While delivering a lecture on ‘Online Publishers’ Role Towards a Sustainable Economy, Credible Election and Security,’ Prof. Chidi Odinkalu noted that online publishers dominate contemporary communications ecosystem, hence it is not an easy world for corporate online publishers, caught between the imperative of profit and the professional and editorial duties of civic responsibility.
He said before now newspaper circulation used to be the ultimate prize, but it has now been replaced by metrics of ‘clicks’ and ‘views,’ of ‘likes,’ ‘friends,’ and ‘follows’. Odinkalu added, “Metrics measure exposure, which in turn drive the world of digital advertisements. The competition for clicks and metrics is stiff. In this game of survival of the digital fittest, it pays to get noticed and the easiest way to get noticed is through smut, outland, lack of manners. This is why and how the digital ecosystem can encourage a world of influence without responsibility ”
Odinkalu, a former Director-General of National Human Rights Commission, stressed that digital expression and digital anonymity have both enhanced the immediacy of hate speech and the capacity to monitor it.
“In reality, there is nothing congenital or genetic about the species of hate in Nigeria,” he submitted. “Rather, it is a consequence of a political system in which the elite socialize their costs and privatize our common patrimony, creating avoidable scarcity of public goods and growing immiseration. This is achieved at the expense of both responsible leadership and capable institutions. The crisis of hate speech in Nigeria is a curse. We allow politicians to make us believe we hate one another due to our ethnic, religious inclinations.”
As expression has become toxified, Odinkalu said the online publisher sees hate speech as a way to get ahead and can easily find himself or herself as a tool in the hands of the combatants in a survival war without rules.
“This is where Nigeria is at the moment,” he noted. “As political competition gets steeper and digital media gives a megaphone to every citizen who cannot even conjugate in vernacular, responsible media find themselves caught in an ugly fight to stay alive.”
He advised GOCOP to set high standards for itself and its members because in the end they are not just journalists, entrepreneurs and professionals, but citizens and neighbours before any of these, adding, “Fake news is intentionally putting up a news that has not been verified.”
Also speaking, chairman of the event and former governor of Ogun State, Chief Segun Osoba, who was represented by Lanre Idowu, commended the patriotic concerns of publishers for the good of Nigeria, stressing, “How much training can you put up for members to curb the menace of fake news? You must be careful of what you publish considering your reach, and minding the intellectual capabilities of your audience.”
Chairman, University of Lagos Radio, Centre of Excellence, Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye, emphasised that universities must teach more of data journalism to curb fake news.
Also a professor of mathematics, Leonard Shilgba, stated the need for publishers to identify the interest of the country and challenge the narratives, noting, “They need to reach out to concerned persons until we get it right. The problem is, publishers don’t make it a point of duty to deliberately inform Nigerians on certain issues.”
Co-chairman of the event and former Chairman/MD of Daily Times, Chief Tola Adeniyi, stressed that journalists must be knowledgeable to be able to disseminate information, which is power.