Opinion: Sahara Reporters should stop playing God

by Abubakar Abdulrahman

Logo_Sahara Reporters

It would help if Sahara Reporter’s asked its sources for pictures of an inebriated Jonathan but no. How can you a man of being “drunk to stupor” yet on the same page you have pictures of him looking sober and mingling with other world leaders. I don’t get it.

An enterprising media is the lifeblood of a functional democracy. This is even more so in a democracy such as Nigeria’s that is still reeling from the hangover of years of brutal military rule. To get government to do what it is elected to do – provide accountable and transparent services to the citizens, a media that constantly puts government officials on their toes is as important as the government itself, if not more.

Unlike what is mostly done in these parts, an enterprising media has little business reporting verbatim garnished or fabricated information dished out in form of official press statements or managed press conferences.

The true calling of the media is to question everything.

Sweet-talking government spokespersons are paid to embellish information and spread red herrings. It is the job of the media to pick through government and corporate half-truth and untruth and keep the people correctly informed. If the media fails in this basic responsibility, government will become high-handed and ultimately turn despotic. Unlike many Nigerian media organisation, an enterprising media has no business being on the side of the government. Its job is to look closely at the goings-on in state houses and corporate head offices and sniff-out malfeasances there in.

However, the media, in playing this watchdog role, must strive to be above-board in all its dealings. Credibility must be the media’s watchword. Because its job is critical in maintaining peace and tranquillity in the polity, it must not give room for unnecessary sensationalism. It shouldn’t cry wolf when there is none. A guard dog that constantly shouts at mirages will either give its owner a heart attack or lose its place to a more efficient one.

Over the years, online news platform, Sahara Reporters has acquired a reputation for publishing hard-hitting exposes. Together with the defunct NEXT newspapers it became a punishing thorn under the skin of serial criminal and former governor of Delta State, James Ibori. Sahara Reporters takes no prisoners. Currently, Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah is the government official at the end of their scathing stick. After exposing her sinful N225 million armoured BMW cars scandal they followed that up with her certificate forgery story. Their relentless reporting on human rights violations, corruption as well as government and corporate high-handedness is quite commendable if not inspiring. Adversary journalism doesn’t come any better than that.

Unfortunately, alongside these amazing stories, Sahara Reporters diminishes itself running stories that are utter rubbish. And that is putting it mildly. The publication is increasingly becoming a platform for dubious sources and people with less-than-noble intentions to witch-hunt their opponents. The editors of the publication are its worst enemies. They love sensationalism and show no restrain in publishing information, no matter how ridiculous farcical, as long as it is anti-government. It is obvious that they do not take their time to verify leads or like someone suggested, it seems they sometimes have ulterior motives to heat up the polity with there stories just for the heck of it. For a platform that is the main source of news many Nigerians at home and in the diaspora, this level of irresponsibility is unacceptable. Sometimes I can help but wonder how a thing can be so good yet so bad at the same time?

One of their ardent readers recently argued that Sahara reporters, as a citizen journalism platform, is not expected to operate with the same kind of ethics required of traditional media organisations. Rubbish! Credibility should be the watchword of every publication, traditional or otherwise. If I need to read spoofs I will rather visit wazobiareport.com.

What is more, being a citizen journalism platform doesn’t mean you should discard the loyalty of your readers, who visit your site for quality, balanced and unbiased news, in the gutter. Sahara Reporters does this frequently by publishing those unsubstantiated stories. This is stark irresponsibility.

During the Arab Spring, there was an overflow of leads and information in form of videos and pictures from activists. Soon it became clear that many of these sources have vested interests and their leads and materials are either outright false or doctored to mislead. Respectable media organisation like the BBC and Al Jazeera intensified their verification processes as soon as this became clear. For instance, the BBC has a dedicated desk for verifying information from so called citizen sources. Verifying information from sources doesn’t cost a fortune. Sometimes it is as easy as asking your sources hard questions about the information they are handing over. Because a source is known for providing credible information in the past does not mean he/she will not give you hogwash in the future. So always put every material or information you get to the test. I doubt if Sahara Reporters does this.

One commenter on twitter recently described some of Sahara Reporter’s stories as “ogogoro stories”. Citizen Journalism platform or not, an editor must really high on cheap liquor to run a story like the one about TB Joshua being the one responsible for the release of Al Mustapha, or this with its potential of incensing an already volatile situation, Or the utter irresponsibility of this one. I can go on all day, really.

I’m not saying the president might not have a drinking problem or was actually drunk on that occasion, but if you must run a story about it, at least provide some credible proofs rather than just unverifiable gist from unnamed diplomats. Let’s compare this story with Closer magazine’s revelation about the French President, Francois Hollande’s two-timing escapade with an actress, for instance. Closer provided undeniable proof in form of pictures. It would help if Sahara Reporter’s asked its sources for pictures of an inebriated Jonathan but no. How can you a man of being “drunk to stupor” yet on the same page you have pictures of him looking sober and mingling with other world leaders. I don’t get it.

Perhaps the most irresponsible ethical flaw by the managers of Sahara Reporters is their blatant refusal to retract stories or apologise when it becomes obvious they had published a misleading or wrong stories. Sowore and his editors should stop acting God. Every media organisation has got it wrong one time or the other and the right thing to do is to publish a correction, when possible or do retraction and apologise. This we-can-never-go-wrong braggadocio does a lot of harm to their credibility more than they realise.

With the attention it is receiving in form of funding from donor organisations, corporate patronage and expanding readership Sahara Reporters should think of off-loading its “aluta journalism” and think more seriously about building a more credible platform.

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