What's the worst thing that could possibly happen in your job. I suppose for me, the worst possible thing would be if I reported on something important that turned out to be untrue.
Such a mistake could have dire financial, social and even security-related consequences. Lives can be ruined by the wrong information. This is something I have always appreciated, even before I started this job.
Information is what society thrives on. It is what keeps us connected to each other. Whether it is from a book, a news bulletin, a radio advert, a Facebook post, a telephone conversation, or even a quick catch-up with the girls after church, the meat of all human activity is information, and it is not only those of us who deal with information professionally, who stand the risk of causing major damage with the wrong management of information.
Saying the wrong thing about someone can wreak the same amount of havoc – if not more – on human lives, regardless of the fact that it wasn't said into a microphone. I guess that is exactly what Richard Steele meant when he said, "Fire and swords are slow engines of destruction, compared to the tongue of a Gossip".
Now, I promise I'm not trying to stand in judgment over gossips with today's message. The truth is that all people gossip. Every person in society either produces or consumes gossip; there's just no escaping it. Whole industries are built around gossip. Newspapers, TV shows, websites, apps; humanity has an insatiable appetite for the personal information of others, and that will never change. So no, I'm not here to judge. As always, I'm here to encourage us all to consider the consequences of the words that come out of our mouths.
In my profession, we are trained to always differentiate between fact and speculation. What do we know for a fact? What have we verified to be true? What is the source of our information? Is that source an authority on the subject?
Are we sure that the information we are about to share with the world is correct? Or are we about to take someone's mistake and echo it to the hearing of millions of people? We put information to the most stringent of stress-tests before we share it with our listeners. In interpersonal communication however, nobody bothers with all of that.
When we make a decision to repeat information we have received, we don't make that decision based on how accurate it is, we do so based on whether we think the information will interest our audience. That's it. Nobody fact-checks before they gossip. They simply approach the person who they think needs to know what they have heard, and spill it.
But my friends, this is dangerous! This can cost a person their reputation. This can cost a person their relationship, their job, even their life. And I'm not exaggerating.
Anne Boleyn was Henry VIII's second wife. He was crazy about her. So much so that he renounced the catholic church and formed a new one – the Anglican church – just so he could divorce his wife and marry Anne.
He waited seven years to marry her, bombarding her with love letters for almost a decade, just to win her as his bride. But after no more than 16 months of marriage, Anne Boleyn's doting husband had her beheaded. Why? Well, some say she was a witch. Some say she had six fingers. Some say she had three breasts. Some say her husband had fallen for someone else, and wanted her out of the way. Some say she slept with five men, including her brother!
There were so many rumors about the reason why the King charged her with treason and had her head cut off, but one thing is for sure: all of these rumours were put out there by enemies of Ann Boleyn. Their aim was to smear her in the eyes of the king, and it worked! In just 16 months, he went from doting husband to vengeful monarch. He was told by his advisors that his wife was sleeping around with other men, including her own brother (the king had him killed too, by the way). And what was their evidence? Well, they saw him enter her room one night.
My friends, the deadliest rumours are based on the truth. It may well be that George Boleyn did indeed go into his sister's room for any of a million and one reasons, but his sister's enemies took that fact and used it to their advantage, presenting it as evidence of incest. Now, their master stroke was getting George's jealous wife to testify that she had witnessed her husband sleeping with his sister. She stood up in court and boldly declared this, sealing her husband's fate. Six years later, she confessed before her own execution, that she had falsely accused her husband. But of course, the damage had already been done, and George Boleyn had lost his life, due to wrong information.
John Lydon once said, "We should be more wary of the gossiper than the gossip" My friends, I suspect that most of you do not go around talking about people behind their backs, but I can also guarantee that every one of you receives gossip from someone. Please be careful. There is a reason why this person is sharing this information with you, and I can assure you that it is not your personal wellbeing that interests them. Plus you can be sure they are talking to others about you behind YOUR back…
So tomorrow, before you swallow the story that person travelled all the way across the city to share with you, just do what I do as a journalist, and ask yourself these questions: What do you know for a fact? What have you verified to be true? What is the source of your information? Is that source credible, and an authority on the subject? Are you sure that the information is correct? Or are you about to act on unproven gossip, which could cost someone their reputation, their career, their relationship, or their very life?
My name is Kojo Yankson, and they say Gossip is the Devil's radio. Listen to Joy instead.
GOOD MORNING, GHANAFO!