The Rivers State Government through the Ministry of Education has reacted to an online report by the Port Harcourt Telegraph, accusing it of spreading fake news and engaging in junk journalism.
But the Telegraph which has seen the reaction, said in a statement issued Thursday and published in its weekend edition, the Weekend Telegraph, that such a claim is not properly founded.
The Ministry of Education said in its reaction, “The attention of the Rivers State Ministry of Education has been drawn to a False and Malicious allegation published in the Port Harcourt Telegraph newspaper, claiming that the results of students who wrote the last WAEC examination (WASSCE) in public schools in Rivers State have been withheld because the State Government has not met it’s financial obligations for the students.
“This is junk journalism, coming from the pit of hell, published by elements bent on painting the Government of Rivers State and the Ministry of Education black.”
The statement said that the Government of Rivers State “long ago paid the WAEC examination fees for ALL students in the public schools in the State, as promised. And this was well before the examination started. WAEC will confirm this.”
However, the Telegraph did not report that Government was owing. It rather reported that some heads of schools whose names it did not disclose had hinted that government allegedly did not meet its obligation in respect of the payment of the said external examination fees.
In its reaction to the Ministry’s position, the Telegraph noted, “As a responsible media organ, we have been guided right from our inception in 1999 by universal ethics which are required for the purpose of ensuring objectivity and balance in the presentation of news and information.
“We have given, and would continue to give opportunity to all who are connected to events to express their own side.
“In respect of the news report that the Ministry of Education has raised eyebrows over, we took necessary steps to confirm the official position of the Rivers State Government.”
“We approached the Rivers State Commissioner of Information for the numbers of the Commissioner of Education. He graciously, as a responsible media manager, availed us of the information that we sought. We commend him for so doing.
“We state without equivocation that we did not intimate him of our intent. We can only conclude that as a journalist of many years standing, he may not have been unaware of the fact that the Telegraph could have been on the trail of information, particularly after it asked for those phone numbers.”
Although the story complained about by the Ministry had said the Telegraph would endeavour to obtain Government’s official position, the Ministry dismissed its report, labeling it a product of junk journalism and an attempt to spread fake news.
But the Government statement provided a little clue about what may have played out.
It said, “Inquiries made to WAEC shows that network problem is the reason why some candidates nationwide may not have been able to access their results.”
Could it be that the network issue raised in the statement emanating from the Ministry of Education could have led to delays in uploading the said results?
Could it equally be that the network related problem experienced nationwide, referred to by the Ministry of Education, would have been felt in Rivers State?
The statement however did not say.
Is it equally possible that this trend, the delay in uploading results as a result of network could lead to speculations, comments about the future of the kids, and worry among teachers and parents?
In its reaction, the Telegraph explained how it made efforts to get to the truth.
Thursday, a day after the report was published, we called the commissioner again. This time we received an instant sms, message saying “please text me”
We did, but there was no response from the commissioner.
“We called the Commissioner of Education, Prof. Ebeku on +234 807 070 9458 twice. That number was not available. We called the second number, +2349015343658, three times. It went unanswered. We did not receive the benefit of a response.
“We stated this fact in our report which has become the subject of controversy. We also went ahead to inform our readers online that we would be on the trail of Government officials to obtain a correct perspective of the report.
“On Thursday, we called the Commissioner of Education to obtain Government’s side of the story. He requested that we send a text. We did. We have received no reaction.
“The question to ask is, where did the Telegraph engage in junk or yellow journalism in its effort to get to the truth of the information that it had obtained from some sources?”
Could it have been practicing junk journalism when it promised to follow up on the Commissioner and other officials?
In the meantime, the WAEC has stated its side, saying in a statement that the Telegraph story was misleading.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Council wishes to state that the results of candidates of Rivers State origin were released alongside those of other candidates on Monday, November 2, 2020.
“The West African Examinations Council, therefore, urges the Rivers State Government, schools and candidates, parents, and other stakeholders in Rivers State to please ignore the publication.
“WAEC remains a globally recognized assessment body and would not want to be drawn into any form of controversy.”
But there was a basic issue that the examining body stressed, “The Rivers State Government is not in any way indebted to the Council. The results of candidates from the State were never, and are not, being withheld as alleged.”
“There is no such thing as mass withholding of results of students who wrote the last WAEC examination in public schools in the State for failure of Rivers State Government to meet its financial obligations. In fact, candidates who wrote the last WAEC examination in public schools in the State are accessing their results”, the statement by the Ministry of Education said.
Expressing shock over the attempt to link the report to political interests that are opposed to the Government, the Telegraph reiterated, “Our belief in fairness and objectivity which remain major canons in the practice of credible journalism led us to embark on efforts that we made.
“We are distressed by the imputation made by the Commissioner of Education whom we tried to reach to tie our report to politics.
“The Publisher of the Port Harcourt Telegraph is a journalist and a politician. The Telegraph is not.
“The Telegraph is a public trust and a watchdog devoted to the finest ideals of journalism practice. The Telegraph does not play politics and will not play politics.”