Message from Dr Marie-Reine Hoareau, chairperson Seychelles Media Commission, on World Press Freedom Day 2021 |03 May 2021
‘Always check your facts!’
“May I first seize the opportunity to greet all media practitioners in Seychelles on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day today. Your profession is indeed a very noble one. Information and education are key tools in developing communities, societies and the world at large. I am convinced if we were able to effectively reach out to people living in every corner of the globe, the world would be happier, more peaceful and united. A well-informed and educated people will contribute immensely to break down the walls of hate, intolerance and discrimination – the root causes of all the division and malaise in the world today.
“I note with great satisfaction that our small country has risen 11 rungs in the World Press Freedom rankings. Naturally we can climb higher! Being at No. 52 from among 193 countries globally is no small feat given the multiple challenges. I believe for Seychelles to be the first in African rankings is not an unrealistic goal! We have the potential and we must strive to reach there.
“Press freedom in Seychelles has evolved rapidly since Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) introduced the Index over 20 years ago. I shall not enumerate here all the factors that have contributed to our elevation in the Index; the Seychellois public is very familiar with them. My intention is to draw attention to one very important aspect – fact-checking – which I think is crucial to the future of journalism not only in Seychelles but worldwide; it will also enhance the image and credibility of the journalist and earn the public respect, trust and confidence so essential to the profession
“The fast-paced development of information communication technology – need we say the revolution – has transformed modes of operation significantly. So much so that today many people consider themselves ‘journalists’. Social media is full of examples. The worry is that professional journalists are also so caught up in this frenzy of “breaking news” that they are, if not careful, prone to fall into one of the numerous pitfalls created as a consequence. Reference here is of course to the proliferation of ‘Fake News’ on the social media.
“The media landscape has drastically changed. Journalists and media organisations always compete to be the first with the news. Editorial and commercial pressures invariably are at the back of the minds of journalists on the ground. Temptation to rely too much on social media (often but not always synonymous with ‘Fake News’) is huge – even with seasoned journalists. I therefore want to appeal to media practitioners to give precedence to the cardinal principles and ethics of the profession over the haste to be first with breaking news. Get your facts right. The public expects the media to provide timely, yes, but more importantly worthy, credible and factual news and informed comments. This is the only way we can gain the confidence and respect of the consuming public that we are worthy of our profession and can be relied upon for the truth, as far as possible, and provision of objective and balanced news, views and comments on whichever platform used to reach readers and listeners.
“‘Fake News’ is now unfortunately prevalent throughout the world. Presidents, politicians and the public at large talk about it. Let us not join the crowd. Let us uphold the principles, values and ethics which have for years been the bedrock of professional and responsible journalism.
“I am pleased indeed that Unesco theme for the 2021 World Press Freedom Day – “Information as a Public Good” coincides very much with our own thoughts. But what has prompted SMC to focus on ‘Fake News’?
“The most recent live Presidential Press Conference provided us all with a glaring example of how we could all have been taken in by ‘Fake News’. A journalist asked a question about the legality of the deportation from Seychelles of a lady deemed ‘undesirable’. It emerged later that the journalist who had brought up the subject had fallen prey to the influence of ‘fake news’ which had momentarily got the upper hand. In reality, it turned out that contrary to what was being asserted, the Human Rights Commissioner had not made any comment whatsoever and the local paper quoted had never printed such a report! “Someone had fabricated the story for the social media in such a manner that the casual reader was fooled into thinking that the ‘news item’ was an actual extract from a local paper when this was not the case!
“It is therefore very important that professionals are aware of the existence of such baits in the era of fake news and not to allow themselves to be embroiled in such embarrassing situations.
“On this World Press Freedom Day, let us commit ourselves to checking facts thoroughly before going to print, on-air or online. Our public rightly expects to be offered credible and balanced coverage of the highest standard possible. The SMC thanks all media practitioners for their immense contribution in promoting responsible and professional journalism in Seychelles. And one of the main keys to attain this is – you guessed it – Always Check Your Facts!
Dr Marie-Reine Hoareau
Seychelles Media Commission