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Information Disorder Analysis Centre

A Six-year Mapping of Fact-Checks Shows Growing Partnership Between Newsrooms and Fact-Checking Organisations in Nigeria

19 mins read

Abstract

Concerns have been raised over the capacity of fact-checkers to contain a barrage of fake contents going viral on a daily basis. In a bid to live up to their billings, independent fact-checkers have partnered with various stakeholders in the information disorder ecosystem. One of these is the newsrooms.

The aim of this partnership is to amplify the culture of truth and accountability in public discourse in the country. But is this partnership growing? What is the evidence of growth? Can this be measured? Are there impacts on both parties? What is the thematic focus of their fact-checking efforts? And who makes the most suspicious claims they fact-check?  

To answer these questions, this study relies on mapping the fact-checks published within a period of six-years; that is from March 2015 to September, 2020 (in the online platforms) of a selected print media. With 177 data analysed, the study makes very significant contributions to the research questions.

One, findings show a steady progression of newsrooms’ uptake of fact-checking, ranging from a paltry 1.7% (n=2) in 2015 to 44.5% (n=52) in 2020.

Two, as 23.1% (n=27) fact-checks were sourced externally, the impact of the partnership is shown in a symbiosis that promotes the publication of syndicated contents from independent fact-checkers.

Three, this study finds that Nigerian news media is responding to the fact-checking landscape, having shown that the majority of contents (77%; n=90) published within the period were internal fact-checks.

Four, regarding sources of suspicious claims being fact-checked, the study corroborates existing research which affirms social media platforms as the major sources of fake and suspicious claims in the public space (35.9%; n=42), while media sources remain minimal (4.3%; N=5). It also reveals the culpability of government agencies, including the presidency, government officials, and politicians for spreading suspicious claims (50.4%; n=59).

Lastly, as this study captures only the growth of fact-checking in the news media, its scope is lacking in audience perspective to fact-checking consumption. It therefore recommends future research in audience interest in fact-checks, examining how audiences consume fact checks– what medium is most useful and in what format? Does fact checking make a difference in the audience’s news consumption habits?

Introduction

Existing literature has captured evidence of partnership between fact-checking organisations and newsrooms in Nigeria and part of the fallout of this partnership is the favourable impact of fact-checking training recorded on the output of the Nigerian journalists (Raji, 2020). Fact-Checking organisations in Nigeria have been involved in partnership with technology companies, such as face book’s ‘third party fact-checking programme’ to assess the accuracy of news and other contents online (Cable, 2019).

This partnership often takes the form of fellowship programmes with newsrooms to promote the culture of truth, accountability in newsrooms, and wider reach for fact-checked contents in the public space. In one of such proposed fact-checking fellowship programme organised by Dubawa Nigeria and supported by Heinrich Boll Stiftung, a German foundation that works with civil societies and other democratic stakeholders, Chibueze Ebii, the Communication Manager in Nigeria said: “the aim of the fellowship is to foster a culture of fact-checking in newsrooms and hopefully encourage newsrooms to have fact-checking desks” (Premium Times, 2019).

Ananny (2020) has highlighted similar partnerships to include the one by ProPublica’s numerous partnerships with other news organizations and collaboration with audiences on everything from fighting hate speech to explaining election processes;

The study also reveals the technology-focused partnerships which involved Facebook’s Instant Articles, Snap-Chat’s Discover, Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages, Twitter’s Amplify, and Amazon’s discounted access for subscribers to The Washington Post.

A similar one was with Tech and Check Cooperative’s project which aims at bringing together universities, the Internet Archive, and Google for automated, real-time fact-checking on the U.S. State of the Union address.

Again, there was First Draft’s CrossCheck Newsroom project that convenes technology companies (Google and Facebook are partners), international news organizations, and online metrics and analytics companies to fight the circulation of misinformation (Ananny, 2018).

