Africa’s first fact-checking website launched Wednesday in South Africa, a project devised by the AFP Foundation and run in partnership with the University of the Witwatersrand to hold the country’s leaders accountable.
“The website is Africa’s first website dedicated to fact checking, to promoting ideas of verification and accuracy in the public debate,” said Anton Harber, head of the journalism department at Wits — one of the continent’s most prestigious universities — at the unveiling of the www.Africacheck.org site.
The site’s founders aim to eventually roll it out in other African countries to give the public, and especially journalists, a fact-checking network spanning a continent where accessing public data is often a process riddled with obstacles.
Modelled on similar sites in the United States and Europe — and working under the tagline “Sorting fact from fiction” — Africa Check’s aim is to hold politicians, journalists and experts to their word.
“We will quite simply follow things that are said in the public arena by politicians or by other media or by experts, and where we think they need checking, we will verify them and we will publish what we find, to say this was true, this was not true, or it was disputed and here’s how you understand the nature of that dispute,” Harber said.
“In South Africa it can be difficult,” he added.
“Although we have a constitution and laws about transparency and openness and making public data available to the public, in practice it is not always easy to get the information. There’s not necessarily a culture of openness in a lot of government departments.”
The AFP Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting and teaching journalism worldwide, “is proud to support the Africa Check project, the first of its kind in Africa,” its director Robert Holloway said in a statement.
“This project aims at promoting transparency and good governance in South Africa and we hope later to repeat it in other countries.”
The site is currently managed by project staff at the Johannesburg university, but it aims to become a forum for interactive contributions by South African journalists.
Speaking earlier this year, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: “I salute the work of Africa Check as an important initiative engaging with journalists and citizens across the continent to raise the level of public debate.”