PANOS Institute Southern Africa has called on the media to rise up to the occasion and defend its space against fake news, disinformation and misinformation.
During multi-stakeholder orientation and engagement meeting on fighting misinformation and promoting democracy in Zambia, executive director Vusumuzi Sifile said fake news, disinformation and misinformation had become a major challenge, affecting everyone in different ways especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as the country gets ready for the 2021 Presidential and General Elections.
Sifile said the publication or sharing of false and inaccurate information, particularly that which was intended to deceive had become widespread in Zambia, and the media had an important role to play in not only identifying and debunking fake news, but also creating an environment that makes it difficult for fake news and other kinds of disinformation to thrive.
“Every day, on different platforms, online and offline, we have unchecked and untrue content being presented as news, and being amplified and spread by citizens who in most cases do not have the means nor skills to verify content. Globally, the outbreak of the COVID-19 led to what the UN described as an infodemic characterised by the dissemination of all kinds of false and wrong information on the pandemic,” Sifile said.
He said Zambia was not spared, as people spread different myths and other misconceptions as truth.
Sifile said this was harmful to the COVID-19 response, as it slows down the uptake or implementation of some of the measures put in place to prevent the spread of the virus.
“As Panos, we are of the view that fake news, misinformation and disinformation can cause a breach of peace in the nation, trigger conflict, raise alarm and stifle citizens’ participation in democratic processes, including elections. Fake news, misinformation and disinformation also stifle good journalism, instead promoting corruption and other unprofessional practices among media actors,” he said. “This situation calls on the media to rise up to the occasion and defend its space. If as media practitioners we sit back, we will struggle to claim back the noble profession, because purveyors of fake news are on a crusade and it does not look like they will stop any soon.”
Sifile said the primary drivers of misinformation include lack of access to timely, reliable and verified information on COVID-19 and the electoral process, widespread myths and misconceptions on the pandemic and upcoming elections.
Sifile said the mainstream media must rise up to the occasion, and produce good, quality and in-depth content that would help citizens debunk any disinformation or fake news.
He said Panos was working with partners such as the Bloggers of Zambia and press clubs across the country to strengthen the media’s role in fighting misinformation and expand democratic participation.
Bloggers of Zambia founder Richard Mulonga said misinformation had given rise to state actors to implement cyber security laws.
Mulonga called for factual COVID-19 messaging.
Paradigm Initiative programme officer for Southern Africa Bulanda Nkhowani said online platforms contribute significantly to enhancing democracy by providing online spaces for civic engagement.
Nkhowani said while misinformation may be rife online, journalists and the media need to go back to basics and verify and fact check online reports.
Livingstone Press Club president Hilda Akekelwa said the media should guard against being used by political parties.
Akekelwa said the mandate of the media as the Fourth Estate was to tell the truth and not because it pleases certain people but so that the people can makes their own decisions and choices.