At a time when the ease of clicks and taps often blurs the line between misinformation and verified fact, a team of journalists in Albania has opened a new chapter in the history of the country’s media with their commitment to fact-checking.
'TRUE OR FALSE' AND RESPONSIBLE JOURNALISM
Disinformation in Albania is real. It is a product of poor journalism, which in turn results from a combination of several factors: competition between a growing number of online outlets, pressure to ‘publish first’, financial struggles of outlets, staff shortage and the influence exerted by politics and powerful interest groups. Disinformation affects freedom of the press, media accountability and, ultimately, democratic processes and the well-being of each citizen.
An antidote to disinformation and the spread of false narratives is responsible journalism, which acts as an advocate on behalf of citizens. Fact-checking for accuracy and consistency is its key tool. By validating statements with facts that can be verified and delving into which facts are true or false rather than just describing events, fact-checking elevates the role of journalists. In Albania, there is a single online platform that is trailblazing this new model of independent fact-checking.
A Media Outlet in Service of the Truth
Faktoje was formally launched in Albania on May 8, 2018 as a media service that promotes accountability based on the right to information and transparency. The overarching goal of Faktoje is to be a credible source of information and fact-checking in Albania to improve public performance standards. By Tirana Court decision of July 30, 2019, Faktoje is acknowledged as the first fact-checking organization in Albania.
In less than two years from the time that preparations for Faktoje began, the platform has become a reliable source of information, setting an example of responsible and ethical journalism. Their reports are a product of a meticulous approach to identify, select, analyze and assess facts from reliable sources.
Professionals Making a Difference
Faktoje’s Advisory Board supports their work, along with collaboration from similar platforms in the region. Those seasoned professionals shared thoughts on the establishment and growth of Faktoje:
- “As the majority of media in Albania are controlled by political parties, Faktoje has an important role to provide to the Albanian public information based on confirmed facts,” Flutura Kusari, media lawyer in Kosovo and Albania.
- “Faktoje project is spot on for empowering citizens; young, politically “uncontaminated” and courageous journalists equally challenge all parties and politicians for accountability in the interest of the public and in full compliance with the law,” Faik Ispahiu, Executive Director, Internews Kosovo.
Faktoje was initially developed by two Albanian organizations, Gender Alliance for Development Center and National Center for Social Studies, with full technical support from the USAID-funded Justice for All project implemented by EWMI. “This first impartial service of fact-checking was brought to Albania thanks to USAID support. International and local experts trained and mentored a group of young journalists to hone their skill in verifying statements and promises made by senior officials,” says Klodiana Kapo, Executive Director of Faktoje.
SETTING THE STANDARDS: DOING JOURNALISM RIGHT
“This experience has made me grow as a professional. I have even acquired other skills I lacked before, such as video editing and video recording like a pro.” - Merxhan Daci, Journalist, Faktoje.
The uncharted territory of fact-checking in Albania at the time proved quite a challenge for Daci and his colleagues, but fast-forward two years and they have made a difference.
Among the biggest challenges were the lack of public institutions to collaborate with, the absence of open data and the failure of institutions to observe the right to access information. The latter is a challenge that Daci believes can be turned into an opportunity. “By insisting that the law should be observed, we can produce a range of stories – information is treasure,” he says. Indeed, a recent story involving the inflated invoices of a senior public official took Albania by storm. It was the first time a well-researched piece with confirmed facts was presented to the audience. The online reach was immense. Political and institutional reactions ensued, even blocking Faktoje from obtaining documents from other ministries. “This shows that such journalism and platform confront politicians and senior officials with their obligations and helps inform citizens better,” says Kapo.
The first of its kind in Albania, Faktoje looks up to more advanced regional and global models of fact-checking and is becoming a model for other outlets in the country. It is helping educate the audience on the concept of fact-checking and how it fights disinformation.
Unlike the information published by a huge number of portals in the country, which is almost identical and often has no sources or only one source, Faktoje applies a clear-cut methodology of fact-checking in line with the standards of the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN). In fact, Faktoje is working towards gaining membership to IFCN. This requires, among other things, full transparency of activities and the constant advancement of its professionalism.
Faktoje is soon expected to have a full house, with six professional journalists and four student interns. The Editor in Chief and Deputy will train, mentor and lead the team. Additionally, the Advisory Board, which is comprised of high-profile individuals from civil society and the media, provides support and advice on a daily basis to both management and journalists to ensure a high level of reporting and more resistance to pressure from senior officials.
Fact-Checking Reaches Beyond
Strengthening internal capacities is needed for Faktoje to carry out its role. Training on professional skills in journalism and technology will continue, as the journalists produce all content themselves. “Faktoje is now specializing its journalists by subject area, so they are better focused in their work,” says Kapo.
Jointly with the public university, Faktoje is reaching out to youth networks to increase the number of volunteers for its mission. Other fact-checking organizations in the Balkans are also part of these efforts, e.g. Kallxo (Kosovo) and Metamorphosis (North Macedonia), to increase the reach and impact of fact-checking across countries.
Regional Fact-Checkers Unite
On June 5-7, 2019, with support from USAID’s Justice for All project and the British Embassy in Tirana, Faktoje held the Balkan Fact Checking and Disinformation Conference, the first international conference on fact-checking. The focus of the conference was to allow representatives from fact-checking services in Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, North Macedonia, Serbia and Italy to share experiences and discuss communication methods with the ultimate goal of strengthening a regional fact-checking network and increasing collaboration.
During the conference sessions, it was made apparent that concerns and challenges related to disinformation and the spread of false narratives are similar across the region. The conference was thus a good first step towards streamlining efforts across borders. For Tijana Cvijetićanin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, member of IFCN, “Mutual connections and cooperation are an indispensable aid to those on the side of facts.” This is particularly true given the region’s inextricable political, social and cultural connections, which make the cooperation of fact checkers, media watchdogs and other actors who work to fight disinformation a matter of great importance.
Fact-Checking Is Here to Stay
The June 2019 conference was not a one-time event but the beginning of joint efforts between fact-checkers in Albania, the region and beyond to take a more coordinated stand against the disinformation, spin and false narratives that poor journalism, political pressure and the Internet help perpetuate.
The coming year will be a turning point for Faktoje. As a platform that has already gained prominence, the battle for higher standards of honesty in public life is only going to be tougher.