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In the Balkans, fact-checking knows no borders

“Clara has a mind like a steel mousetrap and a heart like a twelve-minute egg”. The fictional head of the fact-checking department in Jay McInerney’s “Bright Lights, Big City” is hardly a paragon of collegiality. In real life, however, fact-checkers tend to be collaborative types, running joint initiatives and supporting new websites as they launch across the globe.

Croatian fact-checking website, which launched on October 27th, is a case in point. Faktograf rates political claims on a scale from “Fact” to “Not even the F of Fact”. This rating system echoes the one popularized by PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter and adopted with modifications by most external fact-checkers worldwide.

faktografThe rating system is not, however, the main sign of the ease with which fact-checking in its latest guise is crossing borders. Petar Vidov, who was a journalist at (Croatia’s most visited news portal) before becoming Editor of Faktograf, says he received crucial support from other fact-checking initiatives in the region.

Fact-checkers at Istinomjer and Istinomer, of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia respectively, provided advice and training. “Frankly, this project wouldn’t be happening without the help of our friends in Sarajevo and Belgrade,” says Vidov.

The Bosnian NGO Zasto Ne, which is behind Istinomjer, did the programming and designing for Faktograf’s website, with support from the National Endowment for Democracy* and the TechSoup Fundacija. Darko Brkan, President of Zasto Ne, told me that as they designed the site for Faktograf they relied on what they had learnt from their experience running Istinomjer. He adds jokingly that they are now a little jealous of their Croatian counterparts’ website, which “looks more 2015, while we are still looking like it is 2013.”

Faktograf was originally supposed to join its Serbian and Bosnian cousins on a regional TV fact-checking project. The project has yet to launch, though both Istinomer and Istinomjer already produce fact-checking videos (see here and here).

Not that this has left Vidov without things to do. Croatia held two political debates since the website’s launch, albeit with some key leaders missing. Vidov says Faktograf has received positive responses from readers, media and a politician trying to justify his claim, but no retractions yet. This even as campaigning has led to fact-light claims. In one fact-check that “essentially wrote itself”, Faktograf took issue with Ivan Šuker, a former finance minister who claimed that his party’s campaign promise of increased funds for veterans of the Croatian army would also somehow reduce spending.

Faktograf is a joint initiative of GONG, a civil society organization focusing on accountability and good governance, and the Croatian Journalists’ Association. It hopes to continue well after the elections by expanding its staff – Vidov is currently the only employee – and monitoring the accomplishment of the new government’s campaign promises.

Faktograf’s launch was greatly supported by the existence of similar initiatives in two of Croatia’s neighbouring countries. A third, Hungary, also had a (now seemingly inactive) fact-checking website that was part of a central European network. However, Croatia’s fourth and final neighbour, Slovenia, is still without an external fact-checker**. Anyone in Ljubljana ready to pick up the challenge?

* Disclosure: NED also funds the IFCN at Poynter, alongside the Omidyar Network
**I would be happy to be fact-checked and proven wrong on this.