Africa Check seeks impact by inspiring others

Little pleases a fact-checker more than obtaining a retraction. This happens regularly across the world, often at the highest political levels. In a recent case, a vice-presidential candidate in Argentina corrected herself by saying, “I saw that on Chequeado. Which is why we corrected ourselves and never repeated it.”

Yet even as retractions occur worldwide, fact-checkers are still discussing how to best define and measure the impact of their work. One of the hardest metrics – yet arguably one of the most important – is the extent to which the work of a fact-checking website is inspiring readers and media outlets to take a more fact-based approach in their consumption and dissemination of information.

Inspiring others was a central objective of the African Fact-Checking Awards promoted by Africa Check, now in their second year. This year’s winner, announced tonight in Johannesburg at the African Media Leaders Forum, is Ben Ezeamulu, for a fact check published on Nigeria’s Premium Times.

Ezeamulu fact-checked claims on a new bill on sexual offenders, which was mistakenly understood to be setting the age of consent in Nigeria at eleven years of age. The bill did nothing of the sort; some activists also deemed the controversy to be an unwelcome distraction from the real problems of the draft law. The runners-up were a report on South African President Jacob Zuma’s controversial use of state money to refurbish his home and an investigation on whether newly ordered trains for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa were too high for the tracks they were intended for.

The jury rewarded Ezeamulu’s fact check for “clinically, carefully examining the evidence” on a highly sensitive topic. Africa Check received 51 entries for this year’s award, originating from 15 countries across the continent, from Ethiopia and Egypt to South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The awards are part of Africa Check’s wider strategy to spread fact-checking beyond their website, even as today’s launch of a Francophone version is set to expand its reach. Besides a “How to fact check” page, the website also offers an “Info Finder” that allows interested users to look up reliable data that its fact-checkers have catalogued.

Like other fact-checking websites, Africa Check provides training for journalists and professionals, running three workshops in the recent Power Reporting conference, a gathering of African investigative journalists. Training is also central in the South African fact-checkers’ strategy to differentiate their sources of revenue.

Africa Check has also publicly engaged its critics. In a response to an odd attack accusing the organization of being part of a socialist conspiracy, Africa Check’s Executive Director Peter Cunliffe-Jones responded:

“We believe that all organisations, our own included, should set out the evidence they have for the claims they make so that the public can check the evidence, fairly and openly.”

Promoting an evidence-based exchange of ideas is a worthy goal. Evidently, it is not always an uncontroversial one.

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