Cristina Tardaguila heads Agência Lupa, Brazil’s first fact checking agency. At the Fake News and Media Viability Conference in Beirut, she talked to her international counterparts about challenges in their field.
Is there a connection between fake news and media viability? How can media companies regain their significance in times when internet users can publish their own content on social media networks? Strengthening networks, exchanging experiences and formulating goals were the main topics discussed at the Fake News and Media Viability Conference organized by DW Akademie and Lebanon’s Maharat Foundation. International fact checking experts – like the head of Brazil’s fact checking agency Cristina Tardaguila – met in Beirut.
Networking is essential for the existence of her organization. "It is vital that fact checkers all over the world compare notes, for instance, on experiences, tools, skills and financing." Her agency is constantly under fire by right-wing groups that claim she is spreading lies. "Mutual monitoring plays an important role too," says Tardaguila. "I also found out how difficult fact checking can be for our counterparts in the Middle East. There, they lack protection at work. What about Brazil? Well, it’s not exactly safe there either."
"Just another biased journalist in mainstream media"
The number of organizations specializing in the verification of public information is growing rapidly. In November 2015, Cristina Tardaguila founded her own fact checking agency, Agência Lupa, out of "pure journalistic necessity," she says. At that time, a bitter battle was being fought in Brazilian media during the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. Various rumors were spreading rapidly. "Lupa came into being at a time of great political confusion," explains Tardaguila. "We had huge economic problems, high unemployment and rising inflation. And to top it all off, the president was accused by her own party of not having kept her election promises."
In the beginning, the greatest challenge she faced was establishing her agency as a reliable source of information. "At first people said, 'Just another biased journalist in mainstream media pretending to sell us the truth.' We had to publish many articles before we could prove that we are neither defending A, nor attacking B," recalls Tardaguila.
Independent reporting is rare
Tardaguila and her staff members are fighting against fixed structures in the media. "As a rule, before you read a newspaper in Brazil, you already know what to expect," is how she describes the situation in her home country. Independent and unbiased reporting is rare, she says. Around 80 percent of media companies are run by a small number of families. The biggest one is Grupo Globo, a network worth billions that runs radio stations, television stations, newspapers and magazines. Mass media is met with great skepticism. "They do not communicate with the masses, with the people, with the poor," says Tardaguila.
Tardaguila owes its existence to the documentary filmmaker and owner of the magazine A Piaui, Joao Moreira Salles. Back then, he invested in the project that now stands own its own feet. Another important supporter was Laura Zommer, head of the Argentinian fact checking agency Chequeado. "She faced the same challenges as I did. And my third pillar of strength was my consulting team, which was made up of nine journalists and three people who worked in other professions. They checked the quality of my work on a daily basis and helped me stay true to theprinciples of the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN)," says Tardaguila.
She thinks that after three years of hard work, her organization has succeeded in changing the mentality of readers and journalists. "As soon as politicians speak on TV, I immediately get tweets saying, 'You have to check that!'" Tardaguila has observed some new developments as well. Now, major media companies have followed suit and established their own fact checking departments. "Suddenly, journalism is going back to its roots," she says. "A politician’s statement is acknowledged – and then checked."
The conference Fake News and Media Viability held in Beirut in April 2018 was a specialized follow-up to the Digital Media Viability Conference held in December 2016, where participants and experts emphasized the importance of international networking and expressed the need for ongoing specialization.