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South African media scores relatively well in global disinformation test

An analysis of South African media sites has found that more than half are presenting lower than average amounts of disinformation according to an analysis published by the Global Disinformation Index (GDI).


More than half of South African media sites tested presented what the GDI called ‘a low to minimum disinformation risk to online readers’ which is the largest share of the seven countries assessed by the organisation in 2020.


Online media sites in countries such as Germany, Latvia, Argentina and France were also assessed.


This presents “positive affirmations” for South African media said Code for Africa Senior Programme Manager for Engagement and Research Amanda Strydom who was speaking at the launch of the Media Market Risk Ratings: South Africa report on February 9. GDI partnered with Code for Africa to assess disinformation ratings of 35 online media sites.


“Fifteen sites scored quite a low level of disinformation but that means that there is room for improvement and what’s great is that it’s very minimal steps that can be taken in order to improve site scores,” Strydom said.


Press Council of South Africa ombud Pippa Green agreed. She joined GDI Research Manager Talia Hagerty and Mail & Guardian CEO Hoosain Karjieker to discuss the disinformation rankings during an online meetup.

The report highlighted that “disinformation has been used as a tool to weaponise mass influence and disseminate propaganda” and found that the COVID-19 pandemic also created an infodemic that has weakened public health and safety responses.


Karjieker said it was clear the media could do more to fight disinformation.


“The truth is right now we’re just trying to survive and we simply don’t have the resources to do the bare essentials of good journalism,” he said.


Of the media sites assessed, fin.24.com, news24.com and public broadcaster sabcnews.com had a minimum disinformation risk rating while others scored less high.


The news sites had excellent scores in content and operational checks and balances reported the GDI.


Green said trust in the media is the most important currency in the media.


“Newspaper groups that have left the Press Council have made their credibility a lot lower than it should be,” Green said.


Of all South Africa media assessed, seven news sites were listed on the weaker end of the ranking, sitting in the high and maximum groups for issues including publishing biased content and presenting obscure information about ownership and funding.


Hagerty said that the report findings were not planned in order to “name and shame” media.


“We’re looking to set benchmarks for improvement and engage with the media community,” Hagerty said.


GDI works to “disrupt, defund and downrank” disinformation sites powered by a virtual team of 15 experts dotted around the world. The NGO offers policy advice and guidance to key global efforts and institutions to combat disinformation, including the Christchurch Call, Find the disinformation rankings report here.


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