Outriders Meetup @POINT: Elections Coverage

Between 16th and 18th of May, we traveled to Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, for an annual regional gathering of activists, techies, policy makers, and journalists, which focuses on political accountability and new technologies. We hosted a session on the conference’s main stage where a fact-checker Verda Uyar, a journalist Nastya Stanko, and a data journalist Jacopo Ottaviani shared their perspective and experience with election-related coverage.

On the next day, we have hosted two Outriders Lab workshops: one on fact-checking and verification run by Marek Miller (Google News Lab), and another one on data Journalism and Agility run by aforementioned Jacopo.

Below, you can find the coverage of our session with the videos of the talks. If you’d like to read how the organisers described what issues we tackled, you can check their article about us here.

Verda Uyar, Doğruluk Payi (Turkey): “Doğruluk Payi means a share of truth”

  • We have been the first political fact-checking organization in Turkey.
  • It is hard to understand and explain what is going on in my country, even in my language and despite the fact I have been born & raised there.
  • We were established in 2014 after the Gezi Park protests in 2013.
  • It is when we felt like the media was not doing their job.
  • The protests were huge, and many people were killed, detained or imprisoned, and most of the journalists were not reporting from the field and were not giving voice to the opposition and the protesters.
  • So we understood that the government was strengthening its control over the media.
  • Somebody needed to fill that gap.
  • Since 2013, the civil society sector in Turkey has been given the responsibility of filling it and my organisation is doing exactly that.
  • Our mission is to combat fake news and disinformation in our country, and we do that by fact-checking the political statements of Turkish politicians even though it is not all that we are doing.
  • We want our actions to lead to greater accountability of politicians and overall political transparency.
  • It might sound like a utopia, but this is what we are after.
  • The monsters of misinformation and fake news are a global trend, but I would say that Turkey holds a special place on the podium.
  • According to the Reuters news report from 2018, Turkish people claimed that they were exposed to completely made up the news the most, which might mean that what we do makes a difference.
  • We fact-check political statements by using open and available sources and write analysis explaining what we have discovered. Then we share them on our website and social media channels.
  • Just two months after we have were established, elections were coming up in Turkey, and so we needed to be up and running straight away.
  • It took us some time to gain credibility and recognition.
  • We have always been objective which confused people. They didn’t know who we were supporting because we didn’t support anyone.
  • It was necessary so that we could better engage our audience. It was when we started producing more visual content as well.
  • We started making infographics. One of them regarded Syrian refugees in Turkey, which is a very popular manipulation topic. Another one is about voting.
  • Every year since I became 18, I have been voting once or sometimes twice a year. We are now about to have local re-elections in Istanbul where Erdogan (Turkish PM) has recently lost.
  • During the elections on the 23rd of March, the ruling party lost the majority in Istanbul for the first time since 1984. The party gave many reasons for why it happened, including an argument that this election was the one with the most invalid votes cast. We fact-checked that, and it was actually one of the least. They gave other reasons, and the ruling party ended up re-organising this election anyway.
  • We have analysed why it did matter so much for Erdogan that he lost Istanbul and published our study trying to explain what happened.
  • In the last five years, we wrote more than 1000 studies, published over 350 bulletins. There is still a lot to be done to foster collaboration between Academia, media and the civil society, but we will continue to do that.

Anastasiia Stanko, Hromadske (Ukraine): “It is both about populism, of course, but also about the hunger people have for change”

  • Hromadske in Ukrainian means Public TV, but we are not only a TV. We have a website, social media, including a YouTube channel. I want to tell you about our presidential elections.
  • Our new president, Volodymyr Zelenski has a very heavy Instagram presence. He likes to talk to his voters through posts on Instagram, Facebook, and through video. Not through press conferences and briefs. We don’t know his opinions on NATO, the European Union and we don’t have any similar political statements from him.
  • Here you can watch a glimpse of him in a video made 18 years ago, where he dances funnily. One of the people in the audience back then was Russian president Vladimir Putin. Now Zelenski is the president of Ukraine while Vladimir Putin… continues to be the president of Russia.
  • Volodymyr Zelenski has been a star of a popular TV show called “The Servant of the People”. This show started in 2015 and Zelenski played the leading role — he was the president of Ukraine. The show was broadcast on prime time of a most popular TV channel. More than 10 million people watched it.
  • Zelenski announced that he would run for the presidency on the 1 of January 2019. His opponent was the former president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko.
  • Poroshenko’s campaign was to cut the ribbons of newly opened places. He did that very many times. He also made Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent from the Russian Orthodox church and gave it a gift of Tomos.
  • Apart from all this very different media presence of two candidates, we also had the debate at the National Stadium. It attracted more audience than a football match. More than 15 million people watched the debate. One was even able to place a bet on this debate. When the results came in, it was clear that Zelenski won by over 50% of votes.
  • Oligarchs who directly support certain politicians own most of the media in Ukraine. The coverage is very polarised.
  • Why was the difference so big between the two candidates? Hromadske decided to ask the “normal” people why they voted as they did. To do that we ran two programs: the first one in which we asked taxi drivers about their opinions, and the second one in which we asked street vendors and the passengers of the long-distance trains. Another program we did was to ask young people who are mostly discouraged from voting why it was so. We chose five young people from all around the country. One of them was a game designer; another one was the daughter of a priest. The second project was called “Babysitting the presidents”.
  • People feel that politicians don’t hear them and so they have decided to vote for someone who has never been in politics.

Jacopo Ottaviani, Code for Africa (Italy): “Elections coverage could be something that happens on the ongoing basis”

  • I started working as a data journalist in 2011 and in 2016 as a Knight Journalism Fellow I first went to Africa to work in the Code for Africa team.
  • Some of the cross-border projects we worked on back then are still relevant for how we can view the world and its global issues (food security, water security) today and can feedback to how elections coverage could be something that happens on the ongoing basis and is mostly about us being informed better.
  • In Italy, for example, there is an ongoing campaign about immigration (as it is in many other European countries). Moreover, a project I wanted to show you is a collaboration between Code for Africa and Doctors Without Borders using their data on the search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea. Italy has a big campaign against all the NGOs operating in the sea with much fake news, and so we prepared an interactive data story helping them prove that they had nothing to hide.
  • One of our strategies includes creating an alliance which guarantees that once a story is produced, it will be published by 5–7 media outlets at the same time to amplify the messaging. Improving the data literacy of journalists and our readers translates into a better political debate.
  • We worked in a redistributed, multidisciplinary team, in a networked environment, mostly remotely and followed the agile work methodology.
  • All of our work is online; we store documents in the cloud.
  • We are working in 6 countries — Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal, South Africa and now also in Morocco. We have partners in some other countries on the continent, which is a very diverse and complex environment.
  • One of the projects we have helped to create is a fact-checking initiative for East African countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. It is called Pesacheck. Another, broader fact-checking initiative in Africa is called Africa-check, and it includes some Western African countries such as Nigeria and in South Africa as well.
  • We track our social impact on the level of personal journalist success (of certain journalists who worked with us and got trained in being data journalists), a wider societal change (policy changes and government actions) and organisational change inside the newsrooms.

A week after Sarajevo, we went to the Lviv Media Forum in Ukraine to talk about Interactive Reporting. Stay tuned, the coverage from this meetup is coming up soon!

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