By Rotimi Ijikanmi
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, says the country is under the siege of disinformation and fake news that can bring the country on her knees if not checked, like it happened in Rwanda.
The minister stated this on Friday in Abuja when he paid a working visit to the headquarters of DAAR Communication Plc, owners of African Independent Television (AIT) and Raypower FM.
Mohammed said that the dangerous trend of disinformation and fake news championed by social media and which the traditional media are “unfortunately feeding on, could tear the fabric of society, if not checked.
Alhaji Mohammed recalled the role that disinformation, fake news and hate speeches played in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which over 800,000 people were killed, and urged the media to draw some lessons from that unfortunate development.
“There was a time when the spoken and the written words were not challenged or questioned, but today it is not so.
“About 50 per cent of what we read in the social media is not true but unfortunately even when it is not credible, it goes viral and people believe the fake stories.
“My greatest problem and worry is with the traditional media, which are latching on the same fake news and disinformation.
“I am worried because it affects the credibility of the media itself and once the media is no longer believed by the people, then it has serious consequences on the society,’’ he said.
The minister recalled the recent disinformation on President Muhammadu Buhari who is on vacation. He said fabricated news on his death and health went viral.
“What happened in the last couple of weeks is quite worrisome. Mr. President left for a vacation. When he was leaving, he transmitted the necessary letter to the National Assembly on who was going to act. He said during his vacation, he will also use the opportunity to carry out his routine medical check-up. Within 12 hours of leaving the country, the news was that he had died, and when that was not sustainable, they said he was critically ill.
”Some even went on to say that he was actually flown out of the country in an ambulance, when the whole world saw when he was leaving and it was televised. For a week or so all we heard was this dangerous disinformation,” the Minister said.
He appealed to traditional media not to join forces with the purveyors of fake news but ensure that the unity and security of the country become paramount consideration when weighing what news to send out.
The Executive Chairman of DAAR Communication, Raymond Dokpesi Jnr. said the issue raised by the minister was very pertinent to media and journalism generally.
“The emergence of fake news driven primarily by social media is indeed a global phenomenon,
“It behoves on us the traditional media to reaffirm our commitment to the highest ethic and standard of journalism, to investigate and fact-check stories before we go to press.”
He said AIT and Raypower, over the years have been absolutely committed to the highest standard of journalism.
Dokpesi said they had been looking forward to the minister’s visit.
“You are our own minister. After the whole cycle of electioneering, there must be the need to build bridges and move from political mood to governance mood,’’ he said..
Speaking in same vein, the company’s Group Managing Director, Tony Akiotu, said DAAR Communication shared the passion for the survival of the Nigerian project.