Misinformation: Catalyst to Silence Women’s Voices?

by Rose Nyaga and Yvonne Mwende

Misinformation is being weaponized against women, a public forum by the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) in collaboration with UNESCO and Heinrich Boll heard.

The public forum held on May 14, 2019 at Alliance Française deliberated on the issue of misinformation as a catalyst to silence women’s voices and how it affects women journalists and elections in the future.

AMWIK Chairperson Dr. Dorothy Njoroge, Assistant professor at United States International University (USIU) pointed out that fake news has been escalated by technology. “Women are not online as much as men. For this reason, they end up passive in their role of sharing the correct information”, she added.

The panelists were: Dr. Dorothy Njoroge, Chairperson, Association of Media women in Kenya (AMWIK); Dr. Jane Thuo, Lecturer, School of Journalism, University of Nairobi; Victor Bwire, Head of Media development and strategy, Media Council of Kenya (MCK); and Mwanaisha Chidzuga, News Anchor at K24 TV; moderated by Akisa Wandera, News Anchor/Reporter, Kenya Television Network (KTN).  The forum brought together over 120 participants spanning from journalists, human rights defenders, gender activists and students from different universities.

AMWIK Executive Director, Marceline Nyambala, commenced the forum with research findings saying that fifty-seven percent women were the main subjects of fake news especially during the 2017/2018 general elections. “We are looking forward to scale the project due to its implication of 2022 elections,” she added.

Marceline Nyambala, Executive Director at AMWIK

Fake news is any false information that is deliberately meant to be wholly or largely false or misleading, spread through online social media, but occasionally finding its way to mainstream traditional print and broadcast news media.

The evening forum sought to define fake news; explain the need to identify fake news; look at the effects of fake news on gender equality; the role of fake news in stifling democracy; and the public’s responsibility in addressing the culture of fake news. It was geared towards addressing the culture of fake news in Kenya through research, factsheets and stakeholders.

The participants called on mainstream media to sustain responsibility of presenting factual information, with one participant pointing out, “What will distinguish us and social media is our credibility and reliability. We can only pick up the story, research, look for facts, so that we can maintain the trust our audiences have with us,” Judy Kaberia, Africa Check.

. It was noted that fake news mostly affects women in media and politics. Swahili News reporter and anchor, Mwanaisha Chidzuga pointed out that women in politics suffer the most during election campaigns as they are scandalized and demeaned. “The media fails to cover what the women leaders bring to the table and instead focus on who she slept with”.  She asked for women to support each other and provide platforms for those in politics to sell their agenda. Fake news has drastically interfered with democracy. We will not be talking about fair coverage if Kenya was democratic.  Misinformation and defamation is against the law, and action should be taken against the ones breaking it.  “You cannot talk about democracy when women are not given fair chance to share their ideas,” Ms. Chidzuga pointed out.  It was agreed that the media needs to be fair in terms of coverage. Rules and laws must apply to both male and female.

Mwanaisha Chidzuga, female journalist sharing her experience on fake news

Victor Bwire called on journalists to make use of the laws to break off the spread of fake news. He urged them to register as practicing journalists with Media Council of Kenya. “You must be a registered practicing journalist if at all Media Council is to protect you,” he ascertained.

Students were urged to do more research on fake news in preparation for a factual, accurate and trustworthy media. “Let us encourage students to do more research on fake news,” Dr. Jane Thuo proposed.

False information is often sensational, dishonest and out rightly fabricated. The panelists called on the public to be vigilant and not spread fake information by doing due diligence through considering the source, reading beyond the headline, asking if it is a joke, checking if other stories from the source are incredulous and to be wary of stories that rely on anonymous sources among other checks.

A study by GeoPoll and Portland, The Reality of Fake News in Kenya indicated that during Kenya’s 2017 general elections, the public accessed false or inaccurate news, and that some regarded this news as being deliberately misleading or fake news. The report clearly notes that false and inaccurate news is part of life in Kenya, particularly surrounding elections, and notes that this is likely to increase as social media continues to act as a key source of information.

AMWIK with the support of UNESCO published Factsheets on Fake News for Journalists and the Public.

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