The general principle of reporting happenings as news requires that a reporter is assigned to a section of the society being covered by the news media outlet or the reporter sourced for newsworthy information through observation or in-depth investigation.
Any approach has tendency of giving truth and false messages to the audience. The false messages dissemination can occur when the creators [reporter and editor] including the publisher(s) failed to embrace the ideal journalistic principles and professional ethics guiding news sourcing and publication.
This piece examines how false information augmentation could be stopped in Nigeria with the adoption of knowledge-based journalism practice. This is imperative as conflict and violence laden news and commentaries continue to surface on the pages and home pages of the offline and online newspapers.
“If news is to be a means of getting people to think and talk sensibly about public affairs, it needs to contain the contextual information that enables citizens to make sense of events,” Thomas Patterson, a renowned professor of government and the press says. He notes that “Journalists too often: give equal weight to accurate representations and faulty facts and flawed opinions, focus on conflict and strategy over substance, and favour personalities, dramatic events, and infotainment over big picture analysis and context.
Knowledge-Based Reporting Remains Key Answer to Misinformation and Disinformation
According to Patterson, answer to misinformation and disinformation [our analyst emphasis] is “knowledge-based journalism.” This concept is not new in the Nigerian journalism education. Institutions offering journalism and mass communication studies teach students specialised reporting. However, in more than 20 years of the current republic, the teaching seems not to bring tangible results, reducing false reporting by the journalists aided by their establishments.
This trend is unlikely to change unless journalists, as argued by Patterson, embrace knowledge-based journalism practice. This practice expects journalists to be knowledge brokers and enhancers by applying specialised expertise. Nigerian journalists need to understand the subjects they are covering and how the stories can affect societal decisions [a position Patterson subscribes to].
Describing and reporting what happened through interviews and direct observation are not enough. “They also need to know what’s true and what’s false, and to incorporate such knowledge into what they convey to the public,” Patterson says.
Some hours ago, The Punch published a story titled “I learnt crashed NAF aircraft was 49 years old, not in good condition–Late Flight Sgt’s father.” In the story, the newspaper quoted the father of one of the dead in the ill-fated military aircraft that crashed: “…we can view it from another angle, that the aircraft was 49 years old and was not in a good condition. Some people are even thinking it was a set-up, but what is hidden to man is open to God.”
This quote was used as a headline. With this, the newspaper succeeded in telling the public that the age and poor condition of the plane were the immediate causes of the crash while the remote cause should be traced to the concerned authorities in the Nigerian Army who allowed such plane to fly. The newspaper, according to our analyst, watched the news. It failed to query the newsmaker where he got the information. In this regard, the newspaper gives incomplete information to the public which could contribute to negative perception of the authorities in the Army.
“How DSS, Police, Others Attempted to Arrest Sunday Igboho On Lagos-Ibadan Expressway – Aide” is another story that lacks knowledge-based approach. The inclusion of his Aide and Chief Femi Fani-Kayode alone show that the reporter lacks adequate knowledge of the past chain of events that connect with the current event. Public expectation and right to the truth of the event are not resting on having the voice of his aide and Chief Fani-Kayode alone. The reporter and editor are expected to include the voice of the security agencies since earlier reports indicated his possible arrest, called by some sociocultural organisations and an ethnic group in the country.