As most journalists know, many media awards already exist honouring different sorts of journalism from “best sports report” or “best news report” to “best piece of investigative journalism”.
If that traditional sort of report is something you are thinking of entering the African Fact-Checking Awards – a word of advice. Don’t send it here. Great traditional reporting is important but what we are looking for is something different. Something new – a great piece of fact-checking journalism.
While most journalists try to get to the bottom of the story they investigate, that does not make every report or investigation a fact-check.
The difference is the focus. Traditional reporters try to report accurately what public figures or institutions said. Fact-checkers try to show the accuracy of what was said.
Fact-checking is a new field in journalism and is developing around the world with around 100 independent websites practising it today and many more journalists taking it up.
This is what we at Africa Check get up for in the morning.
We do it because we think fact-checking makes a difference; promoting accuracy and honesty in debate so the public can make up their minds based on facts.
Does it focus on the accuracy of a claim?
So to win these awards your report must start out by taking a long, hard look at a statement that was made. It must rigorously sift the publicly-available evidence for and against. And it must present your readers or listeners with your conclusions about the accuracy of the claim that was made.
Second, this should be done in a way that is fair to the person or institution who made the claim and strict in assessing the evidence. It should also be set out in a way that makes the topic accessible to the widest possible public.
Third, it should be about a topic that matters for society at large. Good fact-checking focuses on things that matter.
What fact-checking examples can you follow?
Since Africa Check’s inception in 2012, we have published more than 700 fact-checking pieces in both English and French. To start with, Africa Check itself provides an example of fact-checking. We also have a section the website called “How to Fact-Check” that sets out guidance on fact-checking and provides examples. Since we launched, a number of other independent fact-checking sites have emerged, while many newspapers, news websites and radio stations around the continent are now publishing and broadcasting fact-checking reports.
For inspiration, you can look at some of the reports that won our awards in 2015 and 2016, from an investigation exposing as false a series of claims made by public figures in Nigeria about legislation relating to the age of consent, through to last year’s winners: a report debunking claims made by the Cote d’Ivoire government in a land dispute in the country’s centre (Francophone media) and a report revealing that claims by the Cameroon’s president to have gifted laptops to “each student of a public or private university in Cameroon” were false (Anglophone media).
And if you want to look outside Africa, there are dozens of examples of great fact-checking to follow from the work of websites such as the Pulitzer Prize-winning site Politifact (a partner of Africa Check’s health and development project) to the UK fact-checking site Full Fact.
Do this, and you will know what the judges will be looking for again this year: reports that examine a specific claim or claims made by a public figure in Africa, test the evidence and tell the readers whether or not the information can be trusted.
We’re looking for reports – in print, online or on air – that are fair, clear, well-produced and that had impact by exposing misleading claims on important topics to audiences across the continent. Do all that, and we will have some great entries for the competition this year.