Given the above background, and having established the fact that relationships exist between independent fact-checkers and newsrooms in Nigeria, there is a need to examine the growth prospects of such relationships. There is little or no debate on whether information disorder has become endemic and efforts to catch up with its trendy pace need a multiple end-prong. So, the symbiotic relationship among stakeholders in the misinformation eco-system must be developed, sustained, and nourished. Based on the fore-going, this study seeks to provide answers to the following relevant questions:

  •  What is the evidence of growing partnership between newsrooms and fact-checking organisations in Nigeria and how do we measure this growth?
  • How does the partnership impact on the fact-checkers and newsrooms in Nigeria?
  • How are the newsrooms responding to the fact-checking landscape in Nigeria and to what prospects?
  • What exactly has been the thematic focus of fact-checking efforts of newsrooms and independent fact-checkers in Nigeria?
  • Whose claims do news media and fact-checkers verify?

To answer these questions, this study leverages on a set of goals. These include to:

  • examine evidence of growing partnership between newsrooms and fact-checking organisations in Nigeria and how this growth can be measured.
  •  examine how the selected news media support other fact-checking organisations to fight information disorder by promoting shared-contents externally sourced on their platforms.
  • evaluate fact-checking efforts of the news media and fact-checking organisations around three major thematic areas, including (i) Politics/Elections ii) Financial/Economic matters, and (iii) Health.
  • investigate the personalities and institutions behind major claims which fact-checkers and news media verify.  

Justifying the Partnership

The need for partnership in the first place has been explained by various sources. Some of these include the fact that media and communication institutions are generally believed to be weak. There are also reservations about whether it is professionally ethical for fellow journalists to fact-check reports from other media organisations even when such reports were laced with unverified claims.

Journalists also faced the challenges of verifying claims made by employers, organisations’ advertisers (Raji, 2020) and other interested parties including ownership interest, government control among others. Some of these constitute various challenges newsrooms encounter which require collaboration with independent outfits in order to navigate the changing nature of the media landscape and challenges posed to it by fake contents.

Given these challenges, fact-checkers are looking at bigger pictures in their partnership with newsrooms, knowing the available mutual benefits. One of these is equipping newsrooms to deliver on their mandates without necessarily being hit by undue influence under any guise. Another is creating wider reach for fact-check contents in terms of content-sharing.

Claire Wardle, co-founder at the First Draft, said it is imperative for newsrooms to collaborate to tackle mis/disinformation as no one can do it alone. “We don’t think it makes sense for newsrooms to be competitive when it comes to helping audiences navigate information disorder. It doesn’t make sense to have 25 newsrooms all debunking the same meme” (Daniel Green, 2019).

With the level of trending fake contents and hoaxes, even media houses are vulnerable to misinformation as they are already battling content credibility issues. Partnership in terms of training, skills and capacity building for newsrooms to be able to spot and debunk hoaxes should be paramount. Justifying the need to collaborate to achieve a common cause, Wardle said:

Given the widespread nature of false claims on social media…skills in verification and fact-checking should be a core part of any curriculum for aspiring journalists…These skills need to go beyond simply telling audiences whether the content is true or not; it is also about accuracy and trustworthiness (Daniel Green, 2019).

Also justifying partnership between Fact-Checkers and newsrooms, Ananny (2018, quoting Lucas Graves…) says fact-checkers: practice journalism in the networked mode. They linked promiscuously to outside news sources, encourage other reporters to cite their work, and strike distributions deal with major media organisations. Fact-checkers have achieved a high profile in media-political networks

This reminds us that verification or fact-checking is a conscious aspect of journalism to identify and amplify the truth of the fact. Legacy media has exposed itself to erosion of confidence as its audience no longer feel the impact. There is a need to remedy this situation. As journalists themselves are sometimes unclear about what role fact-checking can or should play in their work (Ananny, 2018), that is why fact-checking organisations must take it upon themselves to channel the course of partnership and collaboration in form of training, fellowship, encouraging newsrooms to cite their fact-checks and also engage in internal fact-checking of claims that have strong impact on public discourse.

In measuring partnership from other land, Ananny’s (2018) review of partnership between Facebook and a selected fact-checking organisations shows similar measuring methodology with this current study in terms of mapping published fact-checks. For instance, Ananny made a reference to how Politifact used the number of fact-checks it did while partnering with Facebook’s third party arrangement:

 PolitiFact has used it to check about 2,000 URLs since the partnership began— which is a lot, considering the outlet has published about 15,000 fact checks in its entire 10-year history. To cover that much ground in one a year with this Facebook tool is a sign of success.

