Twenty-six journalists from five West African countries have just undergone a four-day fact-checking training conducted by West Africa’s verification and fact-checking platform, Dubawa.

The training will equip journalists with the skills to deal with widespread misinformation in West African media. Upon completion, participants will graduate into the six months in-country fellowship, working in newsrooms of different media organisations.

The 26 trainees were drawn from over 200 applications across The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

Fact-checking is the vaccine that journalism needs to improve and strengthen its role in debunking falsehoods that society is confronted with on a daily basis, says leading Nigerian media scholar and veteran journalist, Dapo Olorunyomi, who is leading the training.

Olorunyomi said training was crucial in the region because, with the possible exception of Senegal, fact-checking as part of the protocols of regular news reporting, was not fully developed Nigeria and Ghana.

In a country such as Nigeria where 25 million people and seven million people are accessing Facebook and Twitter, respectively, it is a challenge to ensure that information is verified and checked, said Olorunyomi.

He argues that fact-checking should be made an integral component of journalism training, adding that there were already several Masters’ and PhD students in Nigerian universities who were pursuing research in fact-checking.

Universities in Nigeria and Ghana already offered fact-checking modules and Gambia would start similar projects in July, said Olorunyomi. “… We are arguing that besides the old problem of information disorder, there’s also an opportunity that if you can strengthen the factual basis of reporting, it can help resolve some of the current crisis the media is facing,” he added.

“The aim of the fact-checking fellowship is to tackle misinformation and hold political elites accountable for their words, action, and also, expand the reach of verified information to grassroots communities that are targeted constituencies for political, social and cultural disinformation, so they are adequately equipped to hold political elites accountable,” said Temilade Onilede, Dubawa’s programme officer in a media statement.

The fellowship is named after Kwame Karikari, a professor of journalism and founder of Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA). It is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Abiola reported.