Published On: Čet, svi 13th, 2021

FAKTOGRAF: Objective fact checkers or biased political activists?

The Faktograf portal is the only fact-checking platform in Croatia, created in 2015 as the Croatian Journalists’ Association and GONG joint project, whereby in 2018, the latter became the sole publisher.

In 2017, Faktograf was formally licensed by the IFCN (International Fast Checking Network) at the Poynter Institute as one of the 32 similar media globally, dealing with verifying the factual accuracy of information.

 

Jutarnji list, p. 27                                                                                                             8th May 2021

 

Consequently, two years later, they became a part of Facebook’s Third-party Fact-checking Programme, which finally completed the collection of accolades that identified them as impartial, objective fact-checkers.

After having earned the credibility, Faktograf was given a media niche of a considerable size, in which it began functioning as an ombudsman of the public forum, whose role of a purifier of accumulated lies and nonsense will come as a blessing to the exhausted audience that was lazy to examine the validity of information, and exhausted by the petty scams of the media and political actors.

Namely, after Facebook places trust in one media to verify certain news and information veracity, Faktograf enjoys the unencumbered right to assess the accuracy of the content shared on that social network. Content of media or a platform that does not meet Faktograf’s criteria will be clearly marked.

Facebook algorithms will, accordingly, lower it positionally on the “news feed” and reduce the reach of the media that presented such factual content.

In other words, colleagues at Faktograf have an enviable power of influencing the readership of the media in Croatia.

Feeling the benefits

Lately, the justification and privilege, and finally various interests, which often stand behind the great privileges, become subject to examination more frequently on social networks and in public. Recently, Faktograf got into an open argument with several politicians who complained about Faktograf’s bias and lack of objectivity.

Still, we will not go into details now – the file of all local cheap politicians who interfered in the editorial policy of various media is thicker than their skin.

On the other hand, given the mentioned circumstances, but also the increasingly frequent complaints that the Faktograf team confuses the fast checking with open political activism, and that in their work they promote only one political option – it would be utterly unambitious to check whether there is any truth in that.

To be able to place the Faktograf story in a context, we need to explore the background of the one who actually enabled Faktograf to be Faktograf; respectfully, we have to find answers to the questions such as

  • what is IFCN, the network of fast-checkers to which Faktograf belongs,
  • what is the Poynter Institute that launched the network,
  • who finances them all, and finally,
  • what is the profile of the project.

Let us start with the Poynter Institute, which is essentially the originator of the idea.

It is a non-profit school of journalism that also owns the Tampa Bay Times.

The Tampa Bay Times is one of the media pillars of the American Democratic Party in Florida, a state that, say from 1980 onwards, selected Republican presidential candidates as many as 7 times out of the total of possible 10 times.

During the same period, the Tampa Bay Times always supported the Democratic Party exclusively from the very beginning, giving them the political patronage that is traditional for the media practice there.

These newspapers enjoy high respect at the national level, they have given birth to a couple of Pulitzer candidates, and naturally, they recruit their staff also from the Poynter Institute.

Among the main funders of the Poynter Institute, which is easy to check on their website, is the Open Society of George Soros, a billionaire and philanthropist who has taken root among these Balkan’s ravines, among other things, as a kind of right-wing Chupacabra, a mythical bat whose diet is, as word of mouth says, based on the blood and flesh of the right-wing political herd.

However, the institute that created the framework in which Faktograf operates is not funded exclusively by George Soros.

The Omidyar Network, the foundation of Pierre Omidyar, a multibillionaire and founder of eBay, also gives Poynter and IFCN plenty of money.

At the international level, Omidyar is known as a fighter for the “left cause” and collaborates with Soros’s Open Society on numerous projects throughout the United States.

Perhaps the most controversial moment in the Poynter’s recent history occurred last year when the institute compiled a blacklist of portals it labelled as unreliable.

It then invited the advertisers to deny support to those on the list that included, among others, the quite correct, conservative media such as the Washington Examiner or The Washington Free Beacon.

