News Content Credibility Issue in Nigeria: Fact-Checking to the Rescue

News Content Credibility Issue in Nigeria: Fact-Checking to the Rescue

By Raji Rasaq The credibility of news media in Nigeria is being challenged due to its susceptibility to a number of damaging factors. Some of these include fake news, disinformation, misinformation, hoax, rumour, news commercialisation among others. The worst has been the former so far. The power and influence of the media in a democratic

By Raji Rasaq

The credibility of news media in Nigeria is being challenged due to its susceptibility to a number of damaging factors. Some of these include fake news, disinformation, misinformation, hoax, rumour, news commercialisation among others. The worst has been the former so far.

The power and influence of the media in a democratic world makes it almost impossible for all expressions of sorts to make an inroad to the public space without having to negotiate through the windows of the media.

Since many of these falsehood and fake news make inroads into the news media, they not only constitute huge threats to the future of our society, the credibility and believability of news content is also at stake.

Apart from a recent research by Ezeha Greg and Jonah Alice Aladi (UNN) that 39.9% of Nigerians strongly agree that news commercialization crumbles credibility of news media in Nigeria, a report by the Premium Times (May 13, 2019), also quoted Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as saying, “Fake news will make media practice lose its appeal; it will challenge the credibility which is the base of journalism practice”. Again, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, once said that fake news was destroying the media industry and sowing national disunity.

No doubt, credibility issues are not exclusive to the Nigerian media. It happens elsewhere. At least, a report released in 2016 by the American Press Institute reveals that 26% of Americans who lose confidence in the media said they found the source one‑sided or biased; 25% said they had a bad experience in which they found that facts were wrong. Much smaller percentages of the public report experiencing decreases in trust due to being personally offended by content (9%), finding advertisements annoying or deceptive (5%), not being able to easily access stories (3%), or starting to receive unwanted emails, texts, or alerts (2%).

Back home, governance and political process in Nigeria has always been challenging. Part of these challenges include over-politicising of governance issues by political actors who most often thrive on rumours. Since many of these actors exert unholy influence on the editorial independence of the media, they constitute a greater percentage of penetration of fake content into the media space. The worst of all, politicians and public officials often reel out statements of track records of purport achievement in office, many of which are found to be fake, doctored, inaccurate and or sheer propaganda.

2019 election and post-election period has been characterised with fake news, hate speech, inaccurate performance index records many of which dominate news media and social media. Unfortunately, news media allow these contents thrive on their platforms without proper verifications.

Just very recently, Vanguard, on September 25, 2019 had to retract a report published on September 23, 2019, titled: “N90 Bn FIRS Election Fund: Osinbajo’s problem, not 2023”. On August 19, 2018, The Punch had to retract a story published on July 8, 2018 where Analike Okezie (Yoko B) allegedly accused 2Baba of stealing his song, Amaka, for lacking adequate verification. On September 15, 2019, Premium Times had to retract its report, insinuating the passing on of retired Col. Ajibola Kunle Togun.

In all of these, while it is adjudged as international media best practice to retract and apolologise over unproven and inaccurate reports published in the media space, its overriding effect on the credibility of the concerned media platform is more damaging.

We must remember Mark Twain, saying “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please”. It is incumbent on the media to report with fact and accuracy for the good of the profession as well as the society. It is a social responsibility.

In a recent report in The Guardian, Chido Nwakanma of Pan Atlantic University was of the opinion that “It is better to miss a story than run an incorrect piece. Stories circulate today, and most people… are passing a judgement call that I trust…it means that they have done the professional thing; that is the public passing a vote of confidence on the brand. Let’s not because of speed, because of competition dilute our brand because if we do that, if we lose that vote of confidence of the reader, then it is finished”

Fred Omu once asserted that the crucial challenge facing journalism is how it can be a handmaid and catalyst of social development. To achieve this, he said journalism has to work harder for greater public acceptance. This latter assertion is what modern fact-checking strives to accomplish.

Therefore, the central argument of this piece borders around the threat of fake news to the future of journalism globally and the necessity of embracing modern fact-checking mechanism as a new innovation to savage the credibility of news content, now facing massive erosion of confidence by news consumers and the reading public.

The world over, modern fact-checking is gaining ground to stem the tide of fake news in the public space.

Fact-checking is a modern, identifiable category of journalism. Its goal is to provide accurate, unbiased analysis of statements and claims made in public in order to correct public misperceptions and increase knowledge of important issues.Modern fact-checking analyses claims made in public by political candidates, public officers, private persons among others and debunk fake news. Fact checkers may clarify their assessment of a claim by providing context and background information. Fact-Checking works by applying the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.

While it is argued that fake news is not unusual in our society, “fact-checking” is also not new to the media practice. Traditionally, it is carried out by rewrite desks manned by senior reporters and sub-editors whose major duty was to ensure that information supplied were verified and corrected before publishing. However, due to shrinking revenue to maintain the desk and even dearth of competent personnel in the newsrooms, that desk has become moribund.

While traditional fact-checking strives to ensure that inaccurate information does not get to the public through the media reports, modern fact-checking aims at tracking false information already in the public space and scrutinise the veracity of the claims. So, what makes modern fact-checking unique is its being handy to be deployed to verify claims made in public in real life, and debunk them. That is new journalism!

Joining the global practices of fact-checking claims and other information in the public domain and to minimize the spread and threat of fake news to the practice of journalism, as seen in the work of fact-checking pioneers in the World, that is Politifact and,  in the United States, fact-checking organisations in Africa such as AfricaCheck, Code for Africa and Open Up have started engaging and enhancing the capacity of the Nigerian media practitioners, journalists and media scholars on how to fact check claims made particularly by the public officials, and other information contained in photographs, videos and reports released or shared in the social media platforms. Some of the fact-checking tools being deployed include Google’s reverse image searchTinEye, and which can be used to verify Twitter accounts and profiles.

Following this feat, Nigerian media have added fact checking mechanism as part of their journalistic tools to uphold the tenet of democracy by holding government accountable to the people by regular verification of claims made by politicians and state actors, as well as help citizens make informed decisions, opinion and assertions. To do this, fact-checking websites are owned and maintained in Nigerian as seen in the case of Dubawa managed by Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) and CrossCheck Nigeria, managed by International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).

This is imperative in the face of increasing media convergence, disintermediation and the perversion occasioned by the internet superhighway through which information, verified or otherwise goes viral with the click of a key on any browsing device. News media must continuously gain the confidence of the society by providing factual and accurate news content through multi-tasking fact-checking process.

As Richard Stevenson of The New York Times asserted recently that ‘“As a news organization committed to reporting the truth, we are expanding our efforts to debunk false information and highlight videos and photos that have been manipulated”’, Nigerian media is enjoined to rigorously key into this innovation to unravel the truth, debunk disinformation and misinformation.

Now that Vanguard has apologised to the Vice President Osinbajo over unverified claims made in the public, it is incumbent that the media work further and fact-check the truth for the common good. 

Raji  Rasaq is Head of Media Monitoring, International Press Centre, Lagos (

Photo: A fact-checking training session

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