This is the sixth installment of our series "Fact-checking around the world," which highlights organizations fighting against misinformation worldwide. You can read the rest of the series here.
Modeled off bigger organizations like PolitiFact and Africa Check, Zimbabwe’s first online national fact-checking organization, ZimFact, was launched to reduce the circulation of false information on media platforms as a result of widespread usage of social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.
ZimFact officially launched on March 16, 2018, amid media polarization and political turmoil, and ahead of the country’s 2018 general elections scheduled for July 30, 2018. The website plays a watchdog role by fact-checking news and information so that the general public receives verified information amidst a rise in propaganda and misinformation.
“The formation of the organization was motivated by the realization that consumers around the world struggle sifting facts from fiction from media platforms that are sometimes casual over matters of facts and truth. The mission of the organization is to help media to deliver accurate, fair and balanced news,” said Cris Chinaka, the organization’s editor-in-chief.
“We are part of an international network of fact checkers, the International Fact Checkers Network (IFCN). We abide by the principles of non-partisanship, fairness, transparency of sources, openness and honest corrections,” said Cris Chinaka
ZimFact has a small editorial team of two professional journalists and one researcher. It endeavors to verify political claims in a country where falsities are common.
“The politicians have infiltrated the media to try and influence how the media portrays events. This has affected the media, especially the young practitioners,” said veteran journalist Tapfuma Machakaire, who has 36 years of work experience in print and broadcast journalism.
“Those who did not have a chance to operate under the old media system are easily infiltrated by the politicians and abused to believe that media belongs to a certain individual, the left or the right],” said Machakaire. “This is a belief that is now dominating the current media practice in Zimbabwe. We have incoming young journalists who think if you come into practice, you have to be sympathetic with the system in government or the opposition. By doing this, you compromise your professionalism, ethics, objectivity, balance, fairness and accuracy.”
According to a 2005 report by media researcher Wallace Chuma, the media environment in post-independence Zimbabwe has been a true reflection of the society in which it operates. Chuma claims that the post-independence media has been both shaped by and shaped the shifting contestations within and between centers of power during the second and third decades of independence.
The Information and Media Panel of Inquiry found that the Zimbabwean media has, since the late 1990s, mirrored the polarized environment in Zimbabwe. The panel indicated that state-owned media supports the government while private media gave an opposing account.
According to Njabulo Ncube, the national coordinator for Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (Zinef) and ZimFact, “The private or state-owned media tend to select information that supports and adheres to their beliefs or opinions there by spreading misinformation.”
Liberal democracies are being tested around the world by the rapid diffusion of misleading or false information designed to influence voters. It has happened in France, the U.S., the U.K. and Catalonia.
“ZimFact verifies and fact-checks statements from public officials on various issues that include politics, gender, finance and the environment, among others,” said Chinaka. “The organization employs the colleague approach, where we contract fellow journalists to fact-check their colleagues and statements made by public officials.”
ZimFact’s full-time staffers are supported by consultants, correspondents and freelancers. The platform is also looking for support from other information and knowledge generators such as universities and research institutions.
“Fact-checking is a cumbersome practice, [but] we have trained 16 journalists and produced 30 articles so far,” said Chinaka.
Ncube, who has 22 years of experience in journalism, said Zim-fact was formed as a result of media practitioners’ awareness of their weaknesses, which need to be kept in-check.
“As gatekeepers we are aware of own shortcomings, particularly in relation to unprofessionalism and unethical conduct by some amongst us,” said Ncube.
The fact-checking platform has debunked several misleading articles, mostly by politicians and public and private media. A case in point involves debunking the myth that $15 billion worth of diamonds disappeared from Marange’s diamond fields, as claimed by the former president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe.
“In essence ZimFact is a new concept in Zimbabwe,” said Ncube. “[It came] 10 years later compared to other democracies in Africa such as South Africa and Nigeria and elsewhere in Europe, such as the U.K. and U.S.”
Lungelo Ndhlovu is a multiple-award winning journalist with an interest in climate change, media operations, and communication for development, based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.