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Addressing Ethical Challenges in the Use of Digital Media in Nigeria

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By Gabriel T. Nyitse, PhD and Felix C. Elele

Digital media has revolutionized the communication landscape globally and disrupted traditional media’s dominance in all its ramifications by ushering a new vista in citizen engagement. The world has witnessed unprecedented growth in the adoption of digital media as the global population of internet users hit 5.18 billion, representing 64.6 percent of the world’s population according to data from Statista.

Out of the entire global population, 4.8 billion individuals use social media. On the other hand, DataReport on “The State of Digital in Nigeria in 2023” reveals that there were 122.5 million internet users in Nigeria by December 2022, representing a penetration rate of 55.4%. In addition, social media users in Nigeria stand at 31.60 million, or 14.3 percent of the total population.

With technological advancement, the number is also projected to grow, as there will be more convergence of social media, artificial intelligence (AI), and virtual reality.

Digital media, according to Wikipedia, is “any communication media that operate in conjunction with various encoded machine-readable data formats. Digital content can be created, viewed, distributed, modified, listened to, and preserved on electronic devices, including digital data storage media and digital broadcasting”.

It refers to the transmission of digital information via screen and/or speaker. It includes websites, online video/audio broadcasts, email, online social platforms, online communities, online forums, blogs, Internet telephony, Web advertising, online education, and a great deal more. In addition, digital news media includes online journalism, blogging, digital photojournalism, citizen journalism and social media.

There has been a growing concern about ethical issues in the utilisation of digital media space due to its unregulated, instantaneous, and decentralized nature. This is made possible because anyone with the necessary device and minimal technical knowledge can be a prominent participant in the digital world, proclaim their message to the world, and demand an audience.  In the midst of every innovative disruption, novel possibilities emerge while established customs and practices are threatened and today is no different.

Digital media is transforming to a new genre in journalism that is a blend of professional and citizen-driven journalism where one feeds the other as a news source. This fusion is noticeable even in developed countries as studies show that journalists monitor social media activity closely and use them in their reporting.

Shannon C. McGregor, Assistant Professor, Hussman School of Journalism and Media, at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, postulated that tweets are increasingly incorporated into traditional journalistic coverage of political events and that journalists rely on Twitter to decide which events and voices are newsworthy.

This assertion is also corroborated in an article published in the Nation Newspaper on August 29, 2021 where the author stated that these days in Nigeria, a radio or television program is incomplete without media outlets’ social media handles, through which they can be followed and reached.

This Ethics is one of the cardinal principles of journalism and the fulcrum of media practice. It is the conscience and integrity quotient of journalism. Digital media ethics focuses on the unique ethical issues, practices, and standards of digital news media.

It addresses how professional journalism should utilize new media to conduct research and publish stories, as well as how to use text or images provided by citizens.  Globally, the nature of journalism is being transformed as professional journalists are contesting the media space with tweeter users, citizen journalists, social media users, and bloggers.

These new entrants raise emerging ethical issues in journalism. Stephen J.A. Ward of the Centre for Journalism Ethics, University of Winconsin-Madison opined: “We are moving towards a mixed news media – a news media citizen and professional journalism across many media platforms.

This new mixed news media requires new mixed media ethics–guidelines that apply to amateur and professional whether they blog, tweet, broadcast or write for newspapers. The nagging question then is: What implications can ethics hold for a profession that is required to deliver immediate news and analysis, in an era where anyone possessing an internet-enabled device with a modem can act as a publisher?

This brings to the fore, the overall ethical controversy between the traditional journalism culture of gatekeeping, balance and objectivity and the online culture of immediacy and non-editorial review.

In relying on citizen journalists for information and in the quest to remain relevant and join the bandwagon of being the first to break the news, the ethical standards of balance, objectivity, facts and verification are being compromised. Through social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, blogs, mobile phones, and email, news and images circulate around the world with astounding speed.

