By Alagie Manneh
At least 30 Gambian journalists are taking part in a two-day Unesco-funded training designed to equip and enhance their skills in debunking fake news articles.
On 4 December, Gambians will head to the polls to elect a new leader, and organisers of the training said it is critical to empower the media with tools, resources and skills to counter the phenomenon of disinformation and misinformation that come with such processes.
“Recent developments have placed journalism under fire. An array of factors are transforming the communications landscape, raising questions about the quality, impact and credibility of journalism,” a senior programme officer for Unesco-Gambia, Mr Lamin Jarju told journalists. “At the same time, orchestrated campaigns are spreading untruths or fake news that are often unwittingly shared on social media causing rifts in communities.”
The training, underway at a local hotel in Kololi, is being conducted under the framework of Unesco’s Peace Building Fund project entitled ‘Young Women and Men as Stakeholders in Ensuring Peaceful Democratic Processes and Advocates for the Prevention of Violence and Hate Speech’.
Journalists from the print, broadcast and online media are taking part in the programme.
Mr Jarju who was speaking on behalf of the Secretary General of Gambia National Commission for Unesco, submitted: “Knowing that elections and its attendant activities are high-staked issues Unesco would like to not only wish the country best of luck but also to do things within its reach and guide this much-cherished tenet of democracy.”
The UN resident coordinator in The Gambia, Ms Seraphine Wakana, said the programme will help journalists to debunk fake news and misinformation in all its forms and so [it] will make a significant contribution to achieving the objectives of this project.
In a long statement read on her behalf by Patrick McCarthy, the UN peace and development advisor to The Gambia, Ms Wakana argued that the ability to effectively check facts is not only necessary but indispensable in the 21st century.
“As The Gambia prepares to head to polls on the 4 December for the presidential election, it is critical to empower the media with tools, resources and skills to counter the phenomenon of disinformation and misinformation, especially within the context of the Covid-19 crisis, during which fake news is spreading more than ever around the world,” she noted.
She told journalists that elections constitute a key moment in the political life of a country, saying they allow citizens to express their choices and designate the political representatives who will determine important aspects of the present and the future of their countries.
“But election periods are also a time where so-called ‘fake news’ can proliferate, with the aim of misleading the public and propagating false information. In times like this, facts can be a matter of life and death. Therefore, the need for effective fact-checking and verification of information cannot be overstated,” the resident coordinator distinguished.
She highlighted the proliferation of fake news as the biggest challenge in the news media industry today and in the coming decades.
“This makes it all the more important to equip journalists with skills, knowledge and tools to detect and debunk false claims in line with professional journalistic norms, standards and codes of ethics.”
The vice president of the GPU, Muhammed S Bah, tasked his colleagues to hold electoral stakeholders like the IEC, political party figure heads and aspiring candidates to account.
“Fact-checking is a part of everyday journalism, but it is even more that this culture of verification is entrenched during elections,” Mr Bah stated.