to provide a standard paper required from high-impact journals. Another issue regarding practical based research is the fact that papers shouldn’t be written for the sake of just writing, keeping a list of publications, or on shelves. Academic papers are meant to effect change in society. That is why it is called a research paper. Unfortunately, you will barely find some of them easy to use in application. Another big problem is the failure of the government to declare most government-owned universities as research institutions with full support and transfer the results and recommendations from scholars’ works to policy implementation and society’s development. As for the development of media and public communication, as I said, we need a synergy between governments and scholars to make this happen especially at this critical moment of media proliferation and information pollution era. Information, communication, and media are key pillars of democracy and need to be well taken care of. And one of the best means is through well-funded research with the government being intentional in their support to the academic community and for academics to also sit up by producing quality work.
Tekedia: Production and dissemination of media content cannot occur without learning the rudiments of doing them from school. How would you describe media performance in terms of producing content that advances Africa’s cause and connects it to the rest of the world? Is African media representing the continent well?
Mustapha Muhammed Jamiu: Well, to talk about other forms of media such as music, movies etc, they have been trying their best in projecting the image of Africa but from a journalistic point of view, there isn’t much to celebrate. So, the representation of African media in the world is still lacking in that regard. To get accurate stories about happenings in Africa, majority would still have to turn to foreign media. The African media producers and practitioners (journalism in particular) need to learn how to let the work do what media is meant to do for Africa from an African perspective. There is need for them to create niches for African identity as a continent and take full charge in telling our story better. The practice of journalism in a formal way may once be of western orientation but today, it is a global thing for every region to represent their image to the fullest. Now, every region must have its media genre. No more copycat, western or colonial genres. This is one of the key issues affecting the performance of African media in taking charge of their region when it comes to representation.
Tekedia: Hardly can one see severely polluted messages in Africa before technology. Now, emerging technologies have revolutionized the ways Africans create and disseminate information. Would you say technology is a curse or blessing to the continent’s ways of communication?
Mustapha Muhammed Jamiu: Hmmm. . . I wouldn’t say it is a curse neither would I say it is a blessing because this issue is a global challenge. The emergence of new technologies was once perceived to be a kind of saviour for people to gain ease of life which to some extent we are benefiting from and for citizens to fully enjoy their democratic rights in lending their voice through freedom of expression and rights to be informed. However, while the information and the means of getting it became abundant, so it got proliferated, tuned to noise instead of messages, became a means of manipulation for some leaders, a tool of destruction by some people, and an avenue to divide and exploit the attention of people for economic gain by others. Though between the two consequences, the negatives tend to be outweighing the positives which shouldn’t be.
Tekedia: Africa cannot accomplish many tasks without using some technologies because of the need to align with the rest of the world in terms of being effective and efficient. However, in some cases, Africans are employing emerging technologies such as social media for destructive purposes more than their counterparts in the global north. What do you think this connotes for the continent’s future development?
Mustapha Muhammed Jamiu: As I said above, on how different people are using technologies for different purposes. Yes, many of our people are not using technologies well for themselves though many young ones are using them for solving problems in Africa today. They are not much compared to those using them as tools for distraction and destruction. The implication is that we will be left far behind in terms of growth and development as we are currently, and by the time we would realise it, there may not be a solution. So, we need to brace up and use technologies for positives purposes.
Tekedia: You recently defended your PhD thesis at RUDN University, Moscow, with a focus on information pollution and elections in Africa. Could you briefly walk us through the practical implications of your findings to Africa, especially Ghana and Nigeria you studied?
Mustapha Muhammed Jamiu: The study came up with two key strategies for practical implications for the two countries; a framework to understand the pattern in which information pollution spreads among political stakeholders; and a model which I called Electoral Cycle Information Pollution Ecosystem(E-CIPE) on understanding election and the chain of information pollution in the context of Africa. The framework and model can be used by policymakers, political actors, government, NGOs, CSOs, and any other actors with the responsibility for information management and the responsibility of combating the menace of information pollution as a threat to sustainable democracy.
Tekedia: What was your experience with stakeholders while conducting the study?
Mustapha Muhammed Jamiu: This is a very big question and critical if I may say. And I am happy it came up. I say this because I had many challenges in getting the key stakeholders to attend to interview, for citizens to fill out the survey, and also to easily gain access to find government institutions, key documents and data. While I appreciate the positive gestures of all my respondents and those who later help, it is equally important to talk about some of the hurdles where we need adjustment and for other scholars who may want to use some of the methods I used to learn what works and what doesn’t (work).
The first problem was getting the attention of the stakeholders for the interview, both the politicians and media editors often said they had busy schedules and they showed the culture of not keeping promises and time. Many promised and later ignored me. And I had to reschedule meetings several times because some of them didn’t turn up on time. Another thing is the issue with the time difference. Finding an appropriate time that works for me and my interviewees because of the difference in time zones and availability were challenging experiences.
The third issue has to do with technology. The interruption of the internet and the fact that many were not responding to the online survey for almost two months until they were printed and distributed to different places. The online is supposed to be of greater value in the sense that there will be almost equal representation in different regions of the two countries. But the printed version with the usage of representatives from each region to print and distribute will end up being centred in some areas alone, which may affect the intention of the study and the hypothesis designed.
Finally, Africans tend to find it difficult to give data. They are always busy or have one or two excuses not to fill all surveys, be it online or printed surveys. And they need to know the importance of this. Data is an integral part of realising important growth and development. It is the data that lets us know the number of people who are underrepresented, the number of people living in extreme poverty, the number of people and who are affected by what and to what extent. Knowing this will help realise how to report them, and use them for designing possible solutions for policymakers and governments to put in place.
Tekedia: How certain are you that concerned stakeholders would take up your managerial and policy recommendations for strengthening the information component of the electoral cycle in the countries?
Mustapha Muhammed Jamiu: Nobody can be certain of such in the case of most African countries. Except if it is a project being sponsored by the authorities or selected by an international organisation to be used when they find it convincing or aligned with their goals. For some of these reasons, my research design from the beginning keyed into making the output of the research an immediate effect by setting up a non-governmental research institute that will work in between the duties of the CSOs and academics. That is to say, to design and implement some of the results of the study for direct impact.
Tekedia: What are your plans for advancing this emerging field in Africa?
Mustapha Muhammed Jamiu: As I said in the previous question. The study was designed to take immediate action from the results. So, the future of this field has started already through the institution of the Center for Research for Development of African Media, Governance, and Society- CEREDEMS-Africa was founded during my PhD program and it is currently monitoring the campaign for 2023 Nigerian presidential election which is one of the two counties I studied. Also, there is a plan on releasing a handbook on how to undo the psychology of information pollution and election in Africa before the end of the year. Meaning it could be, also useful, for the ongoing campaign and the Nigerian election.
Also, the plan is not to study or miniature only Nigeria but to serve as a key body that monitors election campaigns and information pollution in Africa and comes up with solutions for policymakers to combat information pollution.