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

Tunnel Bombs Highlight Savagery of Aleppo Fight

Rebels have used tunneling tactic near government buildings, command posts or supply routes to set off explosives; they detonated their largest bomb this week under Syria's intelligence headquarters More

Sierra Leone Launches New Initiative to Stop Ebola Spread

Government hopes Infection and Prevention Control Units, IPC, will help protect patients and healthcare workers More

UN Official: Fight Against Terrorism Must Not Violate Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says efforts by states to combat terrorism are resulting in large scale rights violations against the very citizens they claim to defend More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boyi
X
Jeff Seldin
March 05, 2015 2:36 AM
A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More