‘Why the media must rise against hate communication’
As journalism remains a critical sector in promoting the socio-cultural and political existence of Nigeria as well as promoting her unity, conventional media firms have been tasked to take advantage of the chaos of online media to re-launch themselves and prove their relevance. The call was made at a one-day workshop organised by the Nigerian Press Council (NPC), in collaboration with Word and Image Ltd, a communication consultant firm in Abuja recently.
With the theme ‘Hate Communication in Nigeria: Identifying its Roots and Remedies,’ the event was attended by 74 media professionals and academics across the country. There were four paper presentations by renowned journalism teachers, including the Dean, Faculty of Communication, Bayero University, Prof. Umaru Pate and Prof. Lai Oso of Lagos State University. Others were Prof. Nnamdi Ekeanyanwu of the University of Uyo and Dr. Segun Olanipekun, a U.S.-based adjunct professor of journalism.
The foursome identified the root cause of hate communication to the processes leading to the amalgamation of Nigeria by the British Colonial government in 1914, against what many would argue to be the social media today.
In his presentation on ‘Communication and the Social Construction of Hate Mural,’ Olanipekun, while providing a background, argued that identity is created by interactions with other people, and reactions to the expectations of society, and as such, “labels, slurs and other forms of figuration hurt our sense of oneness and sameness of national identity. It also forms the ‘database’ upon which nefarious people feast on to dehumanise and demonise others through hurtful vitriol on many social media platforms. In other word, it is a veritable vehicle to generate group anger, incite hate and ultimately cause violence.”
He stated that the mass media, “Through clever and constant application of propaganda people can be made to see paradise as hell and also the other way round, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.”
Olanipekun said as change agents, being objective does not mean absolute absence of viewpoint or perspective but the deliberate emphasis on fairness and balance in reporting, adding, “Every news story has an orientation. This skewing may be positive, negative or even mixed, but there is no news story that has no angle, not just human angle but a pattern of agenda promotion though it may be overt or subtle.”
He suggested that investigative journalism was a vital tool at curbing corruption and impunity, adding that there must be some caution in the use of wide accessibility of social media sites to eliminate hate communication.
According to him, “Civil society campaigns to stop amplification of ethnic labels such as portraying ethnic group as armed robbers, thugs, drunken sailor, homosexuals, paedophiles, malu, aboki, iyamirin, etc. As information practitioners: editors, reporters, columnists or leader writers, online content producers, information officers, we should be aware that people do read between the lines to sense the orientations in our reportage.”
Oso’s paper on ‘Journalism Profession and Patriotism: The Intersection,’ argued that the media today are filled with all kinds of messages largely reflecting ethnic, religious and regional interests of various factions of the Nigerian ruling class. “To many ‘Nigerians’, Nigeria is still ‘a mere geographical expression,” he added.
To curb the menace, Oso said policing the gates and boundaries of journalism were imperative as insecure professional standard, poor adherence to ethical values, access to the journalism field is very poor, adding, “Scepticism must be a necessary professional virtue in the news decision-making process, which should not translate to mean censorship. Journalists must acquire knowledge about Nigeria; this is because many have refused to break out of ethnic, religious and regional cocoons.”
For Ekeanyanwu, issues of nepotism and ethnicity, lack of national political leadership, policy misdirection and constitutionalism, the culture of Kakistocracy and feelings of alienation and the struggle for recognition are the root causes of hate communication.He further argued, “Fake news, misinformation and/or disinformation propagated on social media platforms influenced the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
Drawing from Claires Wardle’s 2018 prediction, Ekeanyanwu stated that the term ‘fake news’ would continue to be peppered into news articles, visual disinformation will become much more prevalent, with politicians claiming negative clips of them as manipulated or fabricated.Ekeanyanwu, however, noted that social media could be used to douse the flames of hate in Nigeria through creation of Social Media Units in ministries to provide global perspectives and wider mileage for public information dissemination, hold periodic virtual conferences, clampdown on fake news peddlers and hate mongers, social media education, support for genuine social media entrepreneurs, community-organising and by so doing popularise civic participation and engagement.
‘National Interest, National Security and News Reporting’ was the topic of Pate’s presentation. He noted that weak research capacities among media professionals was a major pitfall for media reporting, as it manifested through deficits of knowledge, shallow reporting and episodic attitudes in news coverage and programme production. He advised that the media must not promote statements of politicians, ethnic champions, religious zealots and other interested parties without being critical or independently inquiring about specific issues. After all the submissions, government was advised to support genuine social media entrepreneurs to promote core national values and credible alternative voices to entrench democracy in Nigeria.