BY WINSTONE ANTONIO
MEDIA Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe says a growing misinformation and disinformation trend requires expanded fact-checking capacity for journalists and the media to help disseminate verified and credible news.
Speaking to NewsDay on the sidelines of a two-day workshop on New Trends and Emerging Practices on Misinformation and Disinformation in Elections held over the weekend at a hotel in Bulawayo, Misa Zimbabwe project co-ordinator Buhlebenkosi Tshabangu-Moyo said Misa Zimbabwe had always stood for a professional media environment.
“It is unprofessional for the media to spread false or misleading information that is created, presented and disseminated for profit or to deliberately mislead the public as such information has the potential to likely cause public harm,” Tshabangu-Moyo said.
“The project that we are currently having is focusing specifically on misinformation, disinformation, mal-information, real information disorders, which have been a problem in the past couple of years.”
The workshop was attended by journalists from across media houses, persons with disabilities, media monitors, civil society organisations, politicians and academia who identified and discussed some cases of misinformation and disinformation from mainstream and online media in the pre-election period.
While Misa Zimbabwe has worked on information disorders before, Tshabangu-Moyo said this year they had gone all out to have a specific project which looks at information disorders.
“We have come up with a series of activities where we are engaging with different stakeholders, and this workshop here in Bulawayo being one of them, where we are looking at how the media covered the election, how the media covered the electoral period like pre-election and post-election,” she said.
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“This was also part of the overall theme to say, how did the media do? What did the media do well? What did the media not do so well? What could the media have done better? We would like audiences to get information that is accurate, balanced, and credible.”
Misa committed to assist in making sure that the media sector is as professional as possible.
“This project is part of that continuation of increasing the capacity of the journalists as in the past, we have had training workshops for investigative journalism, also for digital security. That is also part of trying to increase the capacity of the journalist and the media houses,” she noted.
“Also, the project is building to that overarching theme of saying we would like to have a credible media, collectively credible, as in the workshop, one of the issues that came up was now a person has to go to three, four sources to sort of try and tell whether the story that they have read is true or not.”
Added Tshabangu-Moyo: “So, who would like to have a situation where we fight against information disorder? So, the workshop was part of a series of projects that overall, I can feel Misa Zimbabwe continuing to fight for a media that is credible, balanced and accurate.
“We have to continuously remind each other of the need to adhere to ethical standards, to the standards of journalism, making sure that if you are writing a story, you give somebody a right of reply, your story has got many sources and things like that.”
Misa Zimbabwe is also exploring ways of working better and making sure it continues to increase the capacity of the media houses and the journalists themselves.
“From the media, the willingness to maintain and adhere to professionalism is there so, I think we just have to continue working together, it is a team effort. It is for Misa Zimbabwe and the media houses and journalists in general to continue working together for the better,” Tshabangu-Moyo said.
Participants at the workshop noted that the rise and spread of social networks was an opportunity for journalism, but it has brought with it dangers for both the profession and the population.
They stated that as disinformation and misinformation were proliferating, the spread of fake news which threatens democracy and social harmony have become even more sophisticated — including audiovisual materials mainly disseminated on social networks, especially the mobile messaging platform WhatsApp.
“Although misinformation and disinformation are not a phenomenon specific to the media, since it has found its natural medium in social networks and the internet, fake news polarises society and fosters hatred,” disability rights defender Tsepang Nare said.
“The threat caused by the spreading of misinformation and disinformation is that it puts a dent on the credibility of journalism and towards elections it can pose a challenge for citizens to make informed political choices.”
The participants also stated that the proliferation of fake news mainly on social media platforms among other digital news networks, was unprofessionally necessitated by the need to attract traffic and probably get some money from Google at the expense of citizens.
During the discussions, there was consensus by the participants that the mainstream media must not be caught up in the spreading of misinformation and disinformation, but remain professional in its gathering and dissemination of news.
“The disbelief in the news by individuals can be combated by simply cross-checking information from different media, which favours a diverse diet of information. Fake news has further destabilised the battered media landscape, journalists must in a professional way ensure that society is well-informed,” a participant said.