Documenting Human Rights Violations in Challenging Environments

To determine the credibility of the information you find in a traditional news source you need to look at three aspects:

  1. Whether you can trust the message being given;
  2. Whether you can trust the individual that is delivering the message; and,
  3. Whether you can trust the overall credibility of the media outlet that published the story.

Let’s use an example

Imagine that an expert writes an article on the detention of a Baha’i citizen in Tehran. The expert talks generally about the arrest and the charges brought against the detainee, but does not go into detail discussing the legality of or reasons behind the arrest. The expert briefly describes the impact that the arrests had on others in the Baha’i community. You want to assess if you can use all or some of this information for your own documentation on the same topic.

1. Can you trust the news?

  • You know from your background research that Baha’i are being arrested and the expert confirms this fact.
  • You can trust this specific fact because you have confirmed it with other sources.
  • You decide you can trust the content of the news, but cannot trust the reasons the expert is giving for the arrests, since you have talked to people that say it is motivated by their religious affiliation.

2. Can you trust expert?

  • The expert is a renowned analyst in Tehran. You have read her/his writings that show she/he has an independent view on various political issues.
  • You know from the writings that the expert is cautious and will avoid any direct mention of things that will go against the government’s stance.
  • You trust the expert and decide that you can trust some of the things the expert is saying in the interview, but know that there might be other things the expert is not saying for her/his own security.

3. Can you trust the publication?

  • You know that this publication is a conservative news site.
  • You know it is not state owned, but is associated with members of the Sepah (Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution).
  • You decide that you cannot entirely trust this source to publish unbiased information about the arrests, but take the information you trust as unverified and look into ways to corroborate it with other more reliable sources.