Africa Check editor says government data is sometimes hidden or inaccurate

Julian Rademeyer, the first Visiting Fact-Checker at Duke, says government officials use a variety of tactics to evade journalists.

By Shaker Samman – April 1, 2015 | Print this article

Government officials in many African countries use a variety of tricks to make it difficult for journalists to get the data and documents they need, Julian Rademeyer, editor of Africa Check, told Duke students on Monday. Some officials often don’t answer calls from reporters or use stalling tactics. Occasionally, they even hide their records.

“Rape dockets have been shoved away into a store room to hide them from people doing docket analysis,” Rademeyer said at a lunchtime workshop for students. “Some government departments pretend we don’t exist and don’t get back to us.”

Rademeyer, who heads the first fact-checking website in sub-saharan Africa, is the first journalist to take part in the Reporters’ Lab’s Visiting Fact-Checker program, which brings journalists to Duke to give speeches and meet with editors and reporters in the United States.

Rademeyer said there is high quality public data in South Africa, but not nearly as much as in the United States. That can make it difficult to know sort out what’s true and what’s not.

“Sometimes they don’t give you accurate information,” Rademeyer said. “The best you can do in that situation is flag the data as unreliable.”

Africa Check reporters have found that the availability of data varies from country to country. For example, finding reliable employment data in Zimbabwe is even more difficult than in South Africa.

In South Africa, police are required to lower crime rates each year, creating pressure to fix the numbers. This leads to disturbing attempts at shelving important data.

Real-time data on crime in South Africa is not available because crime statistics are only released annually by police, Rademeyer said. This means that citizens don’t have access to meaningful crime data to enable them to assess risks in their neighborhoods. There have also been efforts by police and politicians to spin crime statistics to create the impression that crime levels have fallen when in fact many categories of serious and violent crime have increased dramatically in the past two years, he said.

Rademeyer will participate in “Ebola: Fact-checking myths that kill” today from 6 p.m.-7 p.m. in Sanford 03. This talk will focus on debunking false claims about the disease, and how they spread.