Junior Pope’s Death and the Craze to Break News First 

Vanessa Obioha

In today’s digital age, the insatiable desire for virality is gradually making us lose our sense of humanity, and feed on inaccurate information. This played out recently with the death of the Nollywood actor John Paul Odonwodo better known as Junior Pope.

Pope reportedly died in a boat accident at the waterside of River Niger Cable Point Asaba while on set for a film by Adamma Luke.

Before his tragic passing last week, Junior Pope was known to his legion of fans. But as his death went viral, even those who lived under the rock were invested in his personality, particularly to find out how he died.

However, what played out was chaos, with conflicting reports emerging from all corners of the internet. Some sources claimed he was pronounced dead instantly, while others suggested he was revived, only to succumb again later. Even reputable guilds tasked with providing accurate information seemed caught up in the misinformation spree. It wasn’t until the following day that the actor’s death was officially confirmed. Despite this, details surrounding his final moments remain shrouded in uncertainty, with conflicting accounts from survivors further muddying the waters.

This is not the first instance where the death of a public figure has become entangled in a web of misinformation. Similar events played out last year when the rapper Mohbad reportedly died. Different accounts emerged leading to an investigation into his death.

The allure of celebrity demise has long been a magnet for media organisations seeking to drive traffic to their platforms. In today’s hyper-connected world, this competition has intensified, with traditional media outlets jostling for supremacy against a legion of social media users armed with smartphones and an insatiable thirst for breaking news. Sometimes this news is shared by a non-family member who may not have the consent of the family to share the heartbreaking news. This frenzy blurs the line between ethical reporting and sensationalism, often with dire consequences.

Social media platforms have knowingly or unwittingly created a culture where the desire to go viral has eclipsed empathy. The mantra of creating viral content reigns supreme, thus, individuals look for tragedies like deaths and accidents, as fodder for online fame. This explains why people would rather film an accident, instead of helping the victims, share the news of a dead person without weighing the anxiety or panic such news may have on the family of the deceased.

The American actor George Clooney was once a victim of such a viral tragedy when he had a fatal motorbike accident in Italy in 2018.

Recalling his experience to GQ magazine, Clooney said “I was on the ground. I was really screaming. Like, really screaming. And Grant [Heslov] came back, and he was screaming at everybody to get an ambulance, and I remember everybody got out of their cars, they stopped in the middle of the street, and all these people came and stood over me and just pulled out their phones and started taking video.”

He continued: “But I’ll never forget the moment that what I thought might be my last few moments was for everyone else a piece of entertainment.”

Reporting on a person’s death extends beyond the sensationalism it attracts. It is about minimising the grief, anxiety and harm such news may have on the immediate family — an essential role that media organisations should uphold. This responsibility demands the highest level of sensitivity, taking into account the grief experienced by loved ones.

Regardless of whether the person was perceived as a public hero or enemy, the sanctity of human dignity demands a measured approach — one characterised by sensitivity and restraint. Therefore, caution should be exercised when disclosing news of a celebrity’s death. Ideally, media outlets should wait for the family to announce before reporting. Even when presented with a scoop, the same principle should apply. There is no prize awaiting those who rush to break the news first, just fleeting moments of online fame.

While Junior Pope’s death has raised issues about negligence, the most important lesson is the need to prioritise empathy over virality, and integrity over expediency. We must not lose sight of our shared humanity in our quest to satiate society’s voracious appetite for news.

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