“The truth is the weapon of the press” is a belief that drives the work of Moroccan journalist Bouchra Chakir. Eager to learn more about how to combat terrorist propaganda, she followed an RNTC training on combating misinformation via media campaigns. Now she’s putting what she learned into practice with a campaign tackling fake news around the COVID-19 pandemic. Because, she says, “Isn’t publishing lies that can harm people’s lives also a form of terrorism?
Morocco-based Chakir works and writes for a range of media organisations, including the Presma Agency, the online feminist magazine, Farah, and the French-Arabic Arab Travel Invest Magazine. She also writes a regular column called, The Voice of a Woman Citizen for the Almassar Assahafi newspaper, has translated and published a number of books and is an active member of several civil society associations. In addition to these activities, Chakir is General Secretary of the International Alliance of Moroccan Medias and Parallel Diplomacy.
An invisible enemy
As COVID-19 began to spread in Morocco, Chakir became concerned about the amount of fake news that was also spreading:
“There was a well-known YouTuber who denied the existence of the virus in a video, which was shared by her followers. There were citizens who disregarded containment and security measures, and some were infected because of fake news, which in other circumstances might seem unimportant. We are at war against an invisible enemy for which we have not yet found a remedy and also against false information which is also a pandemic and which is circulating too quickly and wreaking havoc.”
Chakir decided, to go to war as a journalist against false information:
“In times of pandemic the truth is what will guide us. The truth is the weapon of the press. That’s why it is important as journalists to raise awareness to the growing trend of fake news.”
‘A modest effort’
Enlisting the support of fellow journalists around the world she created a video calling upon media and institutions to stop spreading false information and rumors about COVID-19. Multiple media outlets, such as newspaper Le Matin, broadcast channel ALHORA, radio station Mediterranean Medi1, and many others picked up her campaign giving it international exposure.
Chakir describes her campaign as a ‘modest effort’, supported by professional journalists from around the world. Historically, she says, the spreaders of fake news will react aggressively to those who speak the truth, but this campaign has been generally well-received and will continue with the support of the Notre Futur association.
Fighting terrorist propaganda
The creation of the campaign was informed by the training Chakir followed at RNTC in 2019. Before that, she had already been working to combat terrorist propaganda in Istanbul at the beginning of the Syrian crisis and also in Iraq. She had written articles, made television appearances and organised the first international congress in Morocco on the subject. The subject, she says:
“…was very important to me. At heart, being a journalist, it hurt me to see the quantity of lies and rumours and false information circulating, even in times of crisis. I met families, victims of terrorism and propaganda for terrorism, and I risked my life too. Therefore, this is not a subject that I’m ready to drop easily.”
A rich experience
As well as her interest in the theme of the training, ‘Media Campaigns to Counter Radicalisation’ (now called ‘Producing Media to Counter Disinformation’ to reflect a focus that also includes false narratives and fake news), Chakir says she was attracted by RNTC’s reputation as an internationally respected training centre. She followed the course with the support of a scholarship from the MENA Scholarship Programme. She was impressed with the quality and professionalism of the trainers and also in the journalistic expertise of the other participants, with some of whom she remains in contact,
“This training was rich, especially since it was done by great teachers, I learned so much, in addition to the necessary techniques (shooting, editing, etc.). I had already written scripts, but during the training I learned other ways to do it, simpler and faster, and also how we can create from a small idea or incident, a moving story that strengthens our campaign, not to mention the chance to work with real actors on our projects. I can’t mention everything, there are so many things that I learned and that helped me.”
Working alone at home
Another element of the training has been especially useful since the spread of the Coronavirus and the subsequent lockdowns. Chakir is confined to her home in Casablanca as travel between cities is currently banned in Morocco, but has been able to continue working using techniques she learned at RNTC.
“I can film my interventions at home with my phone without using a camera and also do the montage at home. When I make a report for a TV channel based in Rabat it looks like it’s been filmed by other people from several angles, but really, I made it alone at home.”