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Reporting corruption in age of fake news

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie (Abuja) and Sunday Aikulola (Lagos)
14 January 2022   |   3:19 am
Executive Director, Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), Yunusa Zakari Yau, has stressed the need for journalists to uphold ethics of the profession when reporting corruption in the age of information disorder...

Participants at the workshop

Executive Director, Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), Yunusa Zakari Yau, has stressed the need for journalists to uphold ethics of the profession when reporting corruption in the age of information disorder, which he identified as: mis-information, dis-information and mal-information.

Yau spoke at a recent workshop in Abuja organised by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) in partnership with Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Transparency International (Nigeria).

Some of the themes treated at the workshop include, History of corruption and its effects on national development; The nexus between corruption and politics in Nigeria: Effect on anti-corruption, Law enforcement and security; Trans-national corruption in Nigeria: Asset recovery, asset declaration, financial readings; Fighting corruption in Nigeria: achievements and challenges of anti-corruption agencies (ICPC &EFCC). Others were Corruption in public procurement in the civil service: Recommendations for improvement; How electoral fraud undermines leadership recruitment process in Nigeria; Conflict of interest and other Banana Peels that undermine equity; Open-source intelligence (OSINT); Security and safety for journalists reporting corruption and Review of high profile cases of corruption in Nigeria.

Speaking on the theme, Reporting Corruption in Nigeria, Yau, who said that those involved in corrupt practices try to protect their deeds, explained that it is the invisibility associated with corruption in people’s eyes and perception that makes it difficult to fight.

According to him, the essence of reporting corruption is to help unmask the unknown before the public so that they could relate it to their existential problems and make a commitment to fight it.

Fake news, he said, places two challenges on journalists: First, he argued that unless journalists do their work diligently, their reports on corruption could easily be dismissed as fake news.

In other words, “fake news carries along with it the danger that we can easily throw away the baby with the bath water. On the other hand, fake news can make journalists lose their credibility. This is because if they fall for fake news, people can no longer trust their reports. Once the public loses trust in corruption reporting, for whatever reason, including reports being linked to fake news, the people become disinterested. Once people get turned off from the report, they become difficult to mobilise to raise their voices against corruption.”

According to Yau, the implication of reporting corruption carelessly using fake news will not only cause serious damage to the efforts to rid the country of graft but would also lead to setback .

He said this dimension means that journalists have to be careful when reporting corruption. Speaking further, he disclosed that the production and dissemination of fake news have become pervasive and complex.

He said social media is replete with fake news of different shades. To guide against indulging, consumption and peddling of fake news, he suggested that journalists should create and be guided by certain ethics and codes of conduct.

Making reference to United States Association of Professional Journalists, he advised journalists to: “Seek truth and report it; minimise harm; act independently; be accountable, transparent and objective.”

Conclusively, he suggested that journalists must be more than literate on matters of safety and piracy online. He said they have to learn how to surf the Internet safely, managing their metadata footprint and ensuring that nothing is planted into their devices and that they do not carelessly fix malware that will put them in danger.

In his speech, Executive Director, CISLAC/ Head of Transparency International Nigeria, Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), stated that journalists need necessary tools; information and skills to enable them do their work.

He reasoned: “It is only the civil society and the media that can actually put pressure on the state to do what they have committed themselves to do. It is important that journalists are provided with necessary support to be able to do this work of saving lives. Even civil societies have limitations, because they do not have the reach that the media have. One medium can send information to millions of people, not to talk of media houses. Failure by the Nigerian state to comply with protocols and conventions have continued to erode the commitment that government pledged in the fight against corruption.”

He recalled that Nigeria’s president, in 2016, went to London to attend a conference organised by Transparency International and the British Government. The President, he said, made certain commitments, which were fiscal transparency, open government partnership and beneficial ownership.

The head of Transparency International Nigeria advised journalists to continue with the exposure of corruption and ensure that government does what is expected of.

Executive Director, OJA Development Consult, Jide Ojo, who spoke on Review of High Profile Cases of Corruption in Nigeria, said given the gargantuan cases of corruption in Nigeria, it is not surprising that Transparency International continually rate the country low. He said it is imperative to tighten the nuts and bolts of anti-corruption legal framework.

He said there is need for whistleblower protection law, the same for more investigative journalism to expose cases of corruption. Ojo added that whatever is not making the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) work should be looked into as the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied.

In his presentation, Editor, International Centre for Investigative Reporting, (ICIR), Ajibola Hamzat, who spoke on Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) said journalists must engage in accountability journalism.

He defined accountability journalism as the science and art of collecting facts and evidence rendered in a storytelling format with the purpose of exposing wrongdoing or uncovers abuse of power in the service of public interest.

He also defined Open-Source Intelligence as the practice of collecting information from publicly available sources. This, to him, could be physical or digital like newspapers, websites or social platforms. He identified search engines journalists could use like Wikipedia and Google Tools such as, Google Image/ Google Image Reverse; Google Translate, Google Map, Google Alert and Google Scholar.

He said journalists could also make use of public record, social platforms, way back machine and archive for their research. Speaking on Security and Safety for Journalists Reporting Corruption, Idris Akinbajo identified gaps in corruption reporting to include lack of willingness by some journalists to dig deep, poor knowledge/ understanding of laws/ rules, journalists’ compromise, accurate data/ information and government/ agencies leading the tango.

He said the relationship between politicians and journalists is like a tango. He disclosed that holistic security involves three components of threat, physical, digital and psychosocial.