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Fact-Checkers in the Middle East: Challenges Searching for Solutions

In a crowded information space, an ever larger digital sphere, and the age of advanced tools to create and disseminate content, the spread of information has been plagued by fake news, misinformation and propaganda all over the world.

Fact-checking has become a necessity to try and weed out the true from the false, that is why news making entities and watchdogs have been scaling up their fact-checking teams to meet a demand for authenticating information everywhere, a task that remains daunting in the Arabic speaking world.  

In its 15 edition, Arij forum 2022 has dedicated a large chunk of its programming  for the promotion of Arab fact-checking to search for means to underpin this practice and find a formula for it to take root often in a media environment that is opaque, lacks independence, impartiality and rife with official propaganda tools that intimidate sources and suffocate attribution often for fear of reprisal sometimes for the most trivial of information.  

In a session titled “Arab fact-checkers on the frontline”, Fact-checking advocates painted a gloomy picture of the challenges hindering Arab fact -checking networks taking roots and influencing the news agenda in the region plagued by inaccuracies 

Common to all practitioners in this field are challenges such as lack of reliable funding, training, or interest to join the sector by working journalists, as well as the near impossible collaboration within a country, or regionally, between actors from various Arab countries. 

Dina Ibrahim from Akhbar Meter in Egypt, highlighted the challenges faced by Arab Fact-Checkers and their inability of becoming members of IFCN, as Arab networks have been unable to register their entities nationally, due to the stringent measures of revealing funding sources, identities of team members, which in the most Arab countries constitutes putting the journalists in danger of reprisal by very suspicious organs of the state.  

Though some fact-checking groups have been taking root in the Middle East, like Arij’s Arab Fact-Checkers Network (AFCN), the adversities for the practice and its advocates are colossal. 

Practically no business model has yet emerged to organise this sector and insure its survival, as fact-checking network appear then disappear, due to funding problems said the Moroccan freelance fact-checker Yasmine Laabi, who claimed that the sector rely on volunteers supported by timid charitable funding conscious of not tipping the status quo of media operation often heavily monitored by the state. 

Meanwhile, media companies,  private, or semi state funded, remain resistant to collaborating or seeing the use of fact-checking, as media in most Arab countries remain a tool bent on delivering consent within society and its mission is not to speak truth to power in the first place. 

The fact-checking picture in conflict zones is even murkier, as basic news gathering work there has always been treacherous for journalists, and fact-checking has been near impossible in the best of days, compounded by newly deployed electronic armies that are bent on dis-informing and spreading toxic and fake news which renders any efforts to fact-check doomed. 

Bakr Abdel Haq from the Palestinian observatory for fact-checking (Tahaqaq), claimed that in such an environment fact-checkers have been facing the problem of committing to accuracy and objectivity so you don’t lose face for seemingly taking sides. 

Abdel Haq also warned that content producers and fact-checkers face another adversity where Palestinian content is being discarded and or curtailed due to social media platforms’ policies that have different accountability rules when it comes to language used in content produced for Palestinians”.

Against such backdrop, the panellists called on more collaboration and cross border cooperation to break the cycle of information bias and partiality, all the while pursuing the efforts to gain funding to enlist and train more journalists that are ready to go beyond the call of duty for the authentication of news which serve societies everywhere. 

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