Fact-Checking Organisations in Focus

There are currently six fact-checking organisations in Nigeria. These include Africa-Check, Dubawa Nigeria, AFP Nigeria, Peoples’Check Nigeria, FactHub Check Nigeria, Round-Check Nigeria and Cross-Check Nigeria (Folarin, 2020). These organisations came into existence in Nigeria between 2016 and 2020, the period this study captures.

There is little or no debate that the setting up of these organisations in Nigeria coincides with the period the term “fake news” assumes a different dimension in the World. The term “fake news” was named Collins’ Word of the Year 2017. As its usage rose by 365% since 2016 (Independent, 2017), the timing is also significant in how their setup coincides with the period the term “fake news” contributes to the undermining of society’s trust in news reporting.

The period (particularly as related to the 2016 presidential election in America), highlighted a tension among journalists as they were often caught between two odds: that is, trying to figure out how to call out and contextualise the lies and misleading statements of office holders, and having to defend their own work against politicians and fellow media producers who called fact-checks or undesirable stories “fake news” (Ananny, 2017).

This was the period during which the mistrust in the public space rose to the level at which there was a strong impression that journalists and politicians were liars. Ananny concludes that the period was “a watershed moment for intersections between technology and politics, journalists’ and fact-checkers’ relationships to verification and accountability reporting, and popular understandings of political truth.”

As noted earlier, the collaboration between fact-checkers and the media often takes the form of networked model where fact-checkers “linked promiscuously to outside news sources, encourage other reporters to cite their work, and strike distributions deals with major media organisations.” This is the focus of this study.

Research Approach

This study adopts a quantitative research approach which seeks to leverage on the content analysis of the fact-checks published mainly on the websites of the selected news media within a period of six years: March 2015-September, 2020.

For ease of tracking the fact-checks, the study restricted the fact-checks search to only the online versions of the newspapers under review, using specific Keywords search such as “fact check, Nigeria”, “fact-checking”, “Cross-Check Nigeria, “Dubawa Nigeria”, “fact-checks in The Punch,” “fact-checks in The Guardian Nigeria,” “fact-checks in Nigerian Tribune”, “fact-checks in Daily Trust”, “fact-checks in Sahara Reporters”, “fact-checks in The Cable”, “fact-checks in Premium Times”.

Exploring google search engine with these keywords, a total of 132 fact-checks were tracked. For ease of inputting, sorting and analysing the data, a database was built, using google spreadsheet (see the link: Mapping Take-Up of Fact-Checking in the Nigerian Newsrooms); and to clean up the data, the identification of the relevant fact-checking articles in the selected media were determined by fulfilling certain parameters. By these criteria:

  • We included articles identified primarily as fact-checking reports that check and verify factual statements and claims with the aim of establishing the truthfulness, correctness or authenticity of the assertion based on verifiable facts (n=117);  
  •  We excluded fact-checks that were published on the newspapers’ social media platforms (n=6);
  • We excluded contents similar to fact-checking items published for the purpose of correcting editorial errors (n=4);
  • We also excluded fact-checks used or referenced in news format, features or opinions (n=5);
  • A total of 117 fact-checks were analysed for this study.

Meanwhile, the variables used for data collection were (i) yearly publication of fact-checks (ii) number of fact-checks published per news medium (iii) Quantity of contents shared by the news media iv) Sources of claims fact-checked, and (v) Thematic focus of the fact-checks.

Target Population

The target population for this study was taken to be all newsrooms in Nigeria: Mainstream, Digital and online platforms that have partnered with fact-checking organisations earlier identified in Folarin (2020) in terms of training, fellowship, contents sharing, among others. For instance, 45 newsrooms participated in a fact-checking training with FirstDraft in 2018 and collaborated to do election related fact-checks during the Nigerian 2019 general elections (firstdraft.org, 2018).

Sample Group

The sample group was of selected newsrooms with the proviso that:

  • They are national in scope with wide readership;
  • They are digital newsrooms with clear editorial independence and also with wide readership;
  • Each of the newspapers has published at least eight fact-checks on its website within the period under review.
  • These include: Daily Trust, The Punch, Nigerian Tribune and The Guardian representing mainstream print media;
  • The Cable, Sahara Reporters and Premium Times representing online media.

