Zim journalists urged to verify news before rushing to publish

By Caleb Chikwawawa

Local mainstream journalists have been urged to go the extra mile through verifying facts before rushing to publish pieces of news some of which later prove to be false or inaccurate.

In a presentation during a recent workshop called to equip journalists with the requisite mental tools to identify and sieve out fake news, ZimFact media expert Prisiel Tawanda Samu said a lot of scribes were uncomfortable when matters of fact-checking are often raised.

ZimFact is an organisation which fact-checks and verifies published information.

The proliferation of mainstream and citizen-run media outlets all racing to tell the story first has seen even established news organisations abandon their duty to verify stories before publishing.

Samu said this was a sacred duty that no serious journalist or media company can ignore.

“In most cases, when you bring the topic of fact-checking, people think it’s out of this world but it’s something that every journalist should be able to do,” he said.

“The first skill that you need to have as a fact-checker is the skill of observation.

“Fact-checkers need to be able to pinpoint that something is wrong with the facts that they have before them.

“You should be able to tell what’s amiss in the piece of information you have, be it a picture or video. Have that gift of observation.

“You should also be a very keen reader. You should be aware of current affairs issues, what’s happening and what has happened before.”

Samu gave an example videos of home demolitions that have been trending recently saying some were carrying images of incidences that happened way in the past.

“Remember, last week we had videos circulating online of demolitions happening and published as current demolitions.

“These are videos of things that happened some years back but some papers actually picked those stories up and wrote about it as if it’s current.

“Journalists need not to take any information at face-value. As you receive information, you need to verify it with another source.

“We need to be in a position to triangulate information because people have agendas for disseminating false information.”

He added, “Why is it that we have so many false videos circulating? Whose agenda is being pushed? We need to question all of that.

“These are skills that as a journalist you need to have.

He said fact-checking should be in terms of verifying the source of information, names and facts contained in one’s story.

Turning to legal issues, the media expert advised journalists to develop a habit of consulting Veritas-Zimbabwe, an organisation well-grounded on matters of the law and parliament.

“Then we have fact-checking as a practice which is what we do at Zimfact, when we notice things that are already in the public domain and we try to verify whether it’s true or false and, in most cases, if its legal staff, we defer to Veritas.

“We tend to go to Veritas for most our staff that are legal.

“As journalists also, for legal staff, we encourage you to use legal resource centres that will help you to understand some of the things that are happening in our country.”

At the workshop, issues such misinformation, disinformation and malinformation were talked about and Samu explained how journalists end up misinforming the public.

“For journalists wanting to get a scoop, they get information without verifying it.

“They write a story and disseminate it. They think it’s a story from a source that’s reliable. They write their story and later find out that their source misled them,” he said.

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