Fact-Checking Training for Ethiopian media to combat dis/mal/mis-information

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (2021): With the increasing production, distribution and consumption of digital content, the spread of misinformation on various online media platforms has gathered speed in Ethiopia, in the past few years, fanning ethnic strife, causing distrust among a variety of groups and cultures, eroding tolerance and co-existence among people and communities, and more importantly contributing to the instability and disorder of the nation.

The high incidence of illiteracy, on top of the polarized political and historical narratives in the country is continually push people, especially the helpless youth, to fall into the traps of misinformation and disinformation in Ethiopia. This has been exacerbated by the absence of an organized system of fact-checking within the local news media in the country. Though there are a handful of initiatives here and there, the media in Ethiopia have largely been dormant in the fight against misinformation, both in the online and offline platforms. 

While the legacy media is instrumental in tackling misinformation and disinformation in the near past, a great deal of effort is required to sensitize the news media in Ethiopia to work jointly in the struggle against the tide of misinformation and disinformation. In consideration of the immense potential of the mainstream media in the course of tackling misinformation and disinformation and improving the quality of information, MERSA Media Institute together with Deutsche Welle Akademie (DWA) and Code for Africa have been closely working with the local media houses on fact-checking.

Organizing a series of fact-checking trainings is one such intervention. This latest round of training which was held from 16- 19 February 2020, focused extensively on advanced fact-checking techniques and tools relevant in the process of verifying misinformation and disinformation.

The training was attended by journalists from four media outlets, who were trained on the most useful tools that can be used to do investigations on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. The training further reflects on the elements of journalism and the need for media professionals to return to ethical journalism which is based on truth and verification.

The tools were selected to answer questions surrounding misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information. The training also focused on how social media is used to propagate disinformation campaigns and how investigators can leverage open-source tools to identify, analyze or investigate disinformation and misinformation on social media. 

During the training, participants were urged to guard against inadvertently spreading misinformation by engaging in good journalistic practices while reporting the news. The practice of fact-checking was discussed in detail as the training was concluded with a reflection session in which the participants emphatically expressed the topicality of engaging in fact-checking activities in a more organized fashion within media houses. It was also mentioned that such kind of training on fact-checking would help lay a stepping stone in the course of joining hands against the wave of misinformation and disinformation.

The four days of training were important for Journalists to continually update their skills through trainings, irrespective of what they know to be abreast with new developments in their field.

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