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

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid