Cris Chinaka COMMENT: The long journey to ZimFact

The editor-in-chief of Zimbabwe’s first fact-checking platform explains what it took to get ZimFact off the ground.

Fifteen months ago Zimbabwe’s first national fact-checking service was a five-page concept document.  

What followed was months of discussion in boardrooms and newsrooms, in gardens and on the street. How would we structure it? What content would we offer? What kind of collaboration with other media organisations would we pursue?

On 16 March 2018 we officially launched ZimFact with three full-time staff members, backed by a dozen part-time correspondents trained by Africa Check earlier this year.

Fact-checking in a politics-obsessed society

In a world where trust in the media is declining, ZimFact aims to help minimise the dissemination of false and misleading information.

This is particularly critical in a country where the media has become a fierce political battleground and citizens have been obsessed with politics, elections and governance issues for nearly 20 years.

Zimbabwe has seen 10 major nationwide votes in the last two decades, including two referendums on national constitutions.

ZimFact covers the inevitable political issues, but also pays attention to health, education, law and human rights, gender issues, child welfare, economics, business and finance, agriculture and the media.

A welcome development

So far, it has been a refreshingly good experience – for three main reasons.

First, both of our funding partners have respected, in word and deed, the independence of the editorial team. Traditionally prickly state authorities have also welcomed ZimFact as a development.

Second, editors in the local mainstream media are keen on bringing fact-checking skills into newsrooms and working with us on training and general media literacy in this area.

Third, public feedback has generally been positive, and is growing. (Although it has often been accompanied by suggestions that we investigate scandals and colourful rumours about the private lives of politicians!)

The primacy of facts

We verify what we can within the bounds of fact-checking. Our reports have included claims about the basic salaries of junior doctors and the pension due to former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.

We have also tackled hot-button topics, such a claim by President Emmerson Mnangagwa significantly overstating new foreign direct investment in Zimbabwe. ZimFact has also built a collection of factsheets on key social, economic and political issues, such as land ownership, health, education, mining, elections and the country’s national debt.

Our collective experience is that in Zimbabwe’s hyper-partisan political environment, some readers are uncomfortable with facts and information that interfere with their political views, prejudices and attitudes.

The highly sensitive political environment demands that we are judicious in our editorial line. This includes emphasising the primacy of facts as the basis of good professional journalism and that ZimFact’s focus is not on naming and shaming.

Better journalism, better public discussion

Launched as the country heads towards the 2018 general election, ZimFact is an important addition to Zimbabwe’s information landscape. It seeks to keep politicians, the media, public officials as well as corporations and their executives honest.

It is a lofty agenda and an onerous task. Not least because good fact-checking depends on access to information, which remains a struggle in Zimbabwe – despite recent improvements in the quality of data and the general media environment.

The last few months have demonstrated the need for fact-checking. In the words of ZimFact researcher Lifaqane Nare: “Our media today largely deals with opinion and passes it off as fact without calling out politicians and corporates to back it up.”

It has been a demanding task so far, but with optimism we look forward to what ZimFact can contribute to the overall quality of journalism and public discourse in Zimbabwe.

 

© Copyright Africa Check 2017. You may reproduce this piece or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events. This is subject to: Crediting Africa Check in the byline, keeping all hyperlinks to the sources used and adding this sentence at the end of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website", with a link back to this page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Africa Check encourages frank, open, inclusive discussion of the topics raised on the website. To ensure the discussion meets these aims we have established some simple House Rules for contributions. Any contributions that violate the rules may be removed by the moderator.

Contributions must:

  • Relate to the topic of the report or post
  • Be written mainly in English

Contributions may not:

  • Contain defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or harassing language or material;
  • Encourage or constitute conduct which is unlawful;
  • Contain material in respect of which another party holds the rights, where such rights have not be cleared by you;
  • Contain personal information about you or others that might put anyone at risk;
  • Contain unsuitable URLs;
  • Constitute junk mail or unauthorised advertising;
  • Be submitted repeatedly as comments on the same report or post;

By making any contribution you agree that, in addition to these House Rules, you shall be bound by Africa Check's Terms and Conditions of use which can be accessed on the website.

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.