In Nigeria, clashes between Berom youth and Fulanis in Plateau State ensued resulting in the destruction of lives and properties. In Mexico, two men – a 21-year-old law student and his uncle, were burnt to death. In Ghana, fear and panic reigned as phone lines were jammed, and many were forced to sleep outside in the open. Unverified information, which was widely circulated using technology and social media, in the case of Nigeria and Mexico Facebook and Whatsapp respectively, was behind the fatalities.
While the dangers of misinformation may not have been felt in Ghana as in other countries, there is still a need to be concerned. This is more so as the country is just a few months away from general elections which are expected to be keenly contested. The two main personalities involved – former president John Dramani Mahama and incumbent president, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, and the political parties they belong to, the National Democratic Congress, and the New Patriotic Party, have indeed sent signals of the seriousness of this year’s general elections.
Dubawa, therefore, in response to the many challenges posed by misinformation – particularly during elections as evidenced in the role it played in the 2016 US elections – is equipping journalists with the necessary skills to confront the issues head-on.
At its maiden fact-checking training in Ghana, the organisation trained media practitioners on how to conduct a full-fledged fact-checking exercise, how to use multimedia verification tools such as reverse image search to verify images as well as interpreting and using data properly.
Programme Officer and Team Lead for Dubawa Ghana, Caroline Anipah, said the training is one of the organisation’s ways of equipping the media with the needed skills to effectively carry out its mandate as the fourth estate.
“It falls under our objective of building the capacity of the media to verify information and possibly establish fact-checking desks in their various newsrooms,” Ms Anipah said.
The three-day training brought together fifteen journalists from four of Ghana’s 16 regions, half of whom are in editorial positions, representing television, radio, print, wire and online media.
“This being our maiden training, we thought it would be wise to start with media managers as they have a lot of say on what goes on in their respective newsrooms,” Ms Anipah said. “We are hoping they will be ambassadors of verification in their newsrooms and beyond.”
Some participants expressed their appreciation to Dubawa saying the training had built their capacity to do their work effectively especially as the country prepares for its general elections.
“As we approach the 2020 general elections, the information and skills from the training will be even more useful to fight rumours, inaccurate and false information,” Jonas Nyabor, Data/Online Journalist at Citinewsroom said.
Peter Serinye, News Editor at Metro TV, said lack of resources had rendered his organisation unable to train its staff on fact-checking.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the ability of my competitors to fact check claims especially those made during major addresses by politicians. Unfortunately, I neither had the training nor did my organisation have the resources to provide training in fact-checking. So the Dubawa training could not have come at a better time, especially that 2020 is an election year in Ghana,” Mr Serinye said.
He aims to ensure his colleagues get the same training in order to enhance the organisation’s credibility.
“It was thrilling to join fellow media men and women to learn the skills and the rationale underpinning fact-checking. Going forward, it’s my desire to get everyone in my team get the training so that Metro TV will enhance its credibility by checking and cross-checking claims made in the public domain, especially by politicians. Our cohort was rather small. Dubawa should not stop, resources permitting, until every single Ghanaian journalist or media practitioner is trained in fact-checking,” Mr Serinye said.
For Jacqueline Quaye, a blogger at Ameyawdebrah.com, learning how to use multimedia verification tools was the highlight of the training.
“The introduction to fact-checking tools was my favourite session as I got more enlightened on how to easily detect FAKE NEWS. As an online writer, these tools would aid me in selecting the right photos for my work,” she said.
The founder and Chief Executive of PTCIJ, the promoter of the Dubawa, Dapo Olorunyomi, in congratulating the team urged them to form an information-sharing cohort which will defend the journalism profession and uphold the country’s democracy through effective verification.
The organisation plans to have more training for journalists and other stakeholders soon.
Results trickling in
Already, the training has started yielding some positive results. Participants have started incorporating fact-checking in their work. Kwame Boakye, a writer for PulseGhana, tried his hand on his first fact-check which incidentally was about a cure for the coronavirus. Another participant, Regina Bortey, an anchor at Starr 103.5, presented a fact-check also on a purported cure for the COVID-19. Other participants are in the process of verifying and finalising claims.
Knowledge sharing has also occurred as some participants have passed on the knowledge acquired with members of their newsrooms.
“The work Dubawa Ghana does is amazing and learning to be a part of this fact-checking cohort has been a privilege. Sharing the information I learnt during the training with my colleagues has been very helpful in the stories we publish,” Ms Quaye said.
DUBAWA is a non-partisan verification and rating platform designed to help renew West African journalism through the promotion of professionalism and the culture of factual public debates that leads to the amplification of truth and accuracy in reporting. It is also a repository of tools and resources that can be used by media professionals and the general public to verify information and produce fact-based reports.
DUBAWA is one of the three internationally accredited fact-checking platforms in Africa, holds a membership of the International Fact-checking Network that regulates this important phase of journalism, and currently has offices in Nigeria and Ghana.