RMIT ABC Fact Check

Organization: RMIT ABC Fact Check
Applicant: Russell Skelton
Assessor: Anne Kruger
Edits made by the organization after this assessment

IFCN Staff wrote:

Information about funding was added to the About Us section and the methodology of the unit was explained in greater detail in the same section.

From the assessor:

I highly recommend RMIT ABC Fact Check for inclusion into IFCN.  


Conclusion and recommendations
on 14-Aug-2018 (3 months ago)

Anne Kruger wrote:

The relaunch and transition of ABC Fact Check to RMIT ABC Fact Check builds and further improves on the solid foundations of the unit’s past. The inclusion of RMIT allows for greater access to rigorous academic research without fear or favour. The policy whereby all team members are banned from belonging to a political party should be acknowledged and acclaimed for the importance the unit places on remaining fair and independent. The workflows of the fact checking unit follow strong foundations of best practice in journalism, combined with a clear understanding and adaptation to modern workflow requirements in a new media, multiplatform ecosystem. The facts being checked are clearly identified and rated with transparent sources. The claims or issues being checked are written as a question to be explored and given a salient rating– thus protecting an audience member with little time from simply reading the claim and allowing that to enter their consciousness as truth. It is clear the Director, Russell Skelton leads and manages the unit with a strong mandate of providing verifiable, independent and accountable fact checks. The fact checks and longer form pieces provide a valuable contribution to public and civic journalism, allowing focus on political facts and policies of candidates rather than media coverage in the style of a ‘two horse race’. 

on 14-Aug-2018 (3 months ago)

Anne Kruger recommended Accept with edits


Section 1: Organization

Criterion 1a
Proof of registration
Evidence required: Please provide evidence that the signatory is a legally-registered organization set up exclusively for the purpose of fact-checking or the distinct fact-checking project of a recognized media house or research institution.

RMIT ABC Fact Check
08-Feb-2017 (1 year ago)
Anne Kruger Assessor
14-Aug-2018 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

ABC Fact Check has been re-launched as RMIT ABC Fact Check. According to an RMIT press release dated February 14th, the relaunch came into effect March 2017.

The original ABC Fact Check ran from 2013 until mid-2016 when funding for the unit from ceased. The original ABC Fact Check delivered a high volume of fact checks - Director Russell Skelton noted over 400 fact checks were delivered in this period. The new RMIT ABC Fact Check agreement has resulted in a move from the ABC premises, to the RMIT premises – in a new Media Precinct which was due to open in March. There of course is a break in fact checks from Mid 2016, until June 2017. For the purposes of this assessment, while the ‘old’ ABC Fact Check practices help to inform, it is the new RMIT ABC agreement, policies and practices however that are taken into account. With the change of location and new agreement, it is understandable the volume of fact checks has not yet reached that of the previous levels, although all indications show that this will soon be the case. From June, the website appears to have swung back into action, with new, individual stories posted on June 5, 7, 14, 27, 28, 29th. This indicates the new site exceeds the requirement of at least one fact check per week. So far in July there are currently new reports from July 11th, 19th, with an updated report July 10th. *I initially assessed this as ‘partial-complete’, as the average of at least one report a week over the previous three months in the criteria can only be counted from when the relaunch began to republish in earnest on the website in June. However, there has been a transition time including a move to newly built premises awaiting proper fitout, and there are relevant ‘evergreen’ reports (links in part 2) to long form research reports that also add to the current content. Being informed by the high output of fact checks from the unit in its former ABC premises; the momentum from output for June and July alone after awaiting relocation; with evergreen long form pieces; and clear future aims and direction under the same Director Russell Skelton, I was convinced to accept this as meeting the compliance.  


done_all 1a marked as Fully compliant by Anne Kruger.

Criterion 1b
Archive
Evidence required: Insert a link to the archive of fact checks published in the previous three months. If you do not collect all fact checks in one place, please explain how the fact-checking is conducted by your organization.