Justifying the period under review (2015-2020)

The period being reviewed in this study is quite significant based on a number of reasons:

  1. During the period, Africa Check, being the first fact-checking organization in Africa set up an office in Lagos Nigeria in 2016 and even witnessed its major growth between 2015-2016 (Anim Van Wyk, 2020);
  2. Dubawa, the first Nigerian independent fact-checking outfit was established in 2018 (Daily Trust, 2018);
  3. Based on the preliminary checks done for this study, Africa-Check’s content had appeared in Nigeria’s newspapers within the period, particularly in 2015, even before it set up its office in Lagos; hence, the decision to track activities from 2015 (Researchers preliminary check on google search, 2020);
  4. The period also witnessed series of collaborations between newsrooms and independent fact-checkers in Nigeria through fellowship programme (Daily Trust, 2020), and fact-checking training by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Reporting through Dubawa fact-checking project (Premium Times, May 2018) as well as by CrossCheck, Nigeria’s outlet supervised by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting in December, 2018 (Ricchiardi, 2018).

Results to the five research questions that guided this study are presented below.

Findings/ Results/Discussion

Q.1. What is the evidence of growing partnership between newsrooms and fact-checking organisations in Nigeria? How do we measure this growth?

Table 1.Total distribution for the period (2015-2020)

YearFact-checks%
201521.7%
201686.8%
201797.7%
20181210.3%
20193429%
20205244.5%
Total117100%

Table (1) above shows a total of 117 fact-checks published by selected newspapers between March 2015 and September 2020.  From a paltry of only 2 fact-checks (1.7%) in 2015 through 8 (6.8%) in 2016, to 9 (7.7%) in 2017. The number grew in 2018 to 12 fact-checks (10.3) with a rapid flight of 34 fact-checks (29%) in 2019 and 52 fact-checks (44.5%) in 2020.

The volume of fact-checks published by newsrooms within the period shows evidence of growing partnership between the parties. Judging from table (1) above, there was a seamless upward progression in the volume of fact-checks published by the newsrooms from 2015 to 2020. Common reasoning for the yearly progression cannot be far-fetched from series of collaboration between independent fact-checkers and newsrooms. For instance, the 2018 collaborative efforts between sixteen newsrooms in Nigeria and First-Draft, spearheaded by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) under the CrossCheck Nigeria Project, in preparation for Nigeria’s 2019 general election (Jacob Granger, 2018) apparently promoted the surge in fact-checks recorded from just 10% in 2018 to 29% in 2019.

Measuring the growth

The surge in fact-check reports published over time is very significant in measuring the growing partnership between both parties. Probable reasons for the surge could be traced to a number of developments taking place over years. One of these include the amount of claims available for fact-checkers to verify in the pre-election period through the election proper and post-election. For instance, in the 2019 election, WhatsApp reportedly promised to grant API access to First Draft, an effort that would enable “the entire team to have access to the back-end data on one dashboard coming into that single phone number” (Jacob Granger, 2018).

Also, the sharp increase in the fact-checks published from 29% in 2019 to 44.5% in 2020 shows some level of dynamism in the pattern of collaboration recorded. This sharp increase would not be far removed from the efforts of the media and independent fact-checkers in Nigerian to double their strategies to counter massive mis/disinformation that greeted the outbreak of COVID 19, a global pandemic that shook the World in 2020. The year witnessed more collaborations even from information stakeholders in the health sector, as seen in the case of National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) partnering with media and independent fact-checkers to stem the tide of information disorder amidst the global tension (Premium  Times, 2020).

Another milestone that likely helped newsrooms increase fact-checks in 2020 can be traced to new tools being developed by fact-checking organisations to help newsrooms have access to information. An instance of this was a technology, InfoFinder, from Africa-Check which “allows journalists, policymakers, researchers and the public to search for information within a carefully selected collection of more than 250 facts from Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa” (Africa-Check, 2020).

Q.2. How are the newsrooms responding to the fact-checking landscape in Nigeria?   

Table 2: Distribution of fact-checks across newsrooms

MediaFact-checks%
The Guardian2924.8%
The Punch1412%
Daily Trust97.7%
Nigerian Tribune1210.3%
The Cable1512.8%
Premium Times3025.6%
Sahara Reporters86.8%
Total117100%

The table above shows the distribution of fact-checks across the newspapers under review. Findings show Premium Times published the highest with 30 fact-checks (25.6%); followed by The Guardian with 29 (24.8%); The Cable, 15 fact-checks (12.8%); The Punch, 14 (12%); Nigerian Tribune, 12 (10.3%); Daily Trust 9 (7.7%). Sahara Reporters published the lowest with 8 (at 6.8%).

