“As prepared for delivery”
Good morning, everyone. It gives me great pleasure to be with you today at the opening of this very important workshop for journalists. My name is Adnan Siddiqi and I am here representing the U.S. Embassy’s Public Affairs Section which is a proud co-sponsor of this two-day event. My office also supports all the outreach activities hosted here in the American Corner of the City Library, as part of our ongoing efforts to promote mutual understanding between the American and Nigerian people.
Misinformation and disinformation have existed in the world ever since the invention of the printing press some 500 years ago. In fact some historians argue misinformation began centuries before that, when man first started recording what they saw and heard on stone tablets and pieces of papyrus. Today in the 21st century, in Nigeria, in Europe, in America, and across the globe, the public craves for accurate news and information that separates fact from opinion. People want and expect news that is well-sourced and credible and that does not mislead them.
Is there a difference between misinformation and disinformation? We know that both are dangerous but is one of them worse than the other? Most scholars define disinformation as the deliberate, intentional distortion of facts and the creation of fake news to deceive readers and viewers for political or economic gain. Misinformation, on the other hand, is a broader category, encompassing all incorrect information that is unknowingly passed on from the media to the public, and is labelled and presented as fact, without sufficient investigating and fact-checking to make sure it is truthful. Yellow envelope journalism can be either misinformation or disinformation, depending on what the intention of the journalist or editor is, but the introduction of money in the equation does enormous damage either way to press freedom.
I would argue that there is even a third category that we all should worry about in addition to misinformation and disinformation. And that is the fact that no media outlet can cover every deserving story, even if it wanted to. There are real practical limits to how many words and pages and images can be produced in one day, and so media owners and editors have to pick and choose what information they want to focus on and distribute. As a result, the viewer/reader is exposed to some important stories and not others. Some cities and organizations get more coverage than others. It’s not wrong news, it’s just incomplete.
In the U.S., recent polls indicate that more than 50% of the public do not trust the news they receive from TV newscasts. They feel many TV channels are adding their own perspective and spin to the news. They feel they are not getting the complete picture. Or they decide to watch just one or two TV channels, the ones whose political views they already sympathize with or agree with. Young American voters, in particular, rely on their cell phones and social media commentary to form their political views. Some of the news they get is generally accurate and timely, but there are no fact-checkers on social media.
In Nigeria, during your just concluded election, there were many unconfirmed reports circulated in the media about election results. Voters and readers were misled by the false information and it caused an immediate reaction. Many people in Nigeria just accept the content they receive through the media. Many others don’t believe even legitimate news, they distrust everything equally to protect themselves.
We at the U.S. Embassy are pleased to join you and our partner Mythos Labs today to promote greater fact-checking and digital literacy, while giving journalists and editors some practical tips and tools to reduce misinformation and disinformation and promoting digital literacy. I’m particularly excited that tis capacity-building will continue from Abuja on to Adamawa, Borno, Katsina, Yobe and Zamfara.
This workshop will focus on key, practical things YOU can do to prevent the spread of fake news and misinformation. I urge you all to take advantage of this unique training opportunity, and I hope you fully use your knowledge and insights to train your trainees when you get back to your various locations.
I now declare this workshop OPEN and ready to begin the first session. Thank you for listening and best wishes to you all!