March 25, 2016

At Chequeado, Argentina’s foremost fact-checking website, we have wanted to bring our work to TV for a long time. A really long time. We know that we need to go beyond our website, which is why we established regular columns on different radio stations, La Nación (a national newspaper) and Yahoo News.

But we’ve had a very hard time breaking into television. Several factors play into this, but a crucial one is that the language of television is radically different from the one we’re accustomed to as digital-first fact-checkers.

That’s what we’re learning now. On March 17, we started a regular segment on a cable TV show, “50 Minutos,” with a journalist we’ve been working with on the radio for four years.

The first thing producers asked us was never to bring true statements to the segment. TV is about conflict, and accurate phrases don’t make for good stories.

The second lesson: We need an answer from the fact-checked person in order to have a story. Our work no longer just involves taking a statement and fact-checking it according to our method — we have to share our findings with the politician and await his or her reaction.

TV is proving to be more than just a new format — it’s making us think about our work differently.

Our first experiment was quite encouraging. We fact-checked Marcos Peña, the chief of staff to newly elected President Mauricio Macri.

Peña claimed the fiscal deficit was worth 7 percent of gross domestic product. The Minister of Economy quoted similar figures in an earlier press conference, as did the president in a speech equivalent to America’s State of the Union.

It was a fact the new government was quite keen on repeating, showing they had received a very heavy burden from the previous government and that any positive results would be positive.

But we concluded that it’s a misleading statement. The methodology by which the new government was getting this result is not one that Argentina has historically used to measure deficit, nor is the one international organizations like the IMF use. It was basically a concocted measurement to get to the highest possible result.

After having gone through the numbers and talking to several specialists, we wrote to Peña to get his answer. He stuck to his number and explained that he was going by a methodology used by the private sector, some banks and consulting firms.

Though he didn’t correct himself as we would have hoped, his response implicitly acknowledged there had been a change in the method the government was using to measure the deficit. This alteration was made without providing any valid explanation of why the private sector measurement would be better than the international standard.

We hope our next stories will persuade public officials and other leaders to correct themselves. We hope that televised fact-checking will apply more pressure and draw a bigger audience to hold them accountable.

In the meantime, we’re learning a whole new language, getting out of our comfort zone and adapting to a more confrontational way of presenting information.

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