A Nigerian journalist on Thursday won the top prize in the annual African Fact-Checking Awards for his work debunking claims about legislation on the age of sexual consent.
At a ceremony in Johannesburg, Benjamin Ezeamalu, of the Nigerian online news site Premium Times, collected the award, which was launched in 2014 to encourage fact-checking journalism by media across Africa.
The prizes are run by Africa Check, an independent, non-profit organisation created in 2012 by the AFP Foundation, the media training arm of the AFP news agency.
Ezeamalu secured the 2,000-euro ($2,145) winner’s cheque after a jury considered 51 competition entries from 15 countries ranging from Ethiopia and Egypt in the north to South Africa and Zimbabwe in the south.
“Fact checking is a really important part of journalism. It is necessary that as journalists we hold public figures to account for what they say,” Ezeamalu said at the ceremony.
Peter Cunliffe-Jones, founder of Africa Check, hailed the winning report for “taking a claim on a sensitive topic — the age of consent in Nigeria — and clinically, carefully examining the evidence to show it was false.”
The two runner-up prizes went to South African journalists Phillip de Wet, of the Mail & Guardian newspaper, and Pieter-Louis Myburgh, from the Media24 news group.
De Wet was commended for his report about spending on the home of President Jacob Zuma and comparisons with the late former president Nelson Mandela, while Myburgh exposed false claims about train safety.
The awards ceremony on Thursday evening, hosted by the African Media Initiative, also marked the launch of a French-language version of Africa Check: www.fr.africacheck.org.
The new website, known as Africa Check_FR, is edited in Dakar by Senegalese journalist Assane Diagne, formerly editor-in-chief of the APS news agency.
“Every day, traditional media and the social networks are inundated with claims by the leaders of public opinion that are less than accurate,” Diagne said.
“It is this huge field, ignored to date by the African media, that Africa Check is seeking to explore.”
Emmanuel Hoog, AFP CEO and chairman of the AFP Foundation, praised Africa Check for “bringing independent, non-partisan fact-checking to public debate and the media in anglophone Africa”.
“We hope to achieve similar success in the continent’s French-speaking countries,” he added.