NewsAlert 26/9/14: Pastor Chris Oyakhilome's Divorce Story - A case for responsible journalism

[ Masterweb Reports: Orville E. reports ] - It is common knowledge that within the last few months and especially the last weeks, the news about Pastor Chris Oyakhilome’s divorce issue hit the airwaves and exploded in different circles especially for those familiar with Christ Embassy ministry and for Christians in general. Divorce for any public figure is understandably news and especially more so for leaders in Christendom. Since then, influx of articles, open letters, blogs, gossip columns, commentaries, advice (solicited and unsolicited) plus varied analysis flooded the airwaves and cyber world. There were updates by the day and in some cases by the hour. In many instances, it was difficult to differentiate which of these news articles where actual journalistic news or gossip gibberish. Many published materials were either rewrites or paraphrases of each other’s information and very few items appeared to maintain a decorum that could be hailed as responsible journalistic material.

That was not too much of a surprise given current technologies. Now with a computer and an internet connection, almost anyone can create uproar just by using enough flammable words directed to stories or persons of interest. Some news power houses have also been found lacking in verifying certain news stories before going live because they restated what another person or news wire had erroneously reported over the internet. In such cases, news organizations could opt to apologize and/or retract their initial information. But, even when that is done, the damage caused may not be easily remediated.

When the Oyakhilome’s divorce story first broke, almost every report asserted that adultery was the ground for divorce papers filed. That alone was enough to send a tailspin of commentaries, blogs etc. It eventually came to light that the initial storyline was inaccurate; adultery was not mentioned on the divorce as previously publicized. It was also gathered that many published reports had not obtained access to the divorce papers, attorneys on either side of the case or even a statement from contacts involved in this process. For gossip columns and tabloids, that may be okay and taken with a grain of salt since many of their stories are not subject to rigorous journalistic ethics (more like make up the rules as you go tactics). That is the nature of the business, sensationalism sells and truth is secondary.

Most surprisingly though, were articles by credible news agencies even news organizations known as “Christian” news agencies were equally enmeshed in this same story path. It appeared their versions were nothing more than recirculated information from blogs and personal commentaries even from gossip sites and tabloid posts obtained from the internet. Maybe it is now not too much to expect a more responsible journalistic standard from national news agencies, even Christian news agencies. Why do your own research or verify the facts when you can copy/paste other websites? Journalism-101 demands source validation because information, as most people know, is as valid as the source itself.

In this case, it appears that some facts regarding the grounds for the divorce papers as well as basic church information details may have been misrepresented or even accusatory. These are facts which could have been verified if proper investigative journalism tactics were employed. One such information is that Christ Embassy is one of the largest churches in Nigeria with about 40,000 members. A review of church membership data would have revealed that there are about 40,000 (signed up members) in different church zones within one State in Nigeria alone. There are also several other churches in every State in that country as well as many African countries, in Asia, Europe and the United States. Condensing the membership to just 40,000 members appears to deprecate the size and impact of this ministry. That makes you wonder exactly where these agencies get their data from.

You can also wonder how many times these news agencies have ever covered any positive activities done by this organization whose expanse reaches multiple continents. How many times have you read in these news sites about Christ Embassy’s:

• Annual conferences in Africa and Europe which attract hundreds of thousands, per meeting each year – from London’s O2 Arena to Johannesburg National Stadium

• 24-hours Christian Network Television station and satellite stations – the first of its kind in Africa and one of the few in the world

• Daily devotional translated in over 400 languages with over 50 million copies in print

• Social network platform (Yookos) with over 5 million followers (similar to Facebook)

• CeFlix - an interactive video platform (similar to YouTube)

• Future leaders initiatives program with tens of thousands of U.S. dollars scholarships awarded to young adults for leadership initiatives such as the initiation and  management of Christian groups in various high schools and colleges around the world

• NGOs dedicated to varied Christian objectives like campus ministries, orphanages, inner city missions, job and skills creation/enhancement programs, etc.

• A publishing house, financial institutions, production studios, etc.

Yes, it might be more expedient to write about many encouraging ventures of this and many other ministries, but that may not be regarded as news worthy since sinister news more easily go viral, lighting up airwaves and earning multiple hits on websites.

Does that mean divorce is frivolous and should not be reported especially when it concerns men of the cloth? Not at all and not by any means. As uncomfortable as this topic might be, it behooves responsible reporters to tell their stories, but tell it responsibly. Unfortunately this topic as painful as it is, is more common than many of us will care to admit especially among us Christians, and even ministers. The issue here is not an expository on the right or wrong of a divorce, but on the need for responsible journalism especially on matters which can have significant impact on a lot of people. It’s imperative that we stick to the facts and provide our readers credible details.

That being said, it's only fair to look back in retrospect and see how Christian news agencies had reported on the divorces of other well-known mega church ministers such as:

• John Hagee
• Benny Hinn
• Clarence McClendon
• Charles Stanley
• Noel Jones
• Richard Robert
• Paula White, etc.

Time limits me to name so many more. Apostle Ron Carpenter of Greenville SC not too long ago, also openly discussed his wife’s infidelity with the congregation and the Christian news agency handling of this very sensitive issue is definitely worth reviewing too.

Hopefully reporting on a mega ministry based in Sub-Saharan African should not negatively influence how news coverage is done by credible news organizations.
Since the realization that there was a misrepresentation of the grounds for divorce filing, few organizations have back pedaled and fewer have retracted their original stories to restate more accurate information. As of the time of this publication, I’m yet to see any such move by the Christian news agencies. I’m not referring to published opinions or gossip columns. As previously stated, it’s understood those ca afford to operate under a different standard. I am speaking more about credible news agencies which many have come to expect a level of journalistic integrity, especially, Christian news publications.

Divorce is not fun and should not be excused or easily dismissed especially for Christians. Unfortunately it does happen and we do have a responsibility to report on it. But it is our responsibility to handle these issues with sensitivity and great care making sure that in our effort to tell our story; we do not malign or inaccurately present rumors as facts. Responsible journalism is to inform the public unbiased and let the readers make up their minds. But for Christian news agencies, I dare say we could even try to go a step further and ensure that unpleasant news stories do not further distort the facts, after all we have a call to restore that which is broken.

Orville E. ( Email: ) reports. Orville E., a U.S. Analyst, holds a Master’s degree in International Business and actively studies the impact of internet technology in today’s societies. You may provide feedback at (constructive only please).

*Photo Caption - Pastor Chris Oyakhilome

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