Speed places newsrooms under pressure to publish stories before they have been adequately checked and verified as to their source and the veracity of alleged facts. The phenomenon of sensationalism and rumourmongering in journalism is attributed to the economic competitiveness of the industry and the constant demand for 24-hour digital news coverage.

In addition, conventional journalists and media organisations have adopted various social media platforms such as a means of connecting with their audience and sharing their perspectives and viewpoints. Consequently, the absence of substantial reporting or analysis leads to a disregard for journalistic integrity.

The internet contains vast amounts of information, a significant portion of which lacks proper evaluation for both accuracy and relevance. These grave ethical lapses call for concern as a media that thrives on speed has the potential to cause significant damage to society.

On a broader perspective, there is this ethical issue of who is a journalist and what is journalism in the digital media ecosystem. The democratization of media technology muddles the identity of journalists and the definition of journalism. In the traditional media, journalists were a clearly defined set of professionals who wrote for mainstream media.  It was easy to identify “gentlemen of the press.” But today, citizens without formal training in journalism write in ways that fit the definition of a journalist as a person who frequently writes for the public or audience about public issues.

In Nigeria, there is this debate as to whether those who write for popular blogs such as Linda Ikeji Blog, Gistlover, and Zikolo etc., as well as social news sites such as Gamji.com and Nigeriavillagesquare.com, Pulse etc.,  or social media sites such as Nairaland, allAfrica, naNAIJA.com, and onlineNigeria journalists?

A lack of clarity regarding who constitutes a journalist results in foundational ethical conflicts regarding who practices journalism and the question of what journalism is in this context. It is becoming difficult and sometimes unclear to determine where the term “journalism” begins and ends. The ethical challenge is the articulation of guidelines that are consistent with the ethical principles of accuracy, verification, and transparency for dealing with rumours and corrections in digital media.

A related problem created by new media is how to handle errors and corrections when news updates, reports and commentaries are continually updated via live feeds and blogging posts or TV scrolls.

Live coverage of events such as breaking news, natural disasters, elections, handover, and sports are becoming increasingly popular among journalists in Nigeria. Errors, including misspellings and factual inaccuracies, are inevitable when working at this urgency, speed and pace. Occasionally, people retweet, share, or broadcast these factual errors before they are corrected, and the resulting ethical damage can be severe.

It is a fact that unregulated digital media thrives in anonymous and faceless writing. However, the mainstream media require content providers to be identified. Journalists are cautioned by codes of conventional media ethics to use anonymous sources sparingly and only under certain conditions. The question of when anonymity is ethically permissible is therefore yet another ethical issue.

Whether it is inconsistent for the media to enforce various anonymity rules for different media platforms. What should the ethical guidelines for offline and online anonymity be? Supporters of anonymity claim that it allows unfettered freedom of speech and sometimes aids in exposing corruption and official misconduct.

Impartiality is a fundamental principle of mainstream journalism. But this principle contradicts the tenets of the new media, which encourages people to freely and equivocally express their opinions and share their thoughts. Many bloggers and online journalists perceive themselves to be opinion or partisan journalists/activists for causes and political movements and take pride in expressing their opinions and positions.

The majority of them reject the concept of neutral or objective analysis. The ethical challenge redefining what independent journalism in the public interest entails for a media in which numerous new forms of journalism are emerging and fundamental principles are being questioned. Journalists should be guided by the principle of fairness and avoid news stories that are likely to generate conflicts of interest or diminish the dignity of others.

When collecting news sources, journalists should apply research ethics of balance, confidentiality, respect for opinions, and avoidance of sensational content. In addition, journalists should not hide under the cover of technology to distort the truth or reality, manipulate facts, or sensationalize events.

In the midst of plethora of unfettered information sources online, plagiarism in digital media has become widespread. Journalists have been accused of copying stories from less popular blogs and publishing them in mainstream media as their own. Journalists are expected to ensure that their stories are original and not plagiarized. This is related to the fact that journalists are sometimes implicated in copyright violations. However, copyright infringement is a legal issue as well as an ethical one.

