News / Africa

    Fledgling Website Brings Fact Checking to South Africa

    Men read a newspaper next to a stall in Soweto, South Africa, June 24, 2013.
    Men read a newspaper next to a stall in Soweto, South Africa, June 24, 2013.
    The 'facts' in South Africa now have a kind of watchdog.

    Africa Check, a fledgling fact checking website, is attempting to pin down unfounded claims made by the country's leaders, media outlets along with widely held beliefs.  

    There is a common claim in Johannesburg that it has the largest man-made forest in the world. It's easy to believe; the city has lush, green canopy that covers many neighborhoods.

    But it's not true, according to Africa Check, which found that the largest man-made forest is actually in China, next to the Gobi desert.

    Debunking bogus claims, politically charged fictions and unfounded statements, Africa Check is a website that challenges media, politicians and the occasional social media celebrity when they massage the truth, or ignore it completely, said Julian Rademeyer, southern Africa editor for the site.

    "I think the fundamental element of our work is that we are trying to get people to question what they're told, what they read, what politicians say to them, and to look at what the information that is there and ask essentially what the fundamental question is 'Where is the evidence?' If someone makes a claim, where is the evidence to support that claim, and to actually interrogate those claims and not to accept things purely for what they are," Rademeyer said.

    Africa Check was launched in June 2012 by the Agence France Press foundation in partnership with the University of Witswaterand's journalism department.

    Rademeyer and a researcher are the site's two full-time employees. There is also a team of freelance reporters who work on fact checking assignments.

    Following in the footsteps of popular American websites like PolitiFact and Factcheck.org, Africa Check is the first media outlet in South Africa to solely work in fact checking.

    South Africa has a strong legacy of investigative journalism and photography that dates back to the apartheid era. But like many countries, Rademeyer says its news industry has been hampered by shrinking budgets and newsrooms.

    "Because of the fact that newspapers don't have the resources they would've had in the past, or don't have specialist beat reporters," he said. "It allows public figures and it allows politicians to make claims that don't go checked. …. I think that's where we play a role. We come in and look at those claims and we have the ability and the time to go through those claims."

    Paula Fray, former editor for the Star Newspaper and a media consultant, says Africa Check may put a much-needed pressure on newsrooms.

    "At the moment Africa Check is not known as much as I'm hoping as it going to be known," she said. "I'm hoping that eventually journalists will be writing their stories and thinking if my news editor doesn't pick up that something hasn't been verified, Africa Check might pick up that it hasn't been verified. So I'm not going to put anything in my stories unless I can prove it."

    She also hopes it will create a greater culture of accountability.
     
    "I think the more organizations out there holding journalism to account the better actually for the industry," Fray said.

    The site also takes on myths that get repeated so often that they go unchecked.

    When a South African musician with 175,000 Facebook followers made the claim that white South Africans are being killed at an alarming rate, Africa Check looked into the facts. It found that most of the musician's claims were exaggerated or untrue.

    But the report also shed light on one of the challenges of South African statistics from the apartheid era.

    "The crime data from apartheid South Africa for white neighborhoods is generally fairly accurate." Rademeyer said.  "But the problem is that a lot of the crime reporting for instance from apartheid era homelands, the crime reporting from townships in the 1970s and 80s was appalling. Statistics weren't kept, and they're a mess. And historically those are challenges that you do have to deal with," he said.

    The site has also debunked claims made about traditional healers, South Africa's rate of asylum seekers and a BBC report about white squatter camps in South Africa.

    Long term,  Rademeyer envisions the site expanding across the continent.

    "I really do think as a project it could play a very important role," he said. "We've done some very basic fact checking or fact sheet-related reporting on elements of the elections in Zimbabwe recently….We'd obviously like to do more of that in the next elections in Zimbabwe, for instance, and elections in neighboring countries. And try to expand our reach."

    With presidential elections looming next year in South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia, the site will be busy.

    You May Like

    Video Obama Remembers Fallen Troops for Memorial Day

    President urges Americans this holiday weekend to 'take a moment and offer a silent word of prayer or public word of thanks' to country's veterans

    Upsurge of Migratory Traffic Across Sahara From West to North Africa

    A report by the International Organization for Migration finds more than 60,000 migrants have transited through the Agadez region of Niger between February and April

    UN Blocks Access to Journalist Advocacy Group

    United Nations has rejected bid from nonprofit journalist advocacy group that wanted 'consultative status,' ranking that would have given them greater access to UN meetings

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora