How Ethical Media Practice and Innovation Can Unlock Africa’s Potential in a World of Misinformation

…Tobechukwu Okigbo

The rapid and significant shift in communication dynamics over the last decade means that this is a critical time to understand the power of the media and the impact that it has on our world – for good or bad.

The history books – including popular religious opus – are packed with stories of how communication through various means has influenced some of the greatest events the world has ever witnessed. For centuries, the twin problems of miscommunication and misinformation have led to devastating wars, a breakdown of order and sanity and inspired brutal rebellion. In contrast, effective messaging at critical moments, has averted or mitigated would-be disasters of enormous proportion.

One personal favourite example on the critical role of effective information dissemination is the tragic sinking of the Titanic. When the famous ship sank in 1912 on its maiden voyage, a simple but powerful “Come at once. We have struck a berg. It’s a CQD, old man” distress message sent out by the ship’s wireless officer, Jack Phillips, was enough to alert another ship, the Carpathia, which was about 58 miles away about the impending disaster before water overflow caused the communication system to lose signals. Although over 1,500 lives were tragically lost in the incident, the timely message meant that 705 others were rescued.

Timely, credible and effective communication holds just as much importance in our world today, albeit under more complex circumstances. Advancements in technology, and increasingly easily accessible digital media channels in recent years ensures that information spreads at an incredible speed. A light tap on the ‘send’ icon on a smartphone or tablet can disrupt our world in seconds. Fake news continues to circulate and intoxicate the media more than the world could have envisaged centuries ago.

I believe that the good of technological and digital media advancement far outweighs the bad. Nonetheless, the volatile tendencies and dangers of misinformation remain a cause for worry. I remember how, in 2019, at the height of the xenophobic attacks on foreigners in South Africa, fake news dissemination led to the destruction of some local businesses in Nigeria believed to be owned by South African nationals. The dangers of misinformation are palpable. Are we helpless? The answer is no!

More than ever before, the media today wields enormous influence on people’s beliefs and attitudes. A situation that ultimately places focus on the need for mass media propagators to provide factual coverage that does not sensationalise, perpetuate myths, or encourage generalisations. Media practitioners in Africa have a duty to research, query and verify information before dissemination, regardless of on whose behalf such actions are carried out.

It would, however, be logical to admit that a myriad of factors continues to threaten the actualisation of ethical information dissemination. A lack of professional training, critical knowledge, social responsibility obligations and the spirit of enterprise are common contributors to the dilemma credible practitioners on the continent grapple with. And in an equally significant capacity, detachment from the modern connected world and new technological innovations pose drawbacks for the players in the media industry.

Urgent actions are therefore required in the media landscape if Africa, with its enormous potential, is to become a leading force in the world. Africa must conquer the challenge of misinformation inhibiting; or at the very least mitigate it. A properly trained and motivated media, through detailed, credible and reliable communication, will play a pivotal role in effectively propagating and documenting the continent’s triumphs and challenges. This will consequently curb the unnecessary embellishment and dilution of facts that propels misinformation and its attendant consequences.

As Africa’s most populous nation, the digital media space in Nigeria is vastly expanding. According to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), there are currently over 100m internet users in the country. A considerable percentage of people with internet access consume information on social media, while mobile phone ownership in the country has surpassed ownership of radio, television and computers both at the personal and household levels.

This makes Nigeria, with a volatile socio-political scene, one of the countries with the most exposure to the dangers of false information dissemination. Media practitioners in the country also have a duty to stem the polarisation of thoughts and ideas that can threaten the nation’s unity. Peculiar challenges, including a dearth of young media personnel with professional backgrounds, and low technical know-how of new digital media tools, contribute to stifling Nigerian media outfits’ ability to disseminate information that is credible and ethical.

The same credibility in information dissemination is required in Brand and Agency relations with the media. Brands and Agencies must use insights and adequate research in their communication strategies with target audiences, ultimately building trust and confidence needed for brand affiliation amongst consumers.

The MTN Media Innovation Programme (MTN MIP) was created to contribute towards ameliorating some of these pain points. For six months, media practitioners will be trained at the School of Media & Communication, Pan-Atlantic University (PAU) on cultivating the highest intellectual, ethical and professional values of media practice. The fully-funded fellowship, by design, will bolster media practitioners’ understanding of Nigeria’s technology sector and the nexus between media and technology, thereby boosting their ability to adapt to changing digital realities.

As a technology company that believes in shared value, and committed to leading digital solutions in Africa, MTN understands the importance of partnering with the Nigerian media as a critical stakeholder in the socio-economic development of the nation. Hence the investment and partnership with SMC-PAU to enable capacity-building initiatives and innovation in media practice, through unrestricted access to the professional resources and mentorship from the SMC-PAU faculty and MTN executives, both in Nigeria and at the Group level. Fellows will benefit from a study trip to the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa where they will learn the media business and the role of development communication in pan-Africanism amongst other benefits.

The importance of this programme to the development of the Nigerian media space cannot be overstated. Participating practitioners will not only be exposed to the new technologies in carrying out their work but will also be equipped with the essential ICT skills that will boost their reputation on a global level. It has been fulfilling seeing how 22 media practitioners across the spectrum, including social media influencers, have been participating and engaging in intensive sessions on creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, and strategic subscription business and management at the MTN MIP.

A key factor driving the excitement around the programme is the belief that the better the participants become at their job following the fellowship, the greater the impact they will have on the Nigerian and African media space. This is the essence of ‘Shared Value:’ To contribute. To enable. To empower.

To say that I am hopeful about the possibilities this programme will provide participants, and its general impact on Nigeria’s media climate, would be repressing my enthusiasm. We are on the path to unlocking Africa’s potential across all sectors through ethical media practice.  Everyone should pay attention!

Okigbo is Chief Corporate Services Officer of MTN Nigeria.

Related Articles