In the last round of the Candidates Town Hall Meeting that had Atiku Abubakar, presidential flag bearer of the People’s Democratic Party [PDP] and his running mate, Peter Obi, field questions from Kadaria Ahmed on their plans for Nigerians if elected, the duo made series of claims that made headlines on many media platforms.
One of the claims which specifically was made by Peter Obi was that, while the All Progressive Congress [APC] sought the mandate of Nigerians at the polls in 2015, the party promised to make a naira equal to a dollar. Of course, Mr Obi is not the first to critique this alleged promise. Many news agencies reported it too, especially in the days that led to the 2015 general election.
However, we researched and found out that in the 40-page manifesto of the APC in 2015, there was no such promise. In fact, the word “dollar” appeared only three times while “naira” was mentioned twice — each mentioned to express monetary value.
Because some campaign promises are undocumented, it may be said that it could be one of those unwritten promises, spat out in the smoldering heat of a campaign. However, during the closing session of the Nigeria Political Party Debates Series (NPPDS) organised by the Centre for Democracy and Development in 2015, Alhaji Bolaji Abdullahi, the then Deputy Director, Policy and Strategy of the APC Campaign Organization debunked the claim.
“On the issue of Gen. Buhari saying that he will bring naira at par with dollar, I want to say it clearly here that Gen. Buhari never said so,” Mr Abdullahi was quoted to have said. “He did not say so. If you are implying on the media report. I want to say that we are protesting to the media organisation that reported that.
“If you read the body of the story, you would have noticed that there was nothing in the body of the report that quoted as saying, ‘I will bring naira at par with dollar’. He only said ‘it is unacceptable that dollar will be exchanging for N230’ ”.
In truth, many media outlets reported the news. But just as Abdullahi said, many of such news outlets had a misleading headline when compared to the body of the news story. There was no part in the news story that quoted the president to have made any such promise.
In fact, a broadcast reportage of the news had no audio or video scene of the president saying that during the 2015 Southeast presidential rally of the party at Dan Anyima Stadium, Owerri where the news emanated from.
Cases of misleading headlines is not new in the Nigerian media. In the bid to draw massive readership, media outlets often use a fast-becoming unethical technique, termed “clickbait”[BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith says clickbait is a headline that is dishonest about the content of the article. A more commonly used definition is a headline that intentionally over-promises and under-delivers].
The case painted above is not the last and certainly not the first. More recently, Nigerians were treated to similar disparate reportage. In reporting the same story of President Buhari getting the support of former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s son, Olujunwo Obasanjo, some media outlets particularly used misleading headlines – “Obasanjo’s son campaigns for Buhari” went one headline; “Obasanjo campaigns for Muhammadu Buhari in US” read another headline. The two news reports told the same story but with different headlines and different intents.
Bearing in mind the imminent disagreement that has ensued between Obasanjo and Buhari, the former headline came out clear, and was out-rightly truthful. However, the latter withheld truth from its headline – and truth is a key principle of journalism, especially in news reportage.
The responsibility of the media, more than ever before, especially in this age of fake news proliferation and in the interest of the noble profession, is to uphold high standards of ethical professionalism by reporting only the truth- from headline to conclusion.
We can infer that by misleading the public through exaggerated or even false headlines, the decision making instinct of readers is tainted. And when the right decision is not made by readers, wrong actions are committed. It is more like a vicious cycle with wrong decisions not only affecting the maker but also, however subtle, having a ripple effect on others. And by placing the onus of discernment on the reader to look beyond the headline to avoid misinformation, media organizations are causing harm to an extent that is not clear-cut.
So we may be correct to ask: if sacrificing undue traffic for telling the truth would avert the double trouble of misinformation which leads to wrong decision making, can there ever be a better sacrifice?