Last year, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation had come under criticism for shutting down its Fact Check unit after the government halted funding. Before the shutdown, ABC Fact Check was one of the most notable TV fact-checking efforts worldwide.
On Tuesday, ABC News announced the operation would relaunch, thanks to a new partnership with RMIT University. This relaunch could reinvigorate other efforts to bring fact checks on air.
The news is notable, too, because of the nature of the partnership between the two organizations. Traditionally, networks either prepare the fact checks in-house or hire dedicated fact-checking initiatives to do the work.
In this case, RMIT will be paying for and producing the fact checks, which will be disseminated across ABC News platforms. The latter reports it will maintain final editorial control.
With public broadcasters around the world trimming their budgets, the agreement allows “valuable activity to continue without being compromised,” says Russell Skelton, the former (and prospective) director of the fact-checking project.
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Skelton thinks the new arrangement ultimately leaves the fact-checking operation “better off than before.”
The new source of funding was decisive for the project to restart. But the resurgent interest in fact-checking over the past year also played a role, said Skelton.
“I think the changing environment helped. There was a lot of regret at the ABC and a lot of people were saddened to see us go.”
Skelton will be moving from the ABC to RMIT, as will other former ABC News staffers. The reborn operation will employ four full-time researchers, a chief fact-checker, an online editor and a digital animator. It will also rely on student interns from RMIT.
While the precise terms of the agreement have not been disclosed, a RMIT spokesperson told Poynter the two organizations signed a three-year agreement.
Based out of Melbourne, the RMIT ABC Fact Check will start publishing online in March. Former presenter John Barron “would ideally be the public face again,” when fact checks return on television, according to Skelton.
The project will also restart its popular promise tracker.
ABC Fact Check primarily concentrated on fact-checking claims by political figures. With fact-checkers worldwide now also often targeting viral hoaxes, RMIT ABC Fact Check will not be an exception. The Australian fake news context “is not as bad as in the United States, so the imperative is not as strong,” says Skelton.