Before the 7th century, the world knew nothing about the mass media of communication, let alone the protocols and codes of the present-day media professionals. Little do we know or find out that journalism had been in practice before the 7th century. Ecclesiastically, one of the prophets of the Mighty Creator, Sulaimaan (Solomon), the son of Dawuud (david) taught us a very great and significant lesson, the outcome of which becomes an ethical principle in journalism till today. The second provision of the fifteen-point codes of ethics for the Nigerian journalists (Accuracy and Fairness) is our concern here:
i. The public has a right to know. Factual, accurate balance and fair reporting is the ultimate objective of good journalism and the basis of earning public trust and confidence.
ii. A journalist should refrain from publishing inaccurate and misleading information. Where such information has been inadvertently published, prompt correction should be made. A journalist must hold the right of reply as a cardinal rule of practice.
iii. In the course of his duties a journalist should strive to separate facts from conjecture and comment.
From (i), (ii) and (iii) above, it can be summarized that ACCURACY OF FACTS is cardinal to GOOD JOURNALISM; GOOD JOURNALISM should be guided by ACCURACY OF FACTS.
As stated in the introductory part of this piece, accuracy of facts in journalism could be traced to Prophet Sulaimaan. The genesis of the story began when Sulaimaan lost communication with his bird (Hudhuda) who was like his informant ( similar to a reliable source in journalism). It is important to say that one of the miracles (mu’jizah) given to Sulaimaan was his ability to hear and understand the speeches of animals and birds (ref. Q.27 verse 16). Every Messenger was blessed with miracles from their Sole Creator. When Sulaimaan didn’t see his bird (informant), he wondered and asked about her. He even promised to punish her or slaughter her unless she provided a tangible reason for her sudden absence (ref. Q. 27: 22-26)-
” But the hoopoe stayed not long, he (came up and) said: “I have grasped (the knowledge of a thing) which you have not grasped and I have come to you from Saba’ (Sheba) with true news.-
‘I found a woman ruling over them, and she has been given all things that could be possessed by any ruler of the earth, and she has a great throne.
I found her and her people worshipping the sun instead of Allah, and Shaitan (Satan) has made their deeds fair-seeming to them, and has barred them from (Allah’s) Way, so they have no guidance,’
Al-La (this word has two interpretations) (A) [As Shaitan (Satan) has barred them from Allah’s Way] so that they do not worship (prostrate before) Allah, or (B) So that they may worship (prostrate before) Allah, Who brings to light what is hidden in the heavens and the earth, and knows what you conceal and what you reveal. [Tafsir At-Tabari, Vol. 19, Page 149]
Allah, La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He), the Lord of the Supreme Throne! ”
Though, Hudhuda was not a liar, Sulaimaan still wanted to confirm the report given to him by his trusted informant (Hudhuda). He said in the next two verses:
” [Sulaiman (Solomon)] said: ‘We shall see whether you speak the truth or you are (one) of the liars.
‘Go you with this letter of mine, and deliver it to them, then draw back from them, and see what (answer) they return.'”
Let’s note that Sulaimaan told Hudhuda to draw back from them (the Queen and her chiefs). Sulaiman taught us a lesson that “mòjà mòsá làámakínkanjú lógun.” Contextually, every investigative journalist who pursues an investigative story needs not only boldness, but also smartness. That is why a saying goes thus in investigative journalism: “No story is worth your life.” What a great lesson from Prophet Sulaimaan!
After Balqees, the Queen of Sabai, received Sulaimaan’s letter, she tried to lure the Prophet of God with precious gifts which Sulaimaan rejected outright. Before Balqees and her chiefs became Muslims, Sulaimaan had confirmed (from happenings) that Hudhuda, his reliable source, brought A RELIABLE ITEM OF NEWS!
In summary, that first incidence between Sulaimaan and Hudhuda is an indication that accuracy of facts started as a religious principle, and as such, every journalist (a Muslim, a Christian or an atheist) should at all times be guided by this ethical principle while gathering, writing and reporting stories. To all muslim journalists, Q. 49, verse 6 should also be your guide:
” O you who believe! If a rebellious evil person comes to you with news, verify it, lest you harm people in ignorance, and afterwards you become regretful to what you have done.”