#CoronavirusFacts: strengthening access to reliable information amidst tensions and the pandemic in Haiti
In Haiti, journalists, fact-checkers and specialized NGOs have experienced increased difficulties to effectively and safely report and therefore, are looking for help to perform their role during the health crisis. In this context, UNESCO with the support of the European Union, implemented over the past year the project #CoronavirusFacts to support media professionals in reporting on the pandemic and debunk mis- and disinformation on COVID-19.
The UNESCO Office in Port-au-Prince initiated the implementation of the project with local partners and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in May 2020. The project has enabled better promotion of the Haitian creole version of the media code of ethics, accepted by all the main media associations and journalists in the country. Because its guiding principles are at the heart of fighting disinformation, the code is used in the project discussions and activities such as in trainings for journalists across the country. The series of trainings on data journalism started in the regions of Ouanaminthe (North East) for 18 participants, Cap-Haïtien (North) for 22 journalists, and Mirebalais (Center) for 19 participants in December 2020. Participating journalists have made their own videos from the trainings accessible here and here.
In March 2021, a two-day workshop covering data journalism, ethical and professional processing of information, identification of rumors and how to treat and debunk mis-and disinformation, were organized in Jérémie (Grand’Anse) for 22 participants, des Cayes (South) for 24 participants, de Miragôane (Nippes) for 16 participants, and de Jacmel (South East) for 20 participants. Through practical exercises, participants get knowledge on web Content Management Systems and social media accounts management.
Electricity and 4G internet coverage issues in Haiti made it important to organize in-person seminars further contributed to the need ensure that this series of trainings could reach journalists working on the ground also in rural areas and in all parts of the country to help strengthen their skills to bring reliable information to the public. It also allowed to tailor discussions to the local context and experience. In total, more than hundred journalists across seven out of ten departments of the country have received trainings on how to debunk disinformation and misinformation and creating online media sharing of reliable information, contributing to a more peaceful dialogue in the Haitian society.
Following these sessions, and to ensure sustainability, regional working groups were established where relevant information on COVID-19, best practices, key principles and values for information processing are shared through WhatsApp and other Social Media platforms. These professional networks aim at reinforcing relationships between journalists who participate in the project and more generally contribute to a strengthened journalistic profession in Haiti.
The security situation in Haiti has continued to deteriorate in recent months. Gang violence in Port-au-Prince and several provincial towns have forced thousands of people to abandon their homes, despite the coronavirus pandemic which continues to claim many lives among the population. These training sessions come at a critical time when people need reliable information from credible sources.
Parallel to these trainings, the project also supports and enables national campaigns against disinformation. Particular emphasis is placed on increasing media and information literacy for the population at large, and on the promotion of the Code of Ethics for media partners. With the support of civil society partners, the last step will be to consider a mechanism for the adoption of the code by new online media, not yet regulated or organized. The capacity building introduced thanks to the #CoronavirusFacts project directly contributes to professionalizing Haitian journalism and factchecking communities.