RMIT ABC Fact Check
08-Feb-2017 (1 year ago)
Anne Kruger Assessor
14-Aug-2018 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

As the track record and current relaunch presenting a high number of reports from June, I am satisfied this should not preclude RMIT ABC from membership to IFCN. If the IFCN prefers, I could simply reassess this criterion for minimum of once a week fact checks over the previous three months at the end of August 2017.

ABC Fact Check website/location of fact checks published in the previous three months:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/factcheck/ Also available on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ABCfactcheck/

Joint ABC-RMIT press release announcing partnership:

https://www.rmit.edu.au/news/all-news/2017/feb/rmit-and-abc-news-relaunch-fact-check

ABC listed in Australian government directory:

http://www.australia.gov.au/directories/australia/abc

In email interview Mr Russell Skelton noted: “Details are contained in a confidential partnership agreement between the ABC and RMIT.


done_all 1b marked as Fully compliant by Anne Kruger.

Section 2: Nonpartisanship and Fairness

Criterion 2a
Body of work sample
Evidence required: Please share links to ten fact checks that better represent the scope and consistency of your fact-checking. Provide a short explanation of how your organization strives to maintain coherent standards across fact checks.

RMIT ABC Fact Check
08-Feb-2017 (1 year ago) Updated: 3 months ago

They can be found on our website. In the past four years ABC Fact Check has published over five hundred facts checks, social media slates, TV segments and interactive on a vast range of subjects. 

Anne Kruger Assessor
14-Aug-2018 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

From the above fact checks, it can be seen all major political parties and voices are represented without bias. In each, the fact to be checked, is clearly identified, with the supporting information provided in numerous, easily accessible links. There is no ‘favourable’ treatment (such as ‘correct’ or more positive ratings) given to any one political party. For example, while the Opposition Labor party received a ‘correct’, the Labor Party also received an ‘Over the top’ rating. And while the ruling Liberal party received a more positive ‘More to the story’, they also received an ‘Incorrect’. Of course, equal balance cannot be a journalistic requirement, and the language used in the reports must also be analysed. In this regard, the language is fair, non-emotive or speculative, and is supported by facts with links to sources.


done_all 2a marked as Fully compliant by Anne Kruger.

Criterion 2b
Nonpartisanship policy
Evidence required: Please share evidence of your policy preventing staff from direct involvement in political parties and advocacy organizations. Please also indicate the policy your organization has as a whole regarding advocacy and supporting political candidates.

RMIT ABC Fact Check
08-Feb-2017 (1 year ago)

RMIT ABC Fact Check staff are banned from joining political parties or political action groups. For a full explanation and mission statement go to:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/factcheck/about/

Anne Kruger Assessor
14-Aug-2018 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

Regarding policy, Russell Skelton noted in the application, “RMIT ABC Fact Check staff are banned from joining political parties or political action groups.” I note, this ban is more stringent for RMIT ABC Fact Check staff when compared to the already high ABC editorial policies for general staff, which notes: “Simple membership of a political party may not lead to a significant perception of conflict, but the more active and public the party link, the higher the risk.”

Source: https://edpols.abc.net.au/

The ABC Editorial policies above provide a thorough guidance and stringent level of expectations for staff to maintain independence and freedom from influence in all reporting and work duties.

More is available from: http://about.abc.net.au/how-the-abc-is-run/what-guides-us/our-editorial-policies/


done_all 2b marked as Fully compliant by Anne Kruger.

Section 3: Transparency of Sources

Criterion 3a
Sources Policy
Please share a brief and public explanation (500 words max) of how sources are provided in enough detail that readers could replicate the fact check. If you have a public policy on how you find and use sources for your fact-checking, it should be shared here.

RMIT ABC Fact Check
08-Feb-2017 (1 year ago)

All sources are quoted and links provided to all documents or statements of fact relied upon. If sources cannot be quoted they are not relied on. ABC RMIT Fact Check is a fully accountable online platform that adheres to the strict editorial guidelines of the ABC and research integrity guidelines of the RMIT University.

