December 1, 2020

Ghanaians heading to the polls for the Dec. 7 presidential election will be aided by the largest fact-checking collaboration in their nation’s history. Fact-checking organizations, news outlets and civil society groups are banding together to build a nationwide bulwark against election misinformation.

Rabiu Alhassan, managing editor of the fact-checking organization GhanaFact, has been traversing the country since September to train representatives from 35 media outlets spread across Ghana’s 16 regions. Each of these organizations will produce and cross publish each other’s fact checks before, during and after the election.

“We are really excited about the prospect of opening up the fact-checking space and empowering journalists across the length and breadth of the country,” Alhassan said. The network of 35 news outlets will be joined by a number of influential Ghanaian bloggers trained by fellow Ghanaian fact-checking organization Dubawa Ghana, as well as a network of election observers, and a central election information hub organized by the nonprofit West African Network for Peacebuilding.

This explosion of fact-checking is relatively new in Ghana. Speaking to the IFCN in August, Dubawa Ghana program officer Caroline Anipah said fact-checking during the 2016 presidential election was limited to a collaboration between the Media Foundation for West Africa and radio station Joy FM. However, more outlets are including fact-checking as part of their regular programming, seeing it as a crucial element of their broader news coverage.

“We needed a particular fact-checking desk, because we wanted to be very credible when it comes to what we present,” said Majeed Abdulai, a training participant and new media editor at Ghanaian radio station Diamond FM.  Prior to attending the GhanaFact training, Abdulai said his outlet had insufficient verification and fact-checking of the stories it published on its website.

“It has actually opened our eyes on a whole lot of information we used to publish without checking the authenticity of them,” Abdulai said.

Freelance Ghanaian journalist Zubaida Mabuno Ismail said until recently, many Ghanaian news organizations would simply relay the pronouncements of government officials without checking if those statements were true.

“But now when you tune into the radio in the morning in Ghana, you realize that even the morning shows are engaging fact-checkers,” she said. “It tells you now the Ghanaian citizenry are appreciating fact-checking.”

Compared to its West African neighbors, Ghana stands out as a relatively stable democracy. An April report by the nonprofit Freedom House listed Ghana as one of two countries in the region that still hold free and fair elections. However, Edward Jombla, a regional conflict analyst at the West African Network for Peacebuilding, worried about the potential for misinformation to exacerbate the ever-increasing incidence of election violence.

“We are hearing issues around vigilantism — young people being recruited to provide security or be bodyguards for politicians,” Jombla said. He referenced the 2019 Ayawaso West by-election where a polling place was attacked by a group of men dressed as security forces resulting in 18 people being injured with gunshot wounds. There was also an incident in July, when a member of parliament fired gunshots outside a voter registration center in her district after claiming to have received reports of people from outside districts being bused in to register to vote.

“We want to make sure that if (violence) does happen that we are able to mitigate it, and social media has a critical role to play,” Jombla said. His organization is organizing an election situation room with major stakeholders including representatives from both political parties, the election commission, state police, and the fact-checking collective. Jombla said having representatives from all of these groups in one place will cut down on the time it takes to quell misinformation about the voting process.

Anipah said these collaborations between fact-checkers, media organizations and civil society groups are crucial to protecting the integrity of Ghana’s elections.

“We can’t work in silos,” she said. “Together we are a stronger voice. Together we can achieve much more.”

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Harrison Mantas is a reporter for the International Fact-Checking Network covering the wide world of misinformation. He previously worked in Arizona and Washington D.C. for…
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