After the expected scandal, Poynter withdrew the list, apologized, and blamed everything the ‘methodological clumsiness’ in drafting the appeal.

How is Faktograf financed?  Colleagues say that in addition to the US Embassy, ​​the project is financially supported by the NED (National Endowment for Democracy) and the Tech-Soup Foundation, whose main financier is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Projects have largely funded the Faktograf’s work to date won in NED tenders, a somewhat controversial American agency in one part of the world that, when founded in 1983, set itself a pretty ethereal goal; of ‘promoting democracy in the world.’

Why is it controversial?

This is, for example, the first civilian organization that Russia banned from operating on its soil in 2015. The Chinese accused them of being behind the protests in Hong Kong. Even The New York Times wrote about the NED as an umbrella organization that encouraged and funded the Arab Spring through various NGO affiliates.

GONG is today the only publisher of Faktograf. He owns two subsidiaries, GRIF Services d.o.o. and GES consulting d.o.o.

Fakograf, they say, is partly financed from GRIF’s revenues and partly from GONG’s project tenders.

The situation becomes a bit unclear here. GONG, I guess it is no secret, is partly funded by the George Soros Open Society. These finances, presumably, were earned by quality projects in Soros tenders based on which they received money, and why, after all, would they not receive them if the projects were rated as quality projects by a private foundation?

Is it insane to think that, since the work of Faktograf is partly financed by GONG, as they themselves state, some of the Soros’ money consequently ended in the Faktograf’s cash registers?

According to colleagues from Faktograf, not only is it insane, but such a claim would actually suggest that you are a proponent of the ‘anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about George Soros’ – which has its roots in Tuđman’s book “Wastelands of Historical Reality”. So at least, They state in the text published on the portal page on 9 October 2020. To what extent this is a healthy reaction? Let the psychologists among you judge.

Common sense

Why is it a problem for colleagues to contextualize to the extent that they are ready to honour someone who would think of something like that with the title of anti-Semite?

Is such a position needed in a fact-checking portal that appeals to common sense?

Let us put all the eggs in the same basket – George Soros is one of the founders of the network and the institute that started the story in which Faktograf, their only publisher, is GONG – funded by the Soros Foundation, and even if every money was counted in a penny – is the one who claims that the Soros’s capital may be behind the work of the Faktograf portal spreading the anti-Semitic theory from Tuđman’s nonsensical blabbering, or is he simply counting apples?

The answer stubbornly bypasses us. Of course, there is no problem in the fact that the mentioned billionaire invests private money in his own ideological programme – but if that money, no matter how much and in whatever piece it flows, partly finances the work of a certain fact-checking portal and provides the framework for its creation, it is justified to ask – is this objective, impartial fact-checking of facts or a factually biased political activism?

Let us take a look at the editorial staff of Faktograf.

These are six persons, three of whom are members of the editorial board, and three are journalists. Faktograf often also employs external associates.

By looking at the portal’s imprint, you will not be shocked by the diversity of the political profile of journalists.

However, judging by the media profile in which colleagues worked before they made a nest in Faktograf, we can find some of the names in their CVs:

Lupiga, Index.hr, Novosti, Libela, Bilten, Novi List, etc.

In his short career portrait, the editor-in-chief points out that he also collaborates with the weekly Novosti and the non-profit internet portal Lupiga.

Imagine for a moment that the situation is reversed – that there is a portal on the domestic media scene that states that it objectively, impartially and factually checks statements and phenomena in the public space, but that its authors cooperate, or that they cooperated, with the right-wing media – Narod.hr, Direktno hr, Dnevno.hr, etc.

What kind of foamy reactions would they be dealing with daily?

Furthermore, one ridiculous thing is that Facebook algorithms cannot remain independent even when it comes to their fast-checking sites.

On the contrary, algorithms, among other things, function on the principle of similarity of content to provide users with a broader and higher-quality service and more firmly connect someone’s interests.