Statistics in Table (2) show the significant level of fact-checkers available within the newsrooms under review. This is evidence that the culture of fact-checking is gradually taking root within the media landscape. While the scope of this study did not extend to verifying the availability of physical fact-checking desks in the newsrooms being reviewed, the fact that the news media are beginning to have dedicated sections on their platforms for published fact-checks shows a significant dimensions in the patterns of their responses to the need to explore fact-checking journalism. This is where fact-checking journalism is helping the news media fulfill its social responsibilities of informing, educating and holding politicians accountable.

Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (2018) gave a background to the fore-going. Before the digital revolution, checks and balances existed in the newsroom. Journalists and editors had time, they weren’t constantly rushing to the next story. And often, they had a fact-checker. Someone whose sole job it was to verify the information being reported. Fact-checkers and copy editors were once the first line of defense against misinformation. Yet, in the great newsroom purges of the last decade, fact-checkers have become a luxury most newsrooms cannot afford. This was the beginning of mistrust and credibility issue in the news media.

However, the perspective offered by Laura Dattaro (2018) in the Columbia Journalism Review corroborates the position of this study that fact-checking journalism comes handy in the face of mistrust and content-credibility issue in the media:

   The mistrust arising from this inconsistency points to the larger role of fact-checking, beyond ensuring accuracy and helping to avoid lawsuits. Journalists trade on reliability, to their readers, to their sources, and to the public that they serve. An independent fact-checking process provides another layer of assurance to all parties that a story best represents the truth…

Q 3. How does the partnership impact on the fact-checkers and newsrooms in Nigeria?

Table 3: Content-sharing between Newsrooms and Fact-Checking Organisations 

Africa-CheckDubawaInternal Fact-CheckCDDCross-OthersTotal
Check
The Guardian102600229
The Punch401000O14
Daily Trust1070109
Nigerian Tribune001100112
The Cable001140015
Premium Times352100130
Sahara Reporters1040038
Total10590417117

Table (3) above shows that the greatest percentage of fact-checks (76.9%; n=90) published by Nigerian newsrooms between the period was a product of internal fact-checking efforts. In terms of content-sharing, 8.55% (n=10) of the published contents was from Africa-Check, followed by that of Dubawa which form 4.3% (n=5). The Cable shared 4 contents from CDD, representing (3.4%). Others form 6% of the total content items.

Statistics in tables (3) above aim at providing answers to the question on the impact of the collaborative efforts of both parties in stemming the scourge of mis/disinformation. The idea of large scale fact-checking is at the heart of partnership. While fact-checkers are assured of a wider audience for their contents, the trust-base of the newsrooms is also growing among their audience. By this, both partners succeed in tracking and controlling the spread of misinformation.

Similarly, the impact of the partnership on both parties can be understood in terms of the content-sharing model adopted by both parties. This has been the norm often practised by fact-checkers to promote wider reach of their contents. As revealed by an Africa Check editor, Anim Van Wyk (2020), besides fact-checking, “Africa Check syndicates its content to other news organisations to republish free of charge, provided proper attribution is given.” This revelation copiously played out in the media being reviewed.

For instance, 10.3% of fact-checks in The Guardian were shared from external sources (from Africa Check and others). In The Punch, 28.6% of its contents was from Africa Check; Daily Trust shared 22.22% of its content from Africa Check and CrossCheck. In the Nigerian Tribune, it was 8.3%; in The Cable, 26.7% came from Centre from Democracy and Development (CDD); while 30% of the fact-checks in Premium Times was shared from Africa Check, Dubawa and others, Sahara Reporters had 50% of its fact-checks from Africa Check and others.

The significance of this content-sharing of fact-lists can be appreciated from the extent at which news media audiences can easily come in contact with verified and debunked claims and compared with what has gone viral on social media. This is in consonance with the perspective of the Centre for Technology and Society (2018) we can easily turn to reputable news media that produce fact-check reports on a regular basis. They can be used to monitor or verify statements made by politicians who, knowing such tools exist, are constrained from making false claims and are pressured to make statements more cautiously.

