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Editors must set standards for gatekeeping, say stakeholders

By Margaret Mwantok and Sunday Aikulola
25 February 2020   |   2:25 am
Communication scholars and other stakeholders have insisted that the role of a gatekeeper is of extreme importance in today’s media environment. They also argued that there is urgent need for gatekeeper journalists now than any other time.

Communication scholars and other stakeholders have insisted that the role of a gatekeeper is of extreme importance in today’s media environment. They also argued that there is urgent need for gatekeeper journalists now than any other time. They said the public needs reliable, intelligent and relevant sources, which they can go to for news, thus, ‘creating a push to prevent fake news or hate speech within the media.’

Gatekeeping as a theory defines and determines by news selection and extraction of news, which then gets passed through a series of gates (the journalists), and gets transformed and ends up in the news.

Gatekeepers determine what is given to the masses, therefore, they shape what becomes their social reality and world view.Due to social media jumping the gates, and with today’s fast-paced and competitive environment, there has been a significant rise of these social media channels, creating outlets where anyone and everyone is a journalist.

The shift in society, through social media sites, has seen this gatekeeping as not essential for journalism, as these sites jump the gates of traditional journalism, and the audience have the ultimate control over what they read, see or hear.

According to Prof Ralph Akinfeleye, former Head, Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos, the social media operators don’t practice journalism; “we have to separate Genesis from Exodus. They open their gates wide, for anything to come in, they don’t check intruders into their media landscape, they open their gate for falsehood, nonsense, disharmony.

“They open their gates for evil forces and practice what is called ‘fourth estate of the wreck’, they are information traffickers, they traffic in falsehood, so, they don’t control their gates, crocodiles, snakes and kinds of reptiles enter through their gates. Their gates have always been contaminated with viruses of conflict, that can cause disharmony or war within the system. Look at the case of story that the president want to marry another wife which is not true. They have no padlock on their gates and that is why some countries said they want to control them.”

Akinfeleye, who is also Council member of World Journalism Education Congress, said, “mainstream media open their gates to things that are very educative, things that would add value to the society as the member of the Fourth Estate of the realm. They practice fairness, objectivity, accuracy in their reportage. They close their gates and control who enters. They are trustees of the public trust.

“The mainstream media must, however, wake up and always publish as fast as possible and not allow social media operators to outsmart them.”Specifically, he added, “the gatekeepers theory is still alive but mainstream media’s job is to open their gates for sense. Journalists must never delay their stories and move faster. I don’t believe in anything the social media say, I go back to the mainstream to confirm. A lot of intellectuals also cross check.

“Many nations of the world have passed legislations to control social media but they cannot enforce it—why? on one hand, freedom of speech, the United Nations has said information is free that is freedom of information is inalienable rights, that is right you cannot share with anybody. So it is difficult for any government to check them. They may also be controlled them through service providers.”

But the Director, International Press Centre, Lanre Arogundade, said, “the near absence of gatekeeping by way of rewrite or sub editing desks manned by experienced professionals is a major cause of collapsing standards. For instance, as a chief correspondent in the National Concord newsroom in the 90s, my job was to peruse stories filed by state correspondents and raise queries where the files do not add up. That is what is partly called fact checking journalism now.”

Arogundade said social media was allowed to jump gatekeeping process but it didn’t have to be so. Journalism is journalism whether practiced online or through the social media. The requirements of discipline of verification and fairness must be seen as constantly fundamental, hence should always apply.
“Fake news and hate speech have always been there in the heydays of gatekeeping journalism; the blame for it should therefore not be attributed to social medial alone.”

Conclusively, he said, “editors need to set the rules and standards for gatekeeping. Journalists saddled with such responsibility must understand that they are helping promote good journalism. They should take such assignment seriously.”