WOULD it be fashionable, in this era of “fake news”, for any university offering journalism related courses not to develop the verification and fact-checking skills of its students? Can you train a medical doctor without the skill of diagnoses? Can you produce a lawyer without the skill of differentiating fact from fiction? So, the idea of mainstreaming fact-checking and media literacy into the curriculum of Universities offering journalism related courses is not out of place. The challenge of information disorder – with labels such as fake news, misinformation, disinformation, mal-information, satire, propaganda, imposter contents especially in the digital public sphere – is universal. Nigeria is having its fair share of this challenge in all spheres of her national life – politics, religion, governance, economy, social, tribal etc. There has been hue and cry about how this phenomenon is not only polarising the nation but also frustrating efforts at putting the nation back on track. There have been different proposals on how the virus of “fake news” could be curtailed including using a legal approach (proposal of death sentence) to stem the tide of the alarming rate at which it is being weaponised to create and spread fear, discord, diseases and even death.
Why should we then as intellectuals ignore a well acceptable solution to this problem? Fact-checking and media literacy are undeniable models in combating the challenges associated with information disorder which has also found its way to the mainstream media. Fact-checking was institutionalized into the Nigeria media operations in 2016 by Africa Check and it has now been expanded by Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) with Dubawa fact-checking project. I conducted a study in 2020 documenting the efforts of media organisations in Nigeria at combating information disorder. The findings exposed challenges encountered by these organisations in responding to the problem. One of the challenges is the lack of verification and fact-checking skills among journalists in Nigeria, inadequate professional fact checkers and geometric spread of misinformation with noncorresponding growth of the fact-checking landscape. Purveyors of disinformation take advantage of media illiteracy of Nigerians to up their games. Thereby making their victims willing tools for their dastardly act.
A study conducted by eight communication scholars including the founder of Africa Check, Peter Cunliffe-Jones also noted the low mark Nigeria scored integrating media into schools’ curriculum. Part of the research titled: “The State of Media Literacy in Sub-Saharan Africa 2020 and a Theory of Misinformation Literacy”, explains the limited elements of media and information literacy (MIL) that are included in the curricula in the seven countries including Nigeria. “The authors propose six fields of knowledge and skills specific to misinformation that are required in order to reduce students’ susceptibility to false and misleading claims. Identifying obstacles to the introduction and effective teaching of misinformation literacy, the authors make five recommendations for the promotion of misinformation literacy in schools, to reduce the harm misinformation causes.” As it stands, media, fact-checking and non-governmental organisations have over the years invested in media literacy projects but tertiary institutions in Nigeria have not done much in this respect. Aside from researching this phenomenon, tertiary institutions offering journalism related courses have the obligation to mount fact-checking and media literacy courses to bridge the knowledge and skill gaps in the Nigeria media information ecosystem.
We should provide locally made reading and course materials for specific needs of our tertiary institutions. We can build on UNESCO’s training handbook manual on fact-checking edited by Professor Lai Oso of the School of Communication, Lagos State University (LASU). Be it public relations experts, advertising practitioners, development communication experts or professional journalists, fact-checking/verification skill is a must. So, if this is the case, asking departments, colleges or faculties offering communication related courses in integrating fact-checking and verification into the 30 percent course allowance is timely. The long term goal is to convince the NUC to include fact-checking and media literacy to the 70 percent in the CCMAS. And if hazard of journalism is so pronounced, why would trauma literacy not included in its curriculum? To justify why trauma literacy should be included in communication related courses in the CCMAS by the NUC, I will quote extensively from the call for papers for an international conference and knowledge exchange event scheduled for 15th to 16th June, 2023. It is organised by the Journalism Education Trauma Research Group (JETREG) and hosted by the Department of Journalism Studies at the University of Sheffield, UK in partnership with the University of Lincoln, UK. The conference titled: “Living to tell the tale – building community resilience in journalism” responds to the persistent work-related problem of emotional and psychological stress in journalism practice:
“Journalists are one of the first responders to traumatic events and the last to leave, but they are the least likely to receive training in trauma informed literacy and resilience, unlike their counterparts in the police, nursing, ambulance services and fire brigade.” “Previous studies show that many journalists are reporting either post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), associated symptoms, depression, and/or substance use while many journalists feel ill-prepared for assignments, which involve reporting on critical incidents and events that carry a risk of being traumatised.”
“Some scholars have blamed journalism’s deep-seated objectivity norm, which is central to journalism education and the ‘macho’ views to be found in some newsrooms, as one of the reasons why journalists are reluctant to talk about the emotional and psychological effects of exposure to traumatic events on their health and wellbeing.”
“Studies show that journalism students are also ill-equipped to deal with their own emotional reactions and to assess what they experience from an ethical perspective.” “The academic conference aims to highlight current multidisciplinary research into trauma, emotion and resilience in journalism and media work; psychological and emotional safety of journalists/media workers, pedagogical approaches and best practice to trauma literacy in journalism education/training and the various experiences of trauma, emotional labour or (un)happiness in journalism/media.” “We also seek the perspectives of scholars
from different disciplines, practicing journalists/freelancers/editors on coping strategies and/or newsroom support that may have pedagogical relevance.” Six out of the 13 topics of the conference relevant to this advocacy are: Trauma informed journalism practice and pedagogy and challenges to normative assumptions around objectivity and detachment; Skills and capacity to cope with the effects of exposure to traumatic events; Addressing barriers to trauma literacy in journalism practice and education.
Others are: Emotional literacy and psychological safety in journalism; Best practices and innovation in journalism pedagogy in building emotional resilience; and Mental health/wellbeing among journalists and journalism students/trainees.
So, if journalism safety is of interest to Universities offering communication related courses, then the integration of trauma literacy should be considered in the new CCMAS.
- Jamiu is a lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, Crescent University, Abeokuta, Ogun State.
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