National / Politics

Tokyo-based fact-checking NPO keeping busy ahead of Upper House election

JIJI

A Tokyo-based nonprofit organization is focusing on the analysis of information related to the July 21 Upper House election in order to prevent voters from being swayed by false claims circulating online.

In collaboration with media organizations, FactCheck Initiative Japan verifies remarks made by party leaders in news articles and on social media. Results of the investigations are disclosed on its website.

Collaborating media organizations refer to the guidelines set by the organization, including the exclusion of personal opinions from the fact-checking process.

FactCheck Initiative, set up in June 2017, worked with the Ryukyu Shimpo, a newspaper based in the Okinawa prefectural capital of Naha, during the gubernatorial election campaign in September.

They fact-checked a widely distributed story that pop icon Namie Amuro, an Okinawa native who retired from the music industry that month, supported a certain candidate. The NPO released an article concluding that the story was not true.

“We drew attention because a newspaper company participated in our fact-checking for the first time,” said Hitofumi Yanai, executive director of FactCheck Initiative. “Interest in us has thus increased.”

Critics say that a key issue is how to secure political neutrality.

“In some cases, fact-checking focuses on particular candidates, giving an impression that it lacks balance,” a party official said.

But “information requiring verification doesn’t emerge evenly from candidates,” according to FactCheck Initiative.

“We check each candidate based on the same criteria,” Yanai said. “Fairness is kept this way, even when survey results may seem unbalanced.”

Kazuhisa Ogawa, project professor at Shizuoka University, said, “Fact-checking that coincides with an election is meaningful.”

“It’s important to stick to facts and data, carefully going through open-source materials” in order to secure political neutrality, he added.

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