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Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Colombian media team up to fact-check regional elections through RedCheq network



Unlike other Latin American countries, Colombia does not have presidential elections this year, but it will elect local representatives such as governors, mayors and council representatives, among other positions, on Oct. 27. As in the presidential elections, regional campaigns may be affected by the spread of false information.

For that reason, Colombiacheck, the Colombian site dedicated to data verification, began to train journalists in the region ahead of the Aug. 14 launch of the National Network of Checkers (RedCheq).

The RedCheq team. (Courtesy)
 

“Seeing how to cover regional elections, it occurred to us at the beginning of the year to do workshops to teach local journalists the fact-checking methodology. We taught them tools and logic,” Pablo Medina, director of Colombiacheck, told the Knight Center. “At that time we had not planned the National Network because we did not have the budget to set it up. But we knew that as the whole [Colombiacheck] team is in Bogotá we could not check everything, at least [with the training] someone else could do it.”

Regardless, the idea of being able to verify information in the country’s regions remained with the team. Colombiacheck, which is a project of Consejo de Redacción – a journalistic association that seeks to encourage investigative journalism especially in the country’s regions –, did not ignore this need.

Therefore, the team presented a proposal to Facebook and Google. The technology companies, which had supported data verification projects for presidential elections such as Verificado in Mexico, Comprova in Brazil and the recent Reverso in Argentina, also decided to support this verification project for regional elections.

According to Medina, once the budget was approved, they decided to call the media outlets that participated in the regional workshops and that had shown an interest in doing fact-checking during these elections.

So far, media outlets from at least 10 cities in the country have joined, including the largest such as Medellín, Cali, Cartagena, Barranquilla and Bucaramanga. Print, radio, television and digital media have joined the network.

“Let's see how interesting it is,” Medina replied when asked how much interest there can be in a media outlet in Medellín for what happens in a city like Bucaramanga. “National media have also joined so the work done in a city like Bucaramanga can be republished in RCN or El Tiempo, which allows it to have a much bigger impact.”

Some of the allied media also had their regional data verification projects prior to entering the network. Such is the case of ‘No sea pingo’ (a regional word that loosely means “silly”) from newspaper Vanguardia in Bucaramanga, in the department of Santander.

For Vanguardia, RedCheq offers benefits for its nascent data verification project, such as Colombiacheck's experience doing these verifications as well as increased credibility in the work being done, as Juan Carlos Chio, coordinator of 'No sea pingo’ and of the newspaper’s investigative unit, told the Knight Center. 

“It is a very different thing to say ‘Vanguardia is doing fact-checking’ and another thing is to say that it is a National Network where 15, 20, 30 media outlets and institutions participate by checking data,” Chio said. “One of the problems with fact-checking is that when a media outlet does it, people sometimes doubt. And that is understandable because people in the case of traditional media have had that distrust [...] but when it is done from an alliance, it gives it much more weight.”

Vanguardia has even made alliances locally as with Universidad Autónoma Bucaramanga (Unab) and its newspaper 15. In fact, in addition to two journalists and two interns from the investigative unit, the project 'No sea pingo' has two interns from Unab.

After the verification experience for the elections, Vanguardia will analyze whether it will maintain the project permanently and not just for the electoral season. Therefore, since it was conceived, it sought to make the project as close to the region whereby the newspaper circulates. Hence the use of the expression ‘no sea pingo’ which is “very, very regional,” as Chio explained, and the use of the culona ant (which is typical of the region) as its image.

“We wanted to appeal a little to the idiosyncrasy of the Santandereans. We want it to be a project close to the community, that people feel it belongs to them, and that if people have any doubts they feel they can write to us,” Chio said. "We wanted to start the project on that side, to mark the difference a little, without forgetting, obviously, the fact-checking methodology used not only by Colombiacheck but that is based on the principles of the International Fact-checking Network.”

However, having your own fact-checking project, as in the case of Vanguardia, is not a requirement to be part of RedCheq.

“Each media outlet can use its resources as they see fit,” Medina explained.

ColombiaCheq launched a regional network to fact-check information ahead of elections in October. (Screenshot).

The Network has a kind of internal cloud to which all allied media send their verifications, Medina said. The verifications will be published in the networks and platform of the national network, of Colombiacheck and of each media outlet that chooses. However, there is no commitment for all media outlets to publish what has been done by the other allies.

“We do have a commitment to have on average at least four checks per week, but they can do more if they wish,” Medina said.

For now, RedCheq is scheduled to run until Nov. 30 because, as Medina explains, “whenever there are elections there is disinformation about the voting process, that the forms are not well filled out, that the [vote] counting, etc.”

“We are going to stop there, but we hope this network can lay the groundwork for the 2022 presidential elections,” Medina said,

The main team of Colombiacheck will be responsible for fact-checking the Bogotá elections and its department of Cundinamarca.

“We want them to know that this is open to all the media outlets that want to join,” Medina said. “It is not the first or the last media alliance in Colombia, but we are very happy that we have managed to unite so many media outlets from so many regions.”



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