Q4. What exactly has been the thematic focus of fact-checking efforts of newsrooms and independent fact-checkers in Nigeria?

Table 4: Distribution of Thematic Focus of Fact-Checks as Published during the Period

YearElection/PoliticsEconomy/GovernanceHealthTotal
20204173152
20191022234
201828212
20170909
20160808
20151012
Total176536117

There have been questions raised regarding the specific thematic area to which news media and fact-checkers deploy verification tools. To answer the question, this study consciously categorised all fact-checks tracked in consonance with the thematic areas common to Dubawa and Africa Check as the most vibrant independent fact-checking organisations in Nigeria. As cited on Dubawa’s and Africa Check’s websites , these areas include: (i) Health (ii) Economy, and (iii) Politics/Election(https://dubawa.org/about-us/our-fact-check-process/https://africacheck.org).

As statistics above indicated, more than half of the total fact-checks (55.5%; n=65) focus on economic and financial themes. These include issues around financial market, budgetary and fiscal allocations. While 30% (n=36) border on Health issues, 14.5% (n=17) focus on Political and Electoral matters. These include discussions around political parties, election campaigns/manifestos and voting. As shown in table (5), news media paid more attention to Economic and Governance issues during the period under review than Politics and Health issues. The reasons for this may not be far-fetched.

First, none of these fact-checking organisations existed in Nigeria in 2015 until 2016 when so much noise about politics and election was already over. The only area news media could have focused on was economy and governance, following the assumption of president Buhari in office in 2015.

Second, the finding which shows Health issues as the second most fact-checked is in agreement with existing literature (Amobi, 2019) which affirms that Africa Check verifies claims on the key areas of health and development, and given that Africa-Check, in particular, often syndicates its contents in the news media (Van Myk, 2020) has a considerable attention paid to health issues being the pivotal element that gave birth to the organisation in the first place. Again, the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 and its attendant mis/disinformation warfare in Nigeria raised the bar of fact-checking collaboration and content sharing on Health related issues in the news media.

Third, the number of fact-checks on politics/elections, as the third most fact-checked issues, were published only in 2019 and a pocket of occasions in 2020 during the Nigerian general and States’ elections following a couple of fact-checking training, fellowship and collaboration on joint project such as CrossCheck Nigeria project which targeted tackling information disorder during the elections.

Q 5. Whose Claims did News Media and Fact-Checkers Verify?

Table 5: Sources of Claims Fact-Checked

Social Media UsersMediaPoliticiansNigeria’s PresidencyGovt. OfficialsOthersTotal
42515182611117
35.9%4.3%12.8%15.38%22.22%9.4%100%

As seen in the above table, social media users constitute the highest number of sources of claims (35.9%; n=42) subjected to verification by fact-checkers during the period. Following closely were Government Officials (22.22%; n=26). Nigeria’s Presidency came third among sources of claims being fact-checked (15.38%; n=18). Politicians came less with 15 claims (12.8%) and the Media came the least among known sources of claims (4.3%; n=5). Others include 11 contents (9.4%).

Going by the statistics on claims made by “social media users” (35.9%; n=42), this study corroborates a recent study by Adeniran (2020) that “misinformation on potential cure, official policies and pronouncements…are frequently shared on social media platforms in Nigeria”. However, contrary to Adeniran’s assertion that “most information rated false were found to have targeted government entities both locally and beyond”, this study observed that government officials themselves were deep-necked in spreading suspicious claims in the public space.

When taking into proper context, and sum up the number of claims recorded against ‘Nigeria’s Presidency”, “Government Officials” and “Politicians,” that is, (26+18+15 =59), this finding suggests that “Governments officials” and “Politicians” constitute major personalities and institutions with suspicious claims (50.4%; n=59) in the public space.

Conclusion

This study is another major contribution to the existing research interrogating impacts of fact-checkers’ work on the media, institutions, news audience, and politicians (Adeniran, 2020, Raji, 2020, Folarin 2020, Anim, 2020, Africa Check, Chequeado & Full Fact, 2020, Bob Wekessa, 2017).

Mapping the fact-checks that were published in the selected media within a period of six-years, that is from March 2015 to September, 2020, findings show a steady progression of newsrooms’ uptake of fact-checking, ranging from a paltry of 1.7% (n=2) in 2015 to 44.5% (n=52) in 2020.