By going to Faktograf’s Facebook page, the algorithms offer the pages of the Solidarna Foundation as the profiles most similar to a fast-checking site (most of their prominent activists ended up on the electoral lists of the Možemo! platform), then something called the Antifascist Herald and finally the Možemo – platform.

Suppose we scratch under the surface of all the accuracy, inaccuracies, such and such classifications published by the site – and if we want to check, say, the Facebook math about the content connection of the Možemo – platform and Faktograf – it is more than obvious that the calculation is not in vain.

How many deficient statements, inaccurate, subjective or untrue, according to Faktograf, come from the ranks of the Možemo – platform?

None.

Indeed, the platform and its members and supporters are written about with unusually laudable praise.

One might conclude, too fanatical for a site that does not deal with placing support but with cold fact-checking.

For example, in the text “The New Croatian Left”, the success of the “Zagreb is Ours“ platform is described as ‘the most positive story of the first round of local elections. Colleagues state that ‘analysts and actors of the political game’ agree in this assessment.

At the same time, they noticeably lack a background with which to substantiate the written thesis. Which analysts? Everyone? Which actors of the political match? Do they include, for example, the Croatian sovereigntists Bruna Esih and Zlatko Hasanbegović? Labour and Solidarity Party?

The actors of the “Zagreb is Ours“ platform is without any questioning distance described as ‘immaculate activists who will put their knowledge and competence in the service of building a better Zagreb and thus write a formula for filling the space on the left”.

  • Where did the objective examiners get the fact that they are competent people?
  • Where did they get the information that they have the knowledge that will put them in the service of a better Zagreb?
  • Isn’t that a matter of a subjective or supporting assessment?
  • And what exactly would be a ‘better Zagreb’?
  • Better for whom?
  • Better than whose previous policies?
  • After all, where did the cold arbitrators get the idea that the “space on the left” should be filled at all? What for?

Furthermore, the policies or initiatives of the Možemo! and its actors are also perceived as ‘expectedly the most coherent’ or, I guess instructively, their statements finalize the final, thoughtful passages.

In the text “Climate Crisis and Croatian Elections: Everyone Offers Some Solutions, But Few People Talk About Them” (I guess they talk if they offer solutions?), the author goes through various green policies of parties running in parliamentary elections.

At this stage, as expected, the programme of all listed parties is described as exploitative (HDZ), harmful (Homeland Movement), modest (SDP), poor (MOST).

In contrast, that of the Možemo – platform” is described as a correct, unique and fair model programme.

In the text “The Green Left and the Liberal Centre are not Related Political Options”, colleagues from Faktograf, conditionally speaking, tried hard to refute Katarina Peović’s statement on the nationalization of savings that exceeds the amounts of 100,000 €.

Although in the Manifesto of the new left, published in Večernji list, Peović clearly clarified that it was a matter of redistribution of money. A few days later, on N1 television, she put out one of the most stupid statements in the encyclopedia of Croatian political nonsense.

The author of Faktograf claims that Peović was actually talking about progressive taxation.

  • Can a political statement in the interpretation of Faktograf have both it’s original but also post-festum meaning?
  • Interesting linguistic Olympic games and a catastrophic precedent.

Annual report

Let us mention this in the end: of the 30 actors from social and political life whose final annual reports got an „insufficient“ grade, only two political actors belonged to the left political current, conditionally speaking – in one of these two endemic cases, it was a ‘token’ that moved from the SDP Club to the then Bandić Club.

The other 28 actors who did not satisfy were members of the following parties:

HDSSB, A-HSP, Živi zid, Hrast, Hrvatski suverenisti, HDZ, Pametno and HNS.

On the other hand, of the 30 actors who earned an excellent grade, only four formally belong to centrist or right-wing political options.

The other 26 actors who fully satisfied were members of the following parties:

SDP, SDP/Možemo!, IDS and Radnička fronta.

And now someone will say – it is biased, instead of being relaxed by the realization that in these times of violent political turbulence and turmoil, at least one political current in this demagogic paradise of a country is objective, informed and, finally, factually accurate.

Written by: Đino Kolega l Jutarnji list

 

You can access the web version here.

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