Inside the world of fake journalists

A rapidly growing world within the journalism profession with its dangerous inhabitants has made a scrutiny compelling. BOLA BADMUS, AKIN ADEWAKUN, CHUKWUMA OKPARAOCHA and SYLVESTER OKORUWA explored the world of fake journalists. Their findings should worry all stakeholders.

A nicely-packaged fellow just shot ahead of a band of journalists at a high-profile event (identity contained). The event coordinator bellowed from the opposite side: “who is your leader?” “I am”, the fellow responded. He should ordinarily be – well-built, best-dressed among the lot, commendable spoken English and plenty of charisma and confidence to go with the near-perfect package. It would be difficult doubting his claim. The guy who should be in his 30s, a perfect age for hands-on engagement in the profession, looked completely the part in a crowd of supposed professionals but looking a shade better than a groomed agbero (tout). He also decided to play the part. Before others could figure him out as the leader of which group, he was handed bribe euphemistically called “honorarium” packaged for his ilk by the organisers. He asked others to meet him outside the event venue. By the time others could end their argument about his identity and try to seek him out, he had vanished into thin air. Welcome to the world of fake journalists in Lagos.

Quite a number of factors, the most pronounced of which is unemployment, have been fingered as the reasons many young people have continued to take to a life of crime, including the act of impersonating journalists, which is fast becoming the major source of living for many unemployed people in the state.

But it is believed in some quarters that greed and quest for easy money are two other factors that have ‘transformed’ many unemployed young men in Lagos into ‘journalists’ or ‘media personnel’, thereby causing untold hardship for genuine practitioners who have continuously had to suffer the consequences of the actions of the impostors.

Recently, a popular online medium said it arrested a “crooked journalist” who, it said, had been going around claiming to be its employee. The online news channel said the fake correspondent operated with the pseudonym “Demola Ijaiye”.

His victims, according to the medium, included a former governor of Kaduna State, as well as a former vice president.

The calibre of the victims mentioned above shows the extent some fake journalists have gone. Usually, many of them operate on a much smaller scale.

 

Mode of operation

These fake journalists are known to head to newsstands every morning to read as many newspapers as possible, looking for advertised events and programmes.

Once an event deemed viable is spotted, they would copy the events’ dates, time and venue. On the day of such events, they would arrive promptly at the venue and proceed to identify some of the people in charge, with whom they would begin interacting as real journalists from established media houses.

While some play safe and claim non-existing media houses, others are more daring and would even boldly declare that they work for well known media organisations. They would cleverly go through the names on the media lists made available at the event venue and would then claim the name of any media house not on the list, while sometimes they would claim the name of any media house not based in Lagos.

It is understood that some of them have even perfected the act of cloning real identity cards which they would boldly bring out when necessary.

Saturday Tribune confirmed this modus operandi of this category of fake members of the fourth estate of the realm in a recent chat with a young man who confessed to have been into fake journalism for over five years.

Popularly known as AY, the man said every morning, he would carefully go through newspapers (this he often even does for free at newsstands) for advertised events and programmes.

“After scouting for events in three or four well known newspapers, we would carefully select the most ‘promising’ ones. We also get useful information from television and radio but the best way to get to know about events and programmes is through newspapers. On the event day, we would gatecrash  at the venue and then ‘hustle’ for largesse”, he said.

When asked why he had chosen this path, AY said, “Bros, it’s been eight years since I graduated from the higher institution and I have not been able to get a job, yet one must survive. I just had to go into this. I know it is not good, and I have even been embarrassed a couple times by event organisers and genuine journalists, but I would rather do this than engage in armed robbery or cybercrime.”

 

Crime network

It is believed that fake journalists have formed a network as they now operate in cells or groups of four or five, thus making it easy for them to pass information about events to one another. They can be quite aggressive when occasion demands but they are generally bold, including when approaching their targets who are mostly political office holders. They would quickly talk the politicians into granting short interviews and then demand gratifications. Quite often, they succeed with politicians, but corporate officers usually detect them and call their bluff.

The practice of fake journalism is believed to have started many years ago in Lagos when some unemployed journalists started going to events even when they didn’t have any media house to report their stories to. However, after recording a series of successes posing as journalists, many unemployed people, including genuine journalists who had lost their jobs, began to join the fray and soon, the number began to grow. It was at this point that the shame of ‘brown envelope’ reached  epidemic level in the media.