This shows evidence of growing partnership between newsrooms and fact-checking organisations in Nigeria. It is in furtherance of the impact of this partnership that this study examines how newsrooms were responding to fact-checking landscape and what exactly has been the thematic focus of the newsrooms’ fact-checking efforts so far.

The study also made spirited efforts at contributing to questions being raised over the culpability and otherwise of personalities, institutions and platforms in the dissemination of fake and suspicious claims in the public space. In examining this, the study corroborates Adeniran (2020) that social media platforms remain the major sources of fake and suspicious claims (35.9%; n=42), while media sources remain minimal (4.3%; N=5).

However, contrary to Adeniran (2020) that most information rated false by fact-checkers were targeted at official entities to undermine government efforts, this study finds that government agencies, including the Presidency, government officials and politicians spread suspicious claims.

Another parameter suggesting a growing partnership is evident in how newsrooms published syndicated fact-checks from independent fact-checkers. The fallout of this is underscored in a symbiotic relationship where both parties align on a common goal of tackling disinformation. This study posits that the outcome of such collaborative effort simply means a shared-benefit which promotes wider-reach for independent fact-checks and causes a surge in the news media audience trust-base.

Interestingly, this study reveals another significant contribution in terms of uptake of fact-checking in the Nigerian newsrooms. Contrary to a study by Bob Wekesa et al (2017) which shows that, within a period of five years, that is from 2012-2017, “the South African media is mainly reliant on external sources for fact-checking, primarily Africa Check”, this study shows that majority of fact-checks (77%; n=90) published in a period of six years, from 2015 to 2020 in the Nigerian media were sourced internally.

Finally, this study finds that the majority of fact-checks published within the period focused on Governance and Economy followed by Health issues and less politics. The low number of fact-checks recorded on politics could be due to the fact that only one general election has taken place within the period. Overall, Nigerian media has proven, with this renewed collaboration, fact-checking journalism has the potential to restore audience confidence in the legacy news media. This is in line with the theory of change embraced by Dubawa Nigeria which is about providing factual information and building capacity of newsrooms to fact-check (Egwu, 2019). It is an effective effort to rebuild and restore lost confidence in the news media.

On the flipside, the weak side of the fact-checking efforts of the newsrooms is observed in a number of fact-checks across the media that were either duplicated, repeated, or dubiously edited by other mediums and published without clear attributions.

Recommendations

This research study explores only a quantitative approach to generate large data and conduct content analysis of fact-checks published on the newspapers’ online platforms. However, there is a need for a qualitative approach such as in-depth interviews with news editors and reporters in order to elicit perspectives on the analysed data.

Similarly, while this study stresses the prospect of fact-checking journalism to restore trust in the legacy media, it proposes further studies to examine the sustained impact of fact-checking on the perceived reputation, trust and dependability of legacy media.

Further, fact-checkers need to expand their efforts in broadcast journalism to meet the majority of audience members where they are, rather than requiring them to embrace news media to access well-researched fact-checks. This is the position by Riley (2019). Using broadcast journalism to fight misinformation has its huge benefit as less than half of the World’s population has internet access. In countries without reliable internet, radio, and TV are the best way to give audiences factual content.

Lastly, as this study only captures the growth of fact-checking in the news media, it is lacking in audience perspective to fact-checking consumption. On this note, research in audience interest in fact-checking journalism would be beneficial for media houses. How do audiences consume fact checks – what medium is most useful and what format? Does fact checking make a difference in their news consumption habits?

This research is conducted for the Dubawa Fellowship programme (2020), and is supported by Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation, to amplify the culture of truth and contribute to the literature around information disorder.

References

Adeniran, R. (2020). “Cure Myths and False Ratings Lead Covid-19 Fact-Checks in Nigeria, With Governments As Most Targeted Entities.” https://dubawa.org/cure-myths-and-false-ratings-lead-covid-19-fact-checks-in-nigeria-with-governments-as-most-targeted-entities 

Africa Check (2020). “Expanding WhatsApp Help Desks for Journalists Across Africa”. https://web.facebook.com/journalismproject/programs/third-party-fact-checking/innovation-initiative-africacheck?_rdc=1&_rdr

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