Media scholars have emphasized the need for accurate and timely dissemination of information on the Covid-19 pandemic by relevant stakeholders in Nigeria.
The scholars shared their views today at the 3rd Virtual Lecture organised by the Lagos State University, LASU, with the theme, ‘Handling Information Deluge in the era of Covid-19 Pandemic.’
The University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Olanrewaju Fagbohun, who moderated the online lecture, said the goal of the session was to brainstorm and proffer suggestions on how best to manage and disseminate beneficial information to address the spread of the virus in Nigeria.
He said it was one of the institution’s contributions to the fight against the pandemic.
Discussing ‘Information Overload, Social Responsibility Messaging and Containment of Covid-19’, the Dean, School of Communication, LASU, Professor Rotimi Olatunji, said that the cheer volume of information on Covid-19 has led to infodemic, where the world, rather than manage the pandemic, is fighting viral misinformation.
According to him, a tsunami of misinformation and disinformation in Nigeria has accompanied Covid-19 spread, thereby provoking fear and exploiting vulnerabilities.
“Many Nigerians simply refuse to believe the existence of the disease. Fear of the unknown and a deluge of information in the digital space create fertile ground for fake news. Nigerians may be particularly vulnerable not because they are uniquely gullible but because of weak communication between the government and the governed, high reference from miracle healing and a dilapidated healthcare system”, he said.
Professor Olatunji identified the use of positive sociological and psychological appeals, use of media professionals, accurate and timely information dissemination, community engagement and campaign against stigmatisation as means of tackling infodemics.
Containing misinformation impact
In her presentation on the ‘Impact of Misinformation on Containment of Covid 19’, a broadcast journalist and media consultant, Nelly Kalu, noted that the problem of misinformation in the fight against the pandemic is not peculiar to Nigeria.
She said misinformation is spread through text messages, videos, news and audio messages.
One of the impacts of misinformation, according to Kalu, is the notion held by some Nigerians that the Coronavirus is a disease of the rich, which made a lot of them to ignore necessary precautions against contracting the virus.
“People also question the treatment regime for victims, which is why you see them taking all kinds of unapproved medications. Again, the misinformation surrounding the issue of 5G and Coronavirus is another issue. Although the WHO has warned against politicizing the Covid-19 pandemic, our politicians still do that a lot. What is going on in Rivers is an example”, she said.
She also explained that lack of access to relevant information by the media gives room for people to find alternative sources and in the process create their versions.
She therefore called on government and other stakeholders with relevant information on Covid-19 to give the media unfettered access for practitioners to deliver prompt, accurate and reliable information to Nigerians.
A case for media as front-liners
The Deputy Head of Investigations at Premium Times Online News platform, Mojeed Alabi, who spoke on “The Press as a Front-line during Covid 19,” emphasized that media practitioners are constantly interacting with key stakeholders such as patients, healthcare workers, government officials and community dwellers, which qualifies them as front-liners in the Covid-19 battle.
He said that the media has been highly instrumental in educating Nigerians on the situations in Kano, Gombe, returnees to Osun, alleged abuses at isolation centers and other issues relating to the pandemic.
“Without the media, much of what has been known about Covid-19 wouldn’t have been possible”, he said.
Despite the important role of the media, practitioners are not cared for by the society.
“98% of Nigerian journalists do not have tools to work with; they have no structured wages; they attend events based on logistics such as transportation, feeding and accommodation provided by events’ organisers. Nigerian journalists have no insurance cover and are at the ‘mercy of God’ for their safety.
“Nigerian journalists are defenceless”, he added.
A Senior Lecturer, Department of Journalism, LASU School of Communication, Dr Tunde Akani, while discussing ‘Covid-19 in the Age of Ultimate Public Sphere,’ suggested an urgent repeal of the Cyber Security Offense Prohibition Act 2015 to earn the confidence of relevant media professionals and other stakeholders.
“Government public information system and language use must always smack of professional perfection”, he said.
Importance of fact-checking information
Addressing ‘Disinformation and the Role of Fact-Checking during Covid- 19’, a Development Journalist with Agence France Pressed AFP, Oluwamayowa Tijani, emphasised the need for people to fact-check information on social media platforms, especially WhatsApp.
He said WhatsApp is the most popular instant messaging app in Africa, adding that over 65 billion messages are shared on the platform daily.
Tijani advised users to “beware of forwarded-as-received messages, out-of-context videos and pause before sharing any message on the platform”.
The online public lecture had in attendance participants from the media, academia and other relevant stakeholders.