Commenting on this development, a journalist with one of the national dailies who wanted his identity concealed said: “Sadly, this practice has been going on for a long time, yet, I don’t know of any action that the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) has taken to stop this trend. I can assure you a lot of us, genuine journalists, know the fake ones but for fear of attack, we would rather keep them at arm’s length. A photojournalist was once beaten by a bunch of these impostors after he confronted them.”

He claimed that sometimes at big events, fake journalists even gain entrance before genuine ones do, simply because they have perfected ways of circumventing security barriers and checks which, he insisted, they sometimes do by bribing bouncers and security personnel at the entrances.

“The Nigeria Union of Journalists has done virtually nothing to put a stop to this ugly practice because the end sufferers are the practising journalists who have to bear the consequence of all the misdemeanors attributable to fake journalists. Nowadays, people look at all journalists as beggars, fighters and indecent people.

“Fake journalists are known to even go around during events begging for money and harassing well-to-do Nigerians. They interview people, collect money from them and at the end they don’t have the medium to report the interviews, making their interviewees to see all journalists as conmen”, he added.

 

Hotcakes

A popular hotel in Ikeja has been a safe haven for fake journalists. In one of their conversations, the following dialogue ensued:

Fake Journalist 1: Today’s show no be am ooo (this event is not worth it)

Fake Journalist 2: That is why I like politicians, they don’t  care; they just give you money but these companies and their representatives would just be asking you silly questions.

Fake Journalist 1: Politicians are hotcakes any day. Go to their event and they make your day. They even give all of you money to go and share among yourselves.

 

The problem is endemic –Ex-NUJ scribe

The immediate past General Secretary of the NUJ in Lagos State, Mr Silver Okereke, sees this issue as endemic. According to him, the state chapter of the union has made efforts in the past, including dialoguing with stakeholders, but they seemed not to yield results.

“What we did at a time was to call a meeting of stakeholders in the industry to draw their attention to this menace and seek ways of checking it. We also encouraged our people to try as much as possible to have a union. We believed this would be a way of frustrating these fake journalists. But it never worked.

“We also visited media houses and asked them to compile a list of their personnel and send to our secretariat so that we would be able to monitor these people. At least the thinking then was that if you told us you worked in an organisation and we checked our books and asked you some questions and your name was not there, we would know that you are not genuine”, the former NUJ scribe said .

“Unfortunately, all those measures never worked. They (the fake journalists) are very smart. Some of them would even go as far as cloning the stickers and identity cards of media organisations. So, it is tough curbing their activities”, Okereke stated.

He, however, expressed the belief that such activities would fizzle out, especially with the gloom the media industry is presently experiencing. “I think with the difficulties the industry is experiencing today, this menace will go out on its own. Many of these people are no longer finding the media space attractive due to recession. I believe nobody will tell those still doing it to stop”, the former Lagos NUJ scribe added.

 

Who is a fake journalist?

“Fake journalist” is a common parlance used to describe someone who poses as a journalist at news events such as press conferences, workshops, seminars and road shows, who reports for no known or identifiable media organisation – newspaper, television or radio or even the fast-growing online media.

In Lagos, the growing number of fake journalists and their menace are a cause for alarm for concerned professionals. These people are said to have some character traits. They are aggressive and organised, given the manner in which they pursue their ‘calling’.

One of the characteristics of a fake journalist is knowledge of places where events hold and he has the time to touch as many places as possible any given day. He has no deadline to meet and no editor to report to. He is never in a hurry to beat a deadline. He gets to assignments and immediately impersonates a media organisation that is not present.

They can always be sighted at events alongside real professionals conducting interviews but their sole motive is to get personalities to part with some money. Such interviews are never meant to be published. They would claim to represent magazines, newspapers and radios whose names even bookish minds have never heard before. It remains unknown how these people manage to avoid arrest.

Recently, a photojournalist with a credible media organisation caught someone posing as a reporter from his organisation, confident that no one from that media platform had come to cover the event. According to the photojournalist, he raised the alarm after getting wind of the phony journalist at the event, but the “criminal” escaped arrest.

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