Anne Kruger Assessor
14-Aug-2018 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

A list of sources is clearly provided at the end of each report, linking directly to a live link of the source. The sources are also written into the script as hotlinks. All the links I tested are still available. Russell Skelton noted in the application: “All sources are quoted and links provided to all documents or statements of fact relied upon. If sources cannot be quoted they are not relied on.”


done_all 3a marked as Fully compliant by Anne Kruger.

Section 4: Transparency of Funding & Organization

Criterion 4a
Funding Sources
Evidence required: Please link to the section where you publicly list your sources of funding (including, if they exist, any rules around which types of funding you do or don't accept), or a statement on ownership if you are the branch of an established media organization or research institution.

RMIT ABC Fact Check
08-Feb-2017 (1 year ago)

RMIT ABC Fact Check is a publicly funded and accountable to Parliament.

Anne Kruger Assessor
14-Aug-2018 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

ABC listed in Australian government directory:

http://www.australia.gov.au/directories/australia/abc

In email interview Mr Russell Skelton noted: “Details are contained in a confidential partnership agreement between the ABC and RMIT.

“I can send you a copy but these are not publicly available documents.”

At this point I have not asked to view the confidential agreement as I am convinced by the website content, joint ABC-RMIT press releases, and the ABC listed in the Australian government directories (see links above). The unit is a collaboration placed within already existing and fully accountable organisations: RMIT (the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) being an Australian public research university located in Melbourne; and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation – a Corporate Commonwealth entity operating under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act (2013).

RMIT provides new premises as well as research capability for the fact check team, at RMIT’s new Media precinct. This report explains more: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/feb/14/abcs-fact-check-unit-relaunched-in-partnership-with-rmit As noted above, the current funding agreement is a private document between ABC and RMIT and can be made available for this purpose, but is not a public document.


done_all 4a marked as Fully compliant by Anne Kruger.

Criterion 4b
Staff
Evidence required: Please link to the section detailing all authors and key actors behind your fact-checking project with their biographies. You can also list the name and bios of the members of the editorial board, pool of experts, advisory board, etc. if your organization has those.

RMIT ABC Fact Check
08-Feb-2017 (1 year ago)

Fact Check is a partnership project of the ABC and RMIT University. It is a nonpartisan, nonprofit collaboration that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion around the public policy issues and debates. Fact Check scrutinizes the factual accuracy of claims made by influential figures, including politicians, lobby groups and organisations made in TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. It does not fact check the media. Fact Check determinations are published on ABC and RMIT platforms including online, TV, radio and social media. The partnership aspires to apply the best practices of both journalism and academic scholarship to further public knowledge and understanding. Fact Check was first established in 2013 by the ABC. http://www.abc.net.au/news/factcheck/about/

Anne Kruger Assessor
14-Aug-2018 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

Biography of the Director Russell Skelton is available from:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/factcheck/about/ This also names the expert advisory panel and explains the organisations they represent (focus is on their organisations).


As noted above, Joint ABC-RMIT press release announcing partnership, and noted the staff arrangements, “RMIT will also appoint a Senior Editor and Fact Check Researchers, along with interns drawn from RMIT journalism students and alumni.” I have spoken to Chief Academic Investigator of RMIT ABC Fact Check, Gordon Farrer who noted the interns are chosen from a rigorous criterion and includes fact checking tests and exercises.

https://www.rmit.edu.au/news/all-news/2017/feb/rmit-and-abc-news-relaunch-fact-check

When I asked Russell Skelton why only his bio and that of the panels is made public, he noted in an email reply that this was due to previous harassment of fact-checking researchers by publications in Australia that were against the public broadcaster and the idea of ‘fact checking journalism’. The ABC Management decided that as fact check was a team effort, individual names and profiles (with the exception of the Director, Russell Skelton and the presenter John Barron) would not be made publicly available.

In the new configuration as RMIT ABC Fact Check, Russell Skelton has decided to reverse the ABC Management policy of non-publication. Russell Skelton noted there is a new editor from the newspapers who were directing the harassment, and the editor is less opposed to the public broadcaster and fact check journalism. Russell Skelton noted: “Although it is taking time to rebuild our online site, in the next month I hope to publish personal biographies of all permanent team members.” 


done_all 4b marked as Fully compliant by Anne Kruger.

Criterion 4c
Contact
Evidence required: Please link to the section where readers can get in touch with the organization.

RMIT ABC Fact Check
08-Feb-2017 (1 year ago)
Anne Kruger Assessor
14-Aug-2018 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

A link to the section where readers can contact the organization is clearly available from http://www.abc.net.au/news/factcheck/about/. Viewers can click on ‘contact’: http://www.abc.net.au/news/factcheck/contact/ which contains a submission form for suggestions of facts to be searched. It also allows for comments if viewers disagree with a verdict or have spotted a promised check that is out of date. Further, those with complaints who would like a response from the ABC are given a link to ‘Audience and Consumer Affairs’ at the ABC.

Section 13 of the ABC Editorial Policies notes:

The ABC is permitted to supplement its public funding and work collaboratively with others to extend the variety and reach of content offered to the community.”

Source: https://edpols.abc.net.au/policies/ 


done_all 4c marked as Fully compliant by Anne Kruger.

Section 5: Transparency of Methodology

Criterion 5a
Detailed Methodology
Evidence required: Please link to a section or article detailing the steps you follow for your fact-checking work.

RMIT ABC Fact Check
08-Feb-2017 (1 year ago) Updated: 3 months ago

ABC/RMIT Fact Check WORK FLOW 8.45 am, ABC news conference. Monitor for issues, upcoming engagements, when and where prominent newsmakers will be interviewed or appearing. 10am conference. Attended by ME, AE, design editor, researchers, the online editor, chief fact checker and interns. Purpose: 

1. Discuss and review checkable statements from all sources. Deciding what can be checked and what cannot. Identify fact files and SM info slates. Potential claims put into “slack” before conference.

2. Online editor updates team on SM response to published fact checks and outline what requests for fact checks have been received via twitter, emails or Facebook.

3. Review progress of commissioned fact checks. Individual researchers to update the team progress, advise on best ways to visualise FCs so the design editor can begin work in advance. 

4. Long term planning. Reviewing major events (Elections, debates in parliament, ANZAC Day, Melbourne Cup etc.,) 

5. Assign interns to where they are best needed on the day. 

6. ME in consultation decides priorities for the day. 

7. Where necessary book studio time. Trawling for claims All members of the team look out for claims. Researchers with particular expertise are responsible for spotting potential claims in their respective areas. Interns constantly monitor major current affairs programs and SM platforms for claims: Question time/AM/PM/Sky/ABC 24/News Breakfast, Fran Kelly and talkback radio, twitter, Facebook, web pages etc. Interns also briefed to look for non-political claims in science/health/the environment/cities/history etc. Online editor monitors breaking issues on SM and feeds into the mix email requests from the public. All calms funnelled into ‘Slack’. Proceeding with a claim once it is identified. 

1. Decide on a claim. Download audio/text/ and carefully examine. Must be checkable and clearly defined. Identify exactly what statement or part of it is being checked? 

2. Researcher contacts the person making the claim, identifies who they are and what they are examining and requests the information/data relied on to make it. 

3. Researcher then reads into the issue, identifies and consults experts and searches the data. 

4. Researcher prepares a brief that is circulated and discussed. ME reads the first draft to ensure balance and methodology are balanced. 

5. Online editor and design editor become involved and start exploring ways to best illustrate it. 

6. Fact check is then formally written up by the researcher in appropriate ABC style with the links and supporting material. 

7. Read again by ME for approval. 

8. Goes to the sub for word and style correction. 

9. Goes to the Chief Fact checker for intense scrutiny ultimate approval. 

10. A verdict discussion follows. If doubts are raised the FC will be referred to an expert panel for advice. Panel can advise on methodology, conclusions drawn and relevance of data. Their opinions are not published. 

11. Once approved, the online editor, design editor, the researcher and ME meet to decide how best to publish: Online, TV, radio, social media. (This can be decided in advance) 

12. ME alerts ABC EPs and program managers. 

13. If TV, a script is commissioned. 

14. Goes to the Online editor. 

15. Chief fact checker double checks material to ensure no mistakes have crept in during the editing process. 

16. ME reads again and press the button on publication. 

Anne Kruger Assessor
14-Aug-2018 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

The ‘About’ section of the Fact Check website, http://www.abc.net.au/news/factcheck/about/

states the focus is on fact checking:

RMIT ABC Fact Check determines the accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions engaged in the public debate.

Its methodology notes a system of ratings and accountability:

Audience comment and feedback is encouraged.

All verdicts fall into three colour-based categories: in the red, in the green or in between – red being a negative ruling, and green being a positive.

In the interests of transparency, all sources relevant to the verdicts are identified online.

Our aim is to be 100 per cent accurate. But if a mistake is made, the item in question will be corrected and if necessary the verdict revised.

Statements can be both right and wrong, depending on when they were said. Determinations are therefore based on evidence available at the time.

This clearly outlines the methodology; rating system and approach of the fact check project. The ‘About’ section makes clear, the purpose of fact checking political/public advocacy individuals and groups, and noted it does not fact check the work of journalists, including the ABC. RMIT ABC Fact Check makes clear that what it is fact checking:

Must be checkable and clearly defined. Identify exactly what statement or part of it is being checked. As a part of the work flow, the researcher contacts the person making the claim, identifies who they are and what they are examining and requests the information/data relied on to make it.


done_all 5a marked as Fully compliant by Anne Kruger.

Criterion 5b
Claim submissions
Evidence required: Please link to the page or process through which readers can submit claims to fact-check. If you do not allow this, please briefly explain why.

RMIT ABC Fact Check
08-Feb-2017 (1 year ago)

How to submit claims to RMIT ABC Fact Check. http://www.abc.net.au/news/factcheck/contact/

Anne Kruger Assessor
14-Aug-2018 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

Viewers can click on ‘contact’: http://www.abc.net.au/news/factcheck/contact/ which contains a submission form for suggestions of facts to be searched. It also allows for comments if viewers disagree with a verdict or have spotted a promised check that is out of date.  


done_all 5b marked as Fully compliant by Anne Kruger.

Section 6: Open & Honest Corrections Policy

Criterion 6a
Corrections policy
Evidence required: Please link to the page with your policy to address corrections. If it is not public, please share your organization's handbook.

RMIT ABC Fact Check
08-Feb-2017 (1 year ago)
Anne Kruger Assessor
14-Aug-2018 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

The main website also links to the ABC’s complaints section, which notes: “All emails,

including anonymous emails, are noted by ABC Audience & Consumer Affairs and conveyed to the relevant program area” http://www.abc.net.au/contact/complain.htm.


done_all 6a marked as Fully compliant by Anne Kruger.

Criterion 6b
Examples of corrections
Evidence required: Please provide two examples of a correction made, or correction requests handled, in the past year.

RMIT ABC Fact Check
08-Feb-2017 (1 year ago)

RBC Fact Check and RMIT ABC has never been required to make a correction or change a verdict. The ABC has an open and transparent claim plaints system where all complaints are dealt with by an independent panel. Complaints have been made on six occasions, not were upheld by the independent tribunal. If a mistaken were made the policy is a publish an immediate correction.

Anne Kruger Assessor
14-Aug-2018 (3 months ago) Updated: 3 months ago

As noted in the application by Russell Skelton, while the correction system is in place, “ABCnFact Check and RMIT ABC has never been required to make a correction or change a verdict. The ABC has an open and transparent complaints system where all complaints are dealt with by an independent panel. Referring to the previous ABC Fact Check (from 2013-2016), Russell Skelton noted, “Complaints have been made on six occasions, but not were upheld by the independent tribunal. If a mistake were made the policy is to publish an immediate correction.”


done 6b marked as Partially compliant by Anne Kruger.