By Staff Reporter
Having just emerged from the November National Assembly and President Elections, Namibians are coming to terms with a new normal which is the “intentional dissemination of information that is false, inaccurate or misleading; and that is designed, presented and promoted to cause public harm, political confusion or social panic.”
Frederico Links from Namibia FactCheck on Wednesday presented his findings on what the spread of false and unverified information and what it is fuelled by.
Links notes that “from our observations it is clear that most political mis-/disinformation either emanates from groups or
profiles on Facebook or WhatsApp, and there is a great deal of cross-posting of such content amongst groups on these two platforms.
Mutual misinforming is prevalent across and in Facebook and WhatsApp groups. But especially in and among WhatsApp groups.”
According to Links, disinformation seeks to cause harm, confusion and panic.
This is a view further explained by Namibian Media Ombudsman, John Nakuta, who explained “maybe there are some underlying issues which affects how this news is disseminated,” Nakuta said. “Inasmuch as we agree that there is a lot of misinformation out there, maybe it is not deliberate (on the part of the media) and maybe there are underlying issues that affects how news is being broadcast.”
“With the elections there was a lot of disinformation,” the Ombudsman concurs, “it was really out there; even with (Panduleni) Itula’s case. Some of the things that were said (in the news) were simply based on rumours. It is misinformation and fake news, so it is a concern. What Namibia FactCheck is saying; is trying to raise a flag and say that the level of disinformation out there is really concerning and maybe we should begin to interrogate this.”
The report focuses largely on the recipients of fake news rather than the originators of fake news. Cited among the culprits are the Presidency, joined by the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation and the Electoral Commission.
Does this then mean that media practitioners have lost the basics of ethics?
Clement Daniels, erstwhile Media Ombudsman explains “in the Namibian context we do not see it so much that media is politically motivated or biased, based on a certain agenda. I think that lazy or unprofessional journalists, with their own agenda might just perpetuate ‘fake news’, for whatever reason.”
Daniels says that the inability of media houses to train and/or maintain their staff component, may be a factor as to why news at times seems half baked and facts or sources are not verified, considering the financial constraints that many of these entities currently face.
“That could be one reason,” he says. “Either the journalists are not trained, and they do not know the code of conduct. But the training has to do finances also, because it takes money to train your people. It could be from I have observed that journalists are pressurised by editors to take shortcuts or to write a story according to their (the editor’s) own agenda towards the topic being reported on. But there may be a number of factors that contribute (to the level of dis / misinformation.”
According to the report, factors such division, factionalism, disillusionment, feeling left out on a socio-economic level are some of the contributors to fake news.
Daniels states that all these developments may well be a sign of the times in which the media finds itself and that companies or individuals may be influenced by the financial benefit of breaking or scooping stories before another has.
Links concludes his presentation with recommendations for how the scourge of disinformation can be overcome.
He finally recommends that if social media regulation is taken forward seriously, the eventual outcome be a self-regulatory, nationally subscribed to (an) initiative that is born out of a multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary process, informed by best
That media organisations, especially state-owned media, steer clear of providing partisan or biased reporting and coverage of political campaigns and electoral processes.
Importantly, Links recommends that Namibian civil society play a far more active and engaged role in encouraging more civil and good faith political discussions and debates, and in the monitoring of electoral processes and holding the state authorities accountable for the communication and information sharing shortcomings.