On the flip side, the proliferation of new image modification technologies for both photographs and videos raises new ethical concerns too. In Nigeria where fake news, disinformation and hate speech thrive, the manipulation of images is a major ethical issue and prone to fraudulent practices. Citizens and professional journalists have access to new and simple methods for capturing and transmitting images.

These images can be altered and manipulated using new technologies. This convergence of ease of capture, ease of transmission, and ease of manipulation call into question the conventional photojournalism principles that were developed for non-digital image and video capture and transmission. One concern is whether newsrooms can rely on images readily obtained by citizens and citizen journalists.

Who is the sender, and how can we be sure that this photograph represents the event in question? Another issue is whether a journalist or a member of the public used technology to alter the photograph, such as to add or remove an object.

As a way to manage digital media ethical issues, some scholars have advocated for layered journalism, which combines various forms of journalism and different types of journalists to create a multi-media offering of news and analysis written in a professional style combined with citizen journalism and interactive chat. Stephen J.A. Ward recommended that the newsroom be layered vertically and horizontally, with different editors reviewing and editing texts, videos, photographs, and audio from various sources.

As digital media continue to evolve, new ethical issues will continue to arise. However, the mainstream media must not in the cause of joining the digital bandwagon, compromise the ethical principles of Aristotle’s ‘Golden Mean’. Professional journalists must remain the check and standard for measuring journalism practice and not for survival strategies and reasons revert to pre-19th century journalism that lacks the social responsibility norm.

The media as the fourth estate of the realm must continue to be alive to its ethical responsibility to society by upholding ethical principles while adapting and adopting digital technology, which has become a major component of journalism.


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AfDB Appoints Dr Babatunde Samson Omotosho as Director of Statistics Department

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African Development Bank has appointed Dr Babatunde Samson Omotosho, an economist and statistician, as Director of the Statistics Department, effective June 16, 2024.

Dr Babatunde Samson Omotosho

Dr Omotosho, a Nigerian national, has more than 21 years experience in developing data strategies to align with the strategic objectives of organisations. He also brings expertise in data compilation, data analytics, macroeconomic research, and policy analysis.

Omotosho previously served as Director of Research and Statistics at the West African Monetary Agency (WAMA) in Sierra Leone, where he was seconded from the Central Bank of Nigeria. At WAMA, he provided advice on monetary and economic integration within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Prior to that he held various positions within the Statistics and Research Departments of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

As an Assistant Director in the Statistics Department, he led the data analytics team and managed the Central Bank’s strategic initiatives on big data and data analytics. He oversaw projects aimed at enhancing data analytics capabilities for policymaking, automating surveys and statistical systems, improving data sharing infrastructure and developing social media listening tools. His leadership fostered a culture of data analytics within the Central Bank, driving innovation and efficiency in operational and policy processes.

Dr Omotosho holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Glasgow, United Kingdom (2021); a master’s degree in Applied Statistics and Datamining from the University of St Andrews, United Kingdom (2011); a master’s degree in Economics from the University of Benin, Nigeria (2008); and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Ilorin, Nigeria (2000).

He has contributed extensively to academic literature, with publications in reputable journals, including the Journal of Economic Dynamics & Control, Journal of International Money & Finance, Macroeconomic & Finance in Emerging Market Economies, and the Central Bank of Nigeria Journal of Applied Statistics. His research covers big data, econometrics, monetary and fiscal policy interactions, business cycle drivers, and the macroeconomic implications of resource shocks for small open, emerging economies.

Omotosho is a member of the Nigerian Statistical Association, the International Association for Official Statistics, and the Royal Statistical Society.

Commenting on his appointment, he said, “I am grateful to President Adesina for this appointment, and I am excited about the opportunity to contribute to the continued success and growth of the African Development Bank Group, an institution that plays such a pivotal role in the economic and social development of our beloved continent, Africa. I am fully committed to fulfilling the responsibilities of the position while collaborating effectively with the Bank’s senior leadership team, colleagues, and other strategic partners.”

Dr Akinwumi A. Adesina, President of the African Development Bank Group, commented: “I am pleased to appoint Dr Babatunde Samson Omotosho, a respected statistician, as Director of the Statistics Department. Dr Omotosho brings to this role an impressive track record in statistics, economics, and data analytics. He will support the Bank in building a robust data ecosystem to achieve our strategic objectives and sustain our long-term development goals.”


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ATII Awards Scholarship to Students

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A knowledge transfer and technology innovation hub, African Technology and Innovation Institutes (ATII) has awarded scholarships to ten pupils from Bridge International Academy, Lagos.

Through its Junior Scholars Program in partnership with Lumina Educational and Empowerment Foundation (Lumina), the scholarship will meet the educational needs of the benefitting pupils through their primary education, which is extendable to their university education.

The Junior Scholars Program is an offshoot of  ATII’s  Innovation, Leaders, Fellowship and Scholars Program that aims to empower and cater to the welfare of students aged 3-12 years from underprivileged and low-income communities by partnering with other organisations to provide scholarships for these rough diamonds.

In addition to the scholarship, ATII also provides STEM-based back-to-school kits and other Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) materials to spark their desire for education and to contribute to their communities in STEM-related fields.

In her congratulatory message, the Founder of ATII,  Prof. Rose-Margaret Ekeng-Itua represented by Mr Sunday Awolowo, ATII’s Programs Manager, praised the students for their “outstanding academic excellence” and their “resolve to continue to improve in their academic pursuits, especially in the STEM fields.”

“We hope that the scholarships will continue to encourage you to do great work to pursue STEM. We hope one day in the future you all will be inspired to be an Engineer, a technologist, a mathematician or scientist,” Prof. Ekeng-Itua said.

The ATII Junior Scholars Program is designed to encourage and support students who are interested in pursuing careers in these fields.

Mrs Ezinne Tochie-Asogwa, Manager of Academics at Bridge International Academy, expressed her appreciation to ATII for the generous gesture.

“On behalf of the management and staff of Bridge International Academy, we appreciate the kind gesture of ATII.

ATII is passionate about the next generation of leaders and individuals who will change the world, pursuing its mission to promote African and Indigenous Technologies, while supporting human capital development in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The ATII scholarships will provide financial assistance to the students as they continue their education in STEM fields. The program will also provide mentorship and support from ATII professionals.

 


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CBN, FintechNGR Chart the Way Forward to Enhance Nigeria’s Fintech Ecosystem

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In light of recent developments aimed at strengthening Nigeria’s fintech sector, Ade Bajomo, President of FintechNGR, led a team from the Association’s Governing Council in an engagement with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to chart the way forward.

Receiving the team at the CBN headquarters in Abuja, Philip Ikeazor, Deputy Governor, Financial System Stability, commended FintechNGR’s active advocacy efforts that have significantly improved the fintech ecosystem.

The Central Bank emphasized the need for the Association to work closely with stakeholders to operate within regulatory provisions, facilitate compliance, and establish robust risk management frameworks and governance structures.

Mr. Ikeazor stated, “The Central Bank understands the critical roles of fintechs in driving financial inclusion to the last mile. Our efforts are geared towards helping fintechs become more attractive to investors and achieve greater success.”

During the meeting, Ade Bajomo noted that while stakeholders strive to comply with regulatory requirements, they sometimes face challenges beyond their control.

“The common understanding within our ecosystem is that compliance makes the environment safer for all to innovate, scale, and collaborate. FintechNGR will ensure the co-creation of a support structure with the CBN to enhance compliance.”

Some of the initiatives the regulators plan to pursue with the ecosystem include making the 2024 Nigeria Fintech Week more impactful, enriching the activities of the Regulators Forum, organizing fintech learning series for various stakeholders, and exploring self-regulation status for FintechNGR to foster closer relationships with regulators.

FintechNGR remains committed to working with all regulators to better position the ecosystem to be more inclusive and impactful.

 


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