AFRICA’S first fact-checking website, invented by the AFP Foundation, has been launched, the journalism department at Wits University said on Thursday.
"To our knowledge, this is the first time anyone has tried to do something like this, here in Africa," AFP Foundation deputy director Peter Cunliffe-Jones said in a statement.
The website — which was described as "non-partisan" and intended to promote "accuracy in public debate and media reporting" — is modelled on similar sites in Europe and the US, including online initiatives to cross-check statements made by US presidential candidates during public debates in the continuing election campaigns.
Media practitioners were allowed to use reports published on the website in broadcasts or articles, and could also suggest public claims that needed to be investigated. Website editor Ruth Becker urged journalists during the launch at Wits University on Wednesday to send over critical questions that needed fact checking.
Mr Cunliffe-Jones said "for any society to function properly, people need access to reliable information and that includes Africa".
"Whether the claims people make are about health, politics or the economy, they should be checked properly and impartially."
The site Africa Check, which is based in Wits’s journalism department, was established to spread the skills and practice of fact checking among students and media houses.
The Caxton professor of journalism at Wits, Anton Harber, was a senior adviser to the project.
He said: "I believe that Africa Check can make an important contribution to public discourse by promoting a culture of accuracy and making public figures think twice about playing loose with the facts."
Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said earlier this year the project was important in "engaging with journalists and citizens across the continent to raise the level of public debate".
The project would be funded until the end of the year by the IPI News Innovation Contest, run by the Vienna-based International Press Institute.
The site can be found on www.africacheck.org.
— With Sapa