Fact-Checking: A Media Tool for Democracy

Fact-Checking: A Media Tool for Democracy

Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect. . . Considering that natural disposition in many men to lie, and in multitudes to believe, I have been perplexed what to do with that maxim so frequent in everybody’s mouth, that truth will at last prevail.” Jonathan Swift, Examiner No. XIV Thursday, November 9th, 1710

In 2015, riding on the white horse of change, the then APC presidential candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (now Nigeria’s president) made a lot of statements ahead of the March election. Amongst the myriad promises, one which garnered a lot of debate from the general public and more informed economists was the promise to make the Nigerian naira equal to the dollar in value once he assumes office. While the party subsequently refuted the claim, unfortunately, the seed of miraculous change had been planted in the minds of millions of Nigerians. It is no wonder that Nigerians voted Gen. Muhammadu Buhari into power with a hefty majority, bringing about the first such democratic power transfer in the country’s history.

Fact-checking is a modern aspect of accountability journalism. Its primary objective is to provide accurate, unbiased analysis of statements in order to correct public misperceptions and increase knowledge of important issues. Because a fact-check usually provides context and background information, the general public is able to make informed decisions based on the available information.

Although fact-checking is a relatively new concept, the goals of fact-checking have been evident in earlier journalistic ventures, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, and starting with the creation of FactCheck.org in 2003, the number of fact-checkers around the world has more than tripled, increasing from 44 to 149 since the Duke Reporters’ Lab first began counting these projects in 2014 — a 239 percent increase. And many of those fact-checkers in 53 countries are also showing considerable staying power.

Growth in fact-checking 2014-2018 [Photo Credit: https://reporterslab.org]
In Africa, the practice was pioneered by AfricaCheck.org in 2015, while in Nigeria, the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, PTCIJ has taken the first nationwide initiative to launch a fact-checking platform, “DUBAWA”, which proposes to unmask misinformation and propaganda in the public domain and ultimately empower Nigerians with the knowledge necessary for making rational decisions.

Since its inception, Dubawa has fact-checked about 16 statements attributable to top government officials such as the Presidency, a Senate member, the Ministers of Finance, and Labour.

PTCIJ is also collaborating with major newsrooms in Nigeria for a series of trainings, and the setting up of a firewall unit within newsrooms in preparation for the “susceptible season of fake news”: the 2019 general elections. Three of such collaborations are with the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria [Radio Nigeria], the Nigerian Television [NTA], and the News Agency of Nigeria [NAN].

And though no one is better suited to fight digital misinformation than professional journalists, to celebrate the second annual international fact-checking day, PTCIJ calls on everyday producers and consumers of information (you and I) to arm ourselves with the tools and knowledge needed to decipher what’s real and what’s not.

Check out the tools and resources we are compiling on how to spot fake news on Dubawa.org.

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