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At conference, participants seek empowerment of media professionals to promote inclusive democracy

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Participants at the seventh yearly and first virtual conference of the Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN) have stressed the need for Africans to fashion out methods to empower media professionals so as to promote citizen representation and hold leaders accountable on issues of governance.

With the theme, ‘Communicating Identities and Nationhood: Promoting Inclusive Democracy through Access to Information and Knowledge Societies’, the conference held from September 2 to 3, 2020.

The virtual conference was organised in partnership with UNESCO, Information for All Programme (IFAP), World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), and the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON).

The two-day conference, moderated by Dr. Chido Onumah, ACSPN’s Vice President, North Central, and Mr. Olushola Macaulay, National Professional Officer, Communication and Information Sector, UNESCO Abuja Regional Office, attracted over 200 participants from different parts of the world.

There were goodwill messages from Prof Lenrie Olatokunbo Aina, IFAP, Chair Nigeria/ Chief Executive Officer of National Library of Nigeria; Mr Alistair Soyode – Founder, Ben TV, London and Mr. Mamadou Lamine Sow, Officer-in-Charge, UNESCO Multisectoral Regional Office in Abuja represented by Abubakar Salifou.

In his welcome address, the President of the association, Professor Lai Oso of the Lagos State University’s School of Communications, noted that the rolling back of democratic gains across Africa had exacerbated the crisis of nationhood.

He called for a rejigging of media institutions to deal with this crisis. He said that there was no better time to interrogate and discuss the impact of new technology on communication identity than now, as the world increasingly exhibits global village characteristics.

According to him, “it is the right time for Africa to key in and takes its place in the current development.”

Similarly, Chair of the UNESCO Information for All Programme, Dorothy Gordon, in her keynote address, recognised the place of technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), and the big data generated as fundamental platforms for global engagement and for understanding the needs and concerns of citizens.

Speaking on the topic, ‘Promoting Inclusive Democracy through Access to Information and Knowledge Societies’, she said though the benefits of these technologies are enormous, their impact is a reflection of those, who produce, own, and control them. Hence, she encouraged Africans to understand and be more aware of these technologies so as to promote the active development of information and technology ecosystem that would have greater local ownership of the solution they use.

Professor of Mass Communication and Igwe Malume of Igbaku, Igwe Onuora Nwuneli, who delivered the second keynote address, said communication technology has penetrated every field of societal endeavours with its positive and negative impact.

Speaking on the topic: ‘Communication Technologies and Glocalised identities’ he said in the 60s to the 70s, “we witnessed the concept of global village advocated by Canadian philosopher and media theorist, Marshall McLuhan. He theorised the interconnectedness of people, urban, and rural interconnecting in a common communication or media sphere. When the concept of the global village was taught then in school of journalism, students were left to imagine what it would be like where instead of the post office, email would be embedded in one’s laptop. Laptops then were not even in existence.”

Nwuneli said, “We view the concept of glocalised identity within the concept of local actors, generating disseminating, consuming, sharing of information within the framework of globalisation and the concept of global village.”

He reasoned that today, it is a normal thing for the Federal Government and the 36 state governors to appoint a special adviser in social media affairs. “They are seen as social media warriors. However, many of them lie and spin the facts with doctored images. The social media warriors are now even trained in the use of Artificial Intelligence to manipulate political information. These types of strategies, until recently were only used by the intelligent communities of the world powers. These world powers utilise these strategies to propel propaganda and disinformation to influence political leadership and government in different parts of the world.

“However, things have changed now with the emergence of the Internet and the new media and has become a global affair. But the beauty of social media is the interactive environment it provides participants. However, some of these interactions are positive while others leave much to be desired, probably due to the non-existence of gatekeepers. The entry of affordable mobile smartphone technology within the reach of a glocalised identities put in the hands of a common person has the power to collect and upload information about oneself and the community, even for local languages unto the social platform. The coming of the WhatsApp platforms fully transforms the ordinary rural person with little or no training in news dissemination into a very active citizen journalist. The Nigerian government has made an unsuccessful attempt so far to legislate against upload, forwarding, and sharing of a negative opinion of government on social media and failed.

“Trending presently is the controversial political encounter between Anambra State traditional rulers and the government of the state. The traditional rulers were seduced with thousand of naira and ownership of Lexus SUV by a wealthy local businessman with an axe to grind to travel to Abuja to launder their grievances against the state government. On their way to Abuja, a local citizen or guerilla journalist brought the story on WhatsApp with live video images of the traditional rulers who were opening, counting, and pocketing that money and within hours, the video clip was in the smartphones of almost everyone in the state and outside. Almost everyone including traders, market women, taxi drivers, rural farmers, Nigerian, and non-Nigerians in the diaspora were viewing and commenting on WhatsApp.

“The national news media did not catch up with the story until State House Abuja released the information that the presidency will not meet with traditional rulers and their facilitator. The story beautifully encapsulates glocalisation — the exposure of local political power game captured by local embedded citizen journalists in real-time propelled local corruption news into the national and international sphere. This I believe could be said to be the extent and impact of modern communication technology techniques in the shaping of glocaliSed identities,” he said.

For the two-day event, panelists discussed issues such as, ‘Media, Artificial Intelligence, Nation-States, and the Future’; ‘Flattening the Misinformation Curve in the Digital Age’; ‘Reshaping Identities and Citizenship in the Evolving Media Landscape in Africa’ and ‘Protecting Fundamental Rights and Freedom of Expression: Lessons Learned from COVID-19’. There was also a Female Researcher’s Panel that interrogated ‘The Woman’s Identity in the Digital Age; and Reimagining the future: Health, Wellbeing and People’s Engagement’.

Participants at the conference observed as crucial or imperative for communicating identities and nationhood that the new world is powered by digital technology and that the impact of the digital technology is overwhelmingly championing the cause of globalisation, and advanced nations have effectively used it to promote their own interest.

The conference noted that digital technology is fundamental in providing platforms for engagement with citizens to understand their needs and concerns.

Participants observed that Africans do not understand or are not mindful of the implication of giving away data to the giant tech organisation and that as society becomes more sophisticated, the technological divide widens.

They also said that the value of data and how artificial intelligence is dealing with it requires media and information literacy. That AI represents the new frontier globally, and this is the appropriate time for Africa to step in and be part of AI’s development process. Journalism needs AI and AI needs journalism.

The conference recommended that Africans should change their mindset and determine their own and embrace emerging technologies so as to promote their own cause and tell their stories.

It also said that for Africans to understand the worth of data, they need to employ and engage data analysts as well as encourage Media and information Literacy; that journalists should embrace fact-checking as a response to falsehood; that Africans should fashion out methods to empower media professionals to promote citizen representation and hold leaders accountable on issues of governance; that media organisations should enhance fake news education/literacy level and train Journalists to detect fake news; that media organisations and relevant bodies should train journalists on accurate health reporting; that news consumer responsibility should include: checking dates of news stories, check veracity of web sites and question news sources, so as to help consumers develop the ability to separate facts from fictions.

The conference noted, “the media has a role to play in providing credible and accurate information on health issues; that there should be regular capacity building for journalists to keep them up to date on emerging issues and that the media should refrain from sensationalism and the first to publish syndrome.”

It also said, “that journalists should pull localised interventions such as occasional use of second mobile phone, flashing culture, hiding caller identity, use of second-hand mobile phone, multiple sim ownership, to circumnavigate these challenges.”

Participants noted that: “Media organisations should ensure that government understands the indispensable role of the journalist in pandemics such as the COVID-19; that rather than government focusing on censorship, there should be demand on journalists to understand the technicalities that are required to present accurate information on the COVID-19 pandemic; that women should work with mainstream media and utilise the new media, especially the social media to change the identity narrative. ”

Two books, Steering AI and Advanced ICTs for Knowledge Society by UNESCO and ACSPN Book Series 5: Media Freedom National Interest and Governance edited by Prof. Lai Oso, Prof. Rotimi Olatunji, Dr. Dele Odunlami, and Dr. Kola Adesina, were presented during the 1st virtual conference by Mr. Bhanu Neupane, Programme Specialist, Communication and Information, UNESCO headquarters, Paris, and Prof Idowu Sobowale, Chairman, ACSPN Board of Trustees, respectively.


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