Not Everything Is as the Media Portrays It Is

As unfortunate as it is, we have all grown too accustomed to reading something or hearing something on the news and automatically believing it to be true, without any further research or fact-checking. Due to this, a majority of people have created a stereotypical assumption in their minds about certain groups of people, whether it be based on religion, ethnicity, skin color, etc. all due to the way the media portrays them. One group in particular, migrants and refugees, have been at the forefront of media shaming not only here in the Western Balkans, but across the whole world due to the negativity portrayed in the media but, what about the positivity that comes with these human beings? Have we all forgotten that these are human beings too, forced to leave their home nations due to war, poverty, lack of opportunities, etc.? Who are we to look at migrants and refugees in a different light, when they are simply trying to survive? This article will not include negative stories like the media portrays about migrants and refugees, rather positive stories that many do not know about as the media chooses not the present them due to their own interests, due to political interests, and due to the fact that shaming has become too popular in this day and age just to implement a negative connotation to a specific group of people.

As of March 2021, there are an estimated 10,000 migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), with the majority staying in government-run camps, coming from various countries in search of a better life further in Europe (INFOMIGRANTS). We want to shed light on the positive stories of the migrants here in BiH and although these stories may not all be success stories, they will at least be able to provide some hope and positive reinforcement to those who have been swayed by local and national media to think otherwise.

The first story we would like to share with you all is the story of Mamadu, a young boy from Guinea who was taken in by the Karabegović family in Maglaj. This story touched our hearts and we came to learn about it through a Facebook group titled “Pomoc izbjeglicama u BiH/Help for refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina”. We strongly recommend everyone interested to join this Facebook group (linked above) as it provides daily information on migrants looking for help, information, or just a kind soul to talk with. On the right is the Facebook post with the caption translated. 

 

“Od danas je Mamadu član moje porodice dok mu se ne otvore putevi ka konačnom cilju.” “As of today, Mamadu is a member of my family until the paths to his final goal are opened.” Posted by: Miralem Karabegović (July 15th, 2021)

This story above gives us hope not only for our fellow citizens in BiH, but rather worldwide as migrants and refugees are being deliberately stuck in our nation with no one to turn to and everyone willing and able should follow Miralem's generosity and humanity. It must be remembered that migration is not a crime and it shocks us when we see or read the negativity towards migrants as no one stops to think about how life would be in their shoes at this very moment.

The following story is of Mohammad Diouf, a 26-year-old immigrant from Senegal who jumped into the Nervion River in Bilbao, Spain to save a 72-year-old man who was drowning. Without thinking twice, Mohammad jumped into the river and saved the elderly man who was suffering from medical complications and ultimately saved his life. Without Mohammad’s quick thinking and life-saving actions, who knows if someone else would have jumped in or if it would have been just a few seconds too late? The picture below shows the ordeal as it was caught on videotape by bystanders.

You see, these are the situations that tend to confuse us as if we turn the story around and say that an African-American immigrant was drowning in the water, would a Spanish citizen jump in and risk their life to save them? Would this be the case in BiH, Montenegro, Serbia, as well as in other countries?

There are endless stories about how migrants and refugees have saved the lives of those in the countries they are currently stuck in and what we wish for here at SLAM, is that people remember these stories and live their lives accordingly, taking all of the positivity into consideration before automatically assuming the worst, as in most cases, this is not the truth.

At the end it becomes tremendously important to ask as well: Why do migrants need to remind us with their brave acts that they are not a threat, but just as human as we are? Why do we mostly need to see others’ kindness towards such groups in order to trigger ours?

Understanding our so common social failure to recognize the obvious humanity that lies behind the vulnerability migrants showcase each day – it becomes crucial to realize the process of reminding about their humanity through non-example related articles as well. In order not to subtly teach society that Mohammad Diouf must jump into the river if he wants to gain his human title back, the media has to do more. Previously mentioned articles are so important – but cannot do the fight alone.

Guardian emphasizes even in 2015 that growing dehumanization has to be stopped, while actual life stories like: “Hope for a Fresh Start” and “Family First for a Father of Seven” about Somalian migrants, or “Migration, Kidnap, Relief: Aminas Story” about a mother that fled Yemen – published by the International Organisation for Migration with accompanying pictures seek to awaken that much needed social empathy. Any yes, these stories do not fit our idea of positive – but the impact they make – surely will.  

References:

 

  • Family first for a father of seven. International Organization for Migration. (2019, June 17). https://www.iom.int/migrant-stories/family-first-father-seven.
  • Guardian News and Media. (2015, August 28).Refugees are human. this simple fact seems to have been forgotten | owen jones. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/28/migrants-humans-drowning-suffocating-safety-statistics. 
  • (2021, June 27).Senegalese immigrant saves stranger from drowning in Spanish river. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouwZsOAJYR0. 
  • Hope for a fresh start. International Organization for Migration. (2019, August 21). https://www.iom.int/migrant-stories/hope-fresh-start.
  • Migration, kidnap, RELIEF: Amina's Story. International Organization for Migration. (2015, December 22). https://www.iom.int/migrant-stories/migration-kidnap-relief-aminas-story.
  • Miralem Karabegović Post. Facebook. (n.d.). https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=5771888596186073&set=a.755093131199003.

Authors: Ezana Ćeman & Amina Hasović

Illustration: Ezana Ćeman

TC: “Structured Learning for Awareness in Media” (SLAM)

Erasmus+ lovers of the world – it is time for yet another training course being held from July 26th to August 2nd, 2021 in the beautiful fishing village of Stintino in Sardinia, Italy! With the hosting non-profit organization Mine Vaganti NGO, we bring to you 28 participants from all over Europe, from the following organizations:

 

  • BRAVO – Bosnia and Herzegovina 🇧🇦
  • MLADIINFO MONTENEGRO – Montenegro 🇲🇪
  • MINE VAGANTI NGO – Italy 🇮🇹
  • EPEKA Sinop – Turkey 🇹🇷
  • Youth For Social Changes – Albania 🇦🇱
  • Bulgarian Sport Development Association – Bulgaria 🇧🇬
  • KOM018 – Serbia 🇷🇸.

 

“Structured Learning for Awareness in Media” (SLAM) aims at enhancing young people’s awareness and critical thinking on the role of Mass Media as a challenge and precondition for more inclusive societies towards migrants and refugees.

The Council of Europe’s (CoE) Report “Media Regulatory Authorities and Hate Speech” (2018) underlines the historical significance of media in enticing and feeding the climate of hatred and violence characterizing West Balkan’s turbulent past. The Balkans are still a primary example of the media consciously or even deliberately using hate speech for sensationalistic purposes, thereby supporting it and causing its recurrence and reinforcement at the societal level.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has recently taken foremost importance as a transit node for migrants and refugees seeking entrance in EU territory, a trend which the UNHCR (2018) recognized as exponentially increasing in 2018, from the 198 arrivals in December 2017 to the 666 registered in the peak month of March 2018. The strain posed on the local relief system by this surge has contributed to a growing sense of local unrest and discontent, which national mass media have so far been able to answer by providing the public with awareness and understanding circa the phenomenon, in many instances providing an amplifier to internal currents of distrust, hate and stereotyping.

From the European perspective, significant indications may be extracted from analyzing media coverage about the reception and integration of migrants/refugees. The CoE in its 2017 Report “Media coverage of the refugee crisis: a cross-European perspective” underlines the role played by media in fueling societal hate speech as consisting in an abetting/legitimacy factor to explicit hate speech brought about by shallow and sensationalistic coverage.

Against this backdrop, there emerges the opportunity of exploring the similarities, differences and potential synthesis among the different yet interrelated challenges faced by West Balkans countries and Europe within a transnational effort aimed at laying the grounds of a greater media literacy and critical thinking at the level of the youth and, by extension, of society as a means to provide an antidote against phenomena of hate speech and a building block of successful integration processes.

We are excited to share with you all the amazing outputs all of our teams have put together in regards to this project and we can’t wait to share with you all the results of this TC! We leave you with this inspirational quote to always remