New success for the winner of the Commonwealth Digital Challenge

Posted by Deborah Kelly


A campaigner for conflict prevention in northern Kenya has won a scholarship to study the topic at the University of London – partly thanks to his experience in taking part in the Thomson Foundation’s first Commonwealth Digital Challenge.

John Green Otunga was joint winner for his proposal to counteract fake news by incorporating an SMS rumour management system, Una Hakika, into a community radio station. The Digital Challenge was sponsored by the Elizabeth R Media Fund.

His prize was a study tour to London in 2018 to meet leading media organisations, including BBC Radio digital and social media managers.

The rumour verification system is now used by the community radio station, Amani FM, to ensure that information which goes on air is accurate and verified.

“The Thomson Foundation has an amazing team. I have a glowing regard for the success of my trip (to London) and the support they gave me, including publicity for the project,” says John.


Rumours and fake news

Una Hakika - Swahili for “are you sure?” - is in operation in Tana River County an area in northern Kenya close to the Somali border. One hundred people died in tribal clashes in the area in 2012 and research suggests that rumours and fake news contributed to the violence.

It is a toll-free SMS system to which people can send rumours to check if they are true. They are then verified using open source software and a network of trained “community ambassadors”.

Since he won the award, BBC Africa has made a short film about John’s work. The UK’s Channel 4 is interested in covering the project for its Unreported World programme. 

The integration with the editorial staff at the peace building community radio station Amani FM has extended the reach of the “rumour busting” system.

John is developing an approach beyond rumour checking prompted by guidance he received from BBC staff when he was in London. With a new grant from the  Global Center on Cooperative Security (UK) he is training local journalists from community radio stations to produce programmes and radio dramas highlighting issues around countering violent extremism.

We’re really proud of John’s determination to tackle fake news.

Nigel Baker, Chief Executive, Thomson Foundation.
Commonwealth Scholarship

As part of the Commonwealth Digital Challenge, John completed three online modules in digital skills and newsroom management from the Thomson Foundation’s online Journalism Now programme.  The online learning skills he developed helped him to secure a Commonwealth Scholarship to secure a place as a distance learning student on the MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration at the School of Advanced Studies, University of London.  

Nigel Baker, the Thomson Foundation’s chief executive, says: “We’re really proud of John’s determination to tackle fake news and stop its negative impact on the people of northern Kenya. His project is a great demonstration of how technology can be used to positive effect.”

The 2018 joint winner was Jessica Haynes digital editor with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ABC, who is working on a project to integrate chatbot technology and Facebook to increase engagement with indigenous audiences and develop a dedicated online news service. 



About the Elizabeth R Media Fund

The Elizabeth R Fund was established from the royalties earned from “Elizabeth R” - the 1992 BBC documentary which marked the 40th anniversary of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and administered from Buckingham Palace. 

Its original purpose was to help Commonwealth broadcasters who received a donation from the Fund. 

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Deborah Kelly

Deborah Kelly

Director of Training and Communications

About: Deborah plays a key part in developing and promoting our training programmes and is our specialist  on gender in media. Her recent training projects have centred on digital and mobile journalism.

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