Our impact: NGIJ alumni lead Sierra Leone’s fight against fake news ahead of Elections

In the lead-up to Sierra Leone’s general elections in June 2023, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is running its automated fact-checking tool, iVerify, in the country and the trusted hands behind the project include two alumni of the MFWA’s Next Generation Investigative Journalism (NGIJ) Fellowship.

Victor Jones has been on the Sierra Leone iVerify team as Editor and Coordinator since March 2023, while Marian Amaria Bangura joined the team as a Fact-Checker. The two were Fellows in the 2022 edition of the NGIJ Fellowship which is hosted annually by the MFWA in Accra, Ghana.

Like all beneficiaries of the Fellowship, Victor and Marian had come in as just journalists, but had left Accra after the five-month intensive training, as professional fact-checkers as well.

“I had stumbled upon the job advertisement on one of Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ)’s WhatsApp group and applied as an ordinary fact-checker, but after being interviewed by professionals from the BBC World Service England, UNDP, IRN and SLAJ, I was offered an editorial position rather than a writer position,” Victor explained.

He said the factors that facilitated his obtaining of the position included his credential as a former Fellow of the MFWA’s NGIJ, and also the author of some impactful investigative stories which he did while still in the NGIJ fellowship programme in Accra.

“Had I not been privileged to be practically taught by the guild of phenomenally skilled journalists at the Fourth Estate Ghana, led by Manasseh Azure, I would not have gotten to where I am today. From professional etiquette to editorial solidity, my NGIJ journey has helped me in more ways than I can count” Victor explains.

As Editor and Coordinator of the iVerify project, Victor assigns, supervises, edits and publishes articles from about 10 Fact-Checkers on the project. He is also responsible for posting and sharing media content online across all social media platforms.

“I feel professionally charged and fulfilled to be doing this at this time of my career especially when I’ve just completed an NGIJ training on Fact-Checking. It is a revolutionary phenomenon more or less,” he said.

At the closing ceremony of the 2022 Fellowship, Victor won the award for best creative writer.

For Marian Bangura, her role as a Fact-Checker on the iVerify project entails auditing and verifying information put out in connection with Sierra Leone’s upcoming election for their factuality.

She explained that she was recommended to work on the project due to her skill in fact-checking and investigative reporting.

“I believe it was because of the NGIJ fellowship that I got the job. This is because most of the questions I answered about Fact-Checking during the job interview were things I had already learnt during the NGIJ fellowship in Ghana” Ms. Bangura added.

Recently, Marian won an award in news writing with one of the stories she wrote during her time in the NGIJ fellowship programme in Accra.

In the build-up to Sierra Leone’s June 24th general elections, the UNDP’s I-verify, a Digital Public Good project, has been running in the country. The project timeline is to span 9 months – from 20th March to 20th December 2023. The UNDP is undertaking the project in collaboration with the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), the Independent Radio Network (IRN-SL) and the BBC.

 About NGIJ

The Next Generation Investigative Journalism(NGIJ) Fellowship is a training and mentorship programme that seeks to empower young journalists with investigative journalism skills. The objective is to build a pool of next-generation investigative journalists who will contribute to improving lives and promoting good governance through journalism excellence. The NGIJ programme builds the capacity of early-career journalists in the West Africa region to be able to conduct critical, high-quality, fact-based and in-depth reporting.

Every year, the Fellows are recruited through a competitive process of selection including aptitude tests and interviews. Under the programme, the selected journalists are hosted in Ghana for a five-month comprehensive training. The training includes a mentorship programme with Fact-Check Ghana and The Fourth Estate, both being MFWA’s public interest and accountability journalism projects made up of seasoned journalists.

The 2022 NGIJ Fellowship rolled out with funding support from the United States Embassy in Ghana and the Dutch Foreign Ministry (through the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

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