Roundtable Discussions on Setting Up Fact-checking Teams in Ethiopian Newsrooms

(Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) On the 14th and 15th of December 2020, a roundtable discussion on how to set-up fact-checking teams in Ethiopian Newsrooms was held with managers and editors from four media outlets, namely Fana Broadcasting Corporation, Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, Addis Fortune and Ethiopia Insider. The roundtable discussion is part of a series of fact-checking training sessions was organized by MERSA Media Institute and Code for Africa in collaboration with DW Académie.

 The roundtable discussion among media representatives and experts from the organizers was an opportunity to identify challenges and solutions surrounding setting up fact-checking desks and disseminating accurate information from Ethiopian media.

The discussion was opened by remarks from Ms. Fiker Tadesse, Project Manager at MERSA Media Institute, and Mr. Stephen Virchow, Project Manager at DWA highlighting activities that are being implemented by their respective institutions. The project managers shared similar remarks on their respective institution’s commitment to supporting media outlets in realizing a transparent media environment that is independent and committed to disseminate information based on facts. 

During the meeting, several topics surrounding fact-checking were discussed by experts. Among these, Mr. Justin Arenstein, CEO for Code for Africa, who has years of experience in journalism, provided an overview of the different forms fact-checking can take. Arenstein underlined the importance of prioritizing fact-checking and verification of contents before publications especially during an era where information is circulated highly through the various social media platforms both by experts and non-experts. 

Mr. Arenstein said people these days are using social media as the main source of information without cross checking with information transmitted through traditional media platforms.  “Misinformation isn’t new. It used to happen long ago but the problem in the contemporary world is related to the growing use of the internet that led people to share information from the social network without verifications. Most of the things that are posted on social media as news, did not come from professional journalists and this made it even more important for media professionals using social media as a source of news to verify the sources and authenticity of such posts before feeding them to their news contents’’ he noted.

Enock Nyariki, the PesaCheck managing editor, presented the five stages of fact-checking in the editorial workflow. These five stages include identifying the claim, finding the data, finding other sources, verifying the claim, and publishing findings. According to Mr. Nyariki, the aforementioned steps will encourage professionalism and application of journalism ethics and standards in coverage of information, ensuring accreditation and increasing trustworthiness in the eye of the public. 

With regard to skillsets and human resources that are essential for media development and fact-checking culture, Rose Lukalo, PesaCheck chief copy editor, elaborated how media structure requires unique insights from experienced, news skilled, and credentialed professionals within every newsroom. In light of this, the chief copy editor provided two key packages as news skillsets namely; forensic researchers and data analysts. ‘It is important to understand the challenge as we bring in skills. The tools and techniques in fact-checking evolve through time requiring journalists to learn new skills or media to assign experts on the field’’ the chief copy editor underscored as she emphasizes how experts are skeptical of ideas within their specialty that make their work more efficient.

Fact-checking is one of the many safety nets that must be in place within media. Allan Chiboe, investigations editor at iLAB presented about the open-source intelligence toolsets and proprietary services necessary for research, content management systems, and digital security requirements. Doreen Wainainah, news editor at PesaCheck on her part gave a highlight about the principles and code of conduct that is under the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN).

The roundtable discussion with editors and the media owners deliberated on how to implement fact-checking in Ethiopian media houses. Several obstacles checking content were raised including the issue surrounding the widespread of misinformation and mal-information in the social media network.  The importance of media and information literacy among journalists was also highlighted. At the end of the discussion, organizers called for long-standing cooperation with media managers on the development of professionalism and media literacy meanwhile, participants were keen to have a follow-up session with experts at MERSA Media Institute, Code for Africa, and DW Akademie to discuss next possible steps on how to use and monitor the use of fact-checking tools in their respective media houses.

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