Why fact-checking is now critical to journalism – Olorunyomi

PTCIJ holds training for journalists on criminal and anti-corruption sector

A group of journalists on Saturday ended a weeklong training on fact-checking and investigative journalism with a pledge to commit themselves to factual reportage.

The programme was organised by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) for journalists in the criminal and anti-corruption sector.

The exercise began on Monday and ended on Saturday at the Bolton White Hotel in Abuja.

Speaking at the event, the Chief Executive Officer of PTCIJ, Dapo Olorunyomi, said the advent of DUBAWA as a national fact-checking platform offers Nigerian journalism the opportunity to give the culture of verification a new momentum and validation.

The training programme actually started the previous week with a Hackathon during which experienced media practitioners and civil rights groups brainstormed on the challenges of investigating and fact-checking the justice sector.

Elementary tools for combating those challenges were also introduced at the event.

Mr Olorunyomi said the training will be held in newsrooms across the country that have shown commitment to set up a desk to institutionalise the practice.

According to Mr Olorunyomi, “fake news poses the biggest threat not only to the media but to democracy globally.

“The biggest democracies, globally, have come under attack, not from any other factor but fake news,” he said.

Mr Olorunyomi stressed the need to develop the knowledge capacity of Journalists to tackle the menace.

“It is bad when citizens can no longer trust the framework upon which policies are developed; we have come into a very difficult place in the whole process of governance.

“It is easy to assume that fake news, disinformation or misinformation are in politics alone. No! It is even extremely nefarious in economics, statistics, and health, among others.

“If planning institutions of government cannot rely on true statistics, policy framework will collapse. This is why media integrity and democracy become apt because the weapon against fake news is fact-checking.

“So, we have to work across framework where we can ensure journalists are trained and policymakers strengthened with regards to fact-checking to ascertain the truth.’’

The publisher urged media workers to always work closely with one another as a mechanism to ensure accuracy in media reports.

He decried the situation whereby the innocent public often falls prey to unverified information on social media and relayed them, thereby encouraging the spread of fake news.

Mr Olorunyomi said it had become imperative for journalists to be trained to stem fake news from the agenda-setting fronts of the newsroom.

He, therefore, called for proper sensitisation on the dangers of fake news to enable people to keep away from unverified information.

“The best and proper place to start is the newsroom, the second is for the media to link up in partnership. This fight is not for one person, we must work together.

“Journalism is a practice which changes with time but through capacity building, journalists will be able to do fact-checking, the newest and most important for truthful reportage.”

He noted that the inability of journalists to embark on fact-checking could pose difficulty for them to be factual and balanced when reporting in an editorial process.

Mr Olorunyomi also noted that fact-checking has become critical because of the growing capacity of media organisations and the need to function effectively under democracy.

“Truth, which is the central foundation in journalism, has come under serious assault, particularly in the past years. Citizens no longer trust journalism and that is a major issue.

“So, the mechanism for renewing the principle of truth is to strengthen the practice of capacity building for Journalists, to enable them to deliver accurate and balanced information to people.”

One of the participants, Titilope Fadare from ORDER PAPER, said “The programme has been enlightening and I hope journalists will be a part of this change by knowing more on data analysis and visualisation.”

According to Ms Fadare, “The training taught me to be a lot more deliberate with my reports, spot stories from ‘unseen’ spots and reactivate my creativity with data visualisation. It has been an eye-opener and propelled me to hold the government accountable via investigations and fact-checks.

Also speaking, Beni Adams of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Kaduna, said, “The course has actually opened my eyes to so many aspects of Investigative Journalism, more revealing are the very diverse sources of accurate information, story ideas in the Criminal Justice Sector.

“These have changed my views for the better and will go a long way in ensuring better coverage and treatment of issues,” he added.

Ben Agande of the Vanguard Newspaper in Abuja, said, “The training exposed me to tools and knowledge that I thought never existed. It has broadened my knowledge about investigative journalism and fact-checking as a tool in journalism.

“I definitely want more of such training and the lesson learnt is that there can be no end to knowledge acquisition. Every journalist that seeks to be relevant in the present dispensation must acquire new skills and knowledge in order to continue to ply his trade,” Mr Agande added.

Also commenting, Nana Musa of the News Agency Of Nigeria (NAN) said, “The training was revealing. It exposed me to several aspects of the job I had limited knowledge on most especially, the data journalism expect.

“I learned a lot from checking evidence, investigation, budget tracking and monitoring budget. It was also an eye-opener on how to use the Freedom of information act. Sure, what will make every journalist outstanding is training and retraining because with technology, the journalism profession is evolving. The public should be expecting credible stories they can rely on.

“Also, with this training, I have joined a few Nigerians that will be working in curbing fake news, misinformation and disinformation in the world,” Ms Musa added.

The Manager/Advocacy of PTCIJ, Mboho Eno, also spoke on the importance of the exercise.

“Basically, we know there are a lot of things going on in the criminal justice and accountability sector. So it became necessary for us to train journalists in this sector to be able to fact-check the kind of comments, the kind of information that would be coming out and we also want to encourage journalists to carry out investigations into this sector.”

According to Mr Eno, the criminal justice and accountability sector is one of the least investigated sectors.

“This is one of the least investigated sectors and this is an arm of government that needs to be constantly kept on their toes for proper accountability and that entirely was what led to the training of journalists across this sector.

“This training is going to be in five states and we are just starting with Abuja, it is going to come up in Lagos, Kano, Adamawa and Anambra.

“This training is funded by the European Union (EU), the Rule of Law and Anti-corruption of the British Council, we are the guarantees for this component of the training and that is why we are holding it.”

Mr Eno said, “Abuja is the first state where the training held for the North-central zone, with 20 journalists from different media houses; from print, broadcast and the online practitioners.”

Asked how to continue with this kind of training, Mr Eno said:

“Training and retraining is a strategy of sustainability and sustaining the reportage in the sector. This is enough for nonprofit organisations because we do not generate resources, we depend on funding of donor agencies to run this kind of training.”

He added that the training would continue based on the impact and commitment of journalists to be trained.

“We would continue, based on the impact and the commitment of the journalists we have in the house. We would be able to write for more grants for this sector and for this training so that more journalists can have this training.”

According to him, “across the nation, we made a call for applications and we had over 550 applications, out of which only about 100 would be trained.

“So you see that there is a hunger of people who want to learn. The problem is that we are not able to accommodate this wide range of people because of the limited resources we have.”

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