Minister cautions Nigerians on danger of fake news

Solomon Chung, Abuja

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The Nigerian government says fake news remains a clear and present danger to national unity, democracy and indeed the very survival of the country and must not be treated with levity.

The Information and Culture Minister, Mr. Lai Mohammed disclosed this in Abuja on Tuesday when he paid a courtesy call on Publishers of Blueprint Newspapers as part of the National campaign against fake news.

Weapon of choice
Mr Mohammed said the campaign against fake news is more urgent now than ever because the purveyors of fake news are not relenting.

According to the Minister, the purveyors are getting more vicious because it is their weapon of choice in the run-up to the 2019 elections.

He said fake news is political enemies’ favourite tool to de-market President Buhari and his Administration.

It is also their favourite strategy to exploit the nation’s fault lines.

He, however, believes that Nigeria has enough laws to deal with the problem. He then urged the media to self-regulate.

“Fake news is a global phenomenon, but every country must evolve its own ways to fight it. In the UK, lawmakers have called for social media tariffs to curb fake news. In Zambia, the government has approved a Bill to regulate social media.

“Here in Nigeria, we have chosen to appeal to the sense of responsibility of media practitioners, bloggers and social media influencers, rather than resort to coercion or censorship. We believe there are enough laws in our books to deal with this problem. We believe in the capacity of the media to self-regulate, so as not to self destruct,” he said.

The Minister said when the Nigerian government launched the campaign against fake news, nobody envisage the kind of event that occurred at the National Assembly last week.

“Specifically August 7, less than one month after the launch; that event, the barricade of the National Assembly, is a classic example of how fake news can aggravate conflicts. In fact, it was driven all the way by fake news.
“A serving Senator led the fake news onslaught, claiming that only APC members were being allowed into the chambers as a ploy to impeach the Senate President while People Democratic Party members were barred – FAKE NEWS! No APC member was in the chambers at the time,”
he stated.

The Minister said with such fake news there would have been serious chaos but for the timely intervention of the Acting President.

“In fact, at least the Embassy of one Western nation had already said it was closely watching the developments, apparently relying on the fake news being peddled by the Senator and others who latched to his words on the social media.
“However, in the aftermath of the barricade, news that 21 billion Naira and assorted weapons have been found in the residence of the sacked Department of State Security Director General’s residence turned out to be fake,”
he explained.

The Minister posited that fake news remains a clear and present danger to our unity, our democracy and indeed the very survival of our country. “We cannot and must not treat the problem with lightness. Everyone has a role to play,” he said.

The Minister then urged Nigerians to do two simple things: To check the source of any news item being pushed their way and also not to share whatever they can’t vouch for especially on social media.

Cross checking facts
The Chairman and Publisher of Blueprint Newspaper, Mr Mohammed Idris said anybody in his right sense should know that fake news is dangerous.

He said the media should be more robust in cross checking facts and also sources.

Idris also fingered the political class as the main culprits of peddling fake news and hate messages in a bid to outdo each other.

The Newspaper chairman said the political class must call themselves to order so as to curtail the dangerous trend of fake news especially as elections approaches.

He, however, challenged the main stream media to adopt new media technology in form of media convergence to be able to send out information and news real time to the public in order to cut down reliance on social media.

Sammie Idika