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Opinion - Information: Are we getting the right dose and quality? | 23 February 2021

Can anyone live without information?

I doubt it.

This is because we all need information to be able to develop our knowledge on the world.

So, what is information?

One can describe information as knowledge obtained from news, reading, studies, investigation, etc.

For centuries, mankind has been receiving information through various sources and the fact that we are living in the digital age (some call it the information age), information is in abundance.

In Seychelles there are several mainstream news outlets which give out information, and the Seychelles NATION newspaper produced by the National Information Services Agency (Nisa) is probably the oldest news medium in the country. The agency’s mission is to educate, entertain and disseminate factual information in a timely and objective manner through the publication of the Seychelles NATION newspaper and other appropriate technological media.

Compared to some other news outlets, the Seychelles NATION emphasises on disseminating factual information after proper verification. All media outlets should be giving out truthful information, but we have seen lately that there has been a lot of disinformation, although according to different literature this has circulated through media since the early days of mass communication.

Disinformation is defined as the intentional and purposive spread of misleading information. We also have what is called misinformation which relates to unintentional behaviours that inadvertently mislead.

Although disinformation and misinformation have existed for a long time in all parts of the world, we have seen a resurgence of those of late because of the use of social media which is computer-based technology that eases the sharing of information, thoughts, and ideas through the building of virtual networks and communities, thus giving users content much quicker. As explained earlier, living in the digital age has prompted more and more people to post all types of information on all medium they can have access to. This can easily lead to an increase in the frequency of lies in the public sphere, meaning the truth is no longer an expectation. Instead, we have alternative facts.

With more people able to post information on social media, they become in direct competition with mainstream journalists. This is when we get an overload of information on a specific event or subject.

Since not all the load of information on the different media platform is true, readers become confused and cannot think clearly to make wise and informed decisions. Therefore, it is important for ministries, departments, agencies, non-governmental organisations, and others to come forward with quality information and at the right time. This way we will have quality decision making on the part of the people as they have been given the right information in a timely manner about a particular issue.

I wrote some two weeks ago about government officials not acknowledging journalists’ requests for interviews or clarifications about a particular issue. Lately, we have seen that journalists are also invited to cover events and are turned away at the last minute. Also, people are told a major announcement is on the card and then it is postponed. On the other hand, ministry of health officials see it normal not to explain results of Covid-19 tests especially on days when the number of cases is extremely high. Is it because the mode of testing has changed as well as the quantity tests increased? Or perhaps we have one of the new variants. It has been more than three weeks since this question was posed by a Seychelles NATION journalist and the answer given was “we are waiting for results of the tests”. The same answer was given to the same question last week. Such answers lead to more questions and we all know what happens next. People make their conclusion and come up with their own answers and before we know it, they are spreading like wildfire on social media.  

We also see information being sent out without enough details for ease of understanding. Patients who have returned from overseas treatment have been complaining about not getting the right information as to what will happen to them and some are even waiting for their next dose of medication which is already past their due date, simply because no one is talking to them. Worst of all, patients have been telling nurses what medication has been prescribed by doctors from hospitals overseas when nurses have read their medical reports, but not taken note of it. Had the patient not taken note of what had been written in her report, she could have lost her life simply because the nurse had not taken note of the information passed on by the doctors.

Only last weekend, The Independent newspaper came out with a story entitled ‘Today editor resigns while rumors of a NATION sale abound’. How true is this story? Maybe the author can answer this question. But what is certain is the management of Nisa is not aware of a possible sale of the newspaper which has been around even before the country gained independence on June 29, 1976 – the day the newspaper’s name was changed to ‘NATION’.

All these events leave people in doubt. And since the information goes live into public domain even before they are published and aired by mainstream media who, as I have said earlier, have the power to verify content first before publishing, this is when people start making all sorts of assumptions which bring a lot of confusion rather than knowledge. This is not what the people deserve. Give them solutions to their problems and come out with the right information to help them make the right choice.

On the other hand, they do not need to be intoxicated with information as it becomes harder for them to distinguish between high-quality and poor-quality content. As a result, they stop questioning the trustworthiness of information they consume and forget to think critically at the most important time, thus it becomes a lot easier for them to be manipulated leading to fake news to flourish. What they need is the right quantity and quality of information to digest and consume.

Remember, just like junk food is not good for the body, junk content is also not good to people’s minds.

 

Gerard Govinden

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