In a country where religious and cultural beliefs dominate life and behavioral practices, the COVID-19 pandemic in Afghanistan has been exacerbated by the significant spread of inaccurate and unreliable information, particularly online over social media, often misleading the public and impeding the management of the impact of the virus.
To counter this trend, Internews worked with local journalism training organzation, Nai Supporting Open Media, to conduct a series of online workshops for journalists across the country, to learn more about fact-checking and the verification of information – a new skill for Afghan journalists.
In turn, the first twelve participants learned to train others, ultimately reaching more than 200 journalists and editors from 17 provinces.
“I learned for the first time how to identify rumors, fake news, misinformation and manipulated photos,” said Humaira Habibi, who works in media in Herat. “I feel confident now to transfer my knowledge to other journalists.“
Creating local role models in journalism
Journalism trainers like Humaira play an important role in supporting entry-level journalists as well as others with more experience, to improve skills and knowledge. As a former journalist and radio station manager, and now a trainer, she is aware of how important it is to keep up with developments in the journalism sector.
Humaira is also a role model for female journalists, in a country where women face many barriers when it comes to participating in public life.
“There are many challenges facing women, but we find that the main thing that limits the work of women in the media in Herat is the closed mindset of a traditional community. For most families, it is very strange to allow a girl to study or work in this field. That’s why we must make sure the training opportunities are there to motivate them and that more women are working in the media which will help the community to be more accepting.”
Using local expertise to counter misinformation
The aim of the training was to strengthen the capacity of journalists to successfully fact-check and verify stories, rumours and misinformation which will ultimately help improve the quality and accuracy of information on COVID-19.
“Afghan people have the right to access to correct information on COVID-19 and I am pleased to be part of that effort,” said Humaira. “Fact-checking and verification of information is particularly challenging in Afghanistan. Understanding local culture and the context helps us to quickly identify manipulated videos and fake photos and to debunk them. The training has further strengthened our skills to use a standard methodology and verification tools to fight social media rumors and misinformation.”
Reaching journalists in the 17 provinces of Parwan Kapisa Laghman Helmand Wardak, Logar, Panjshir, Samangan, Baghlan, Kunduz, Jawzjan, Khost., Balkh, Kandahar, Herat, Kabul and Nangarhar, the fact-checking training is one of several approaches included in the Internews-implemented, EU-funded Information Saves Lives: COVID-19 in Afghanistan project, designed to ensure Afghans have access to information about the COVID-19 epidemic to help them make informed decisions and to mitigate the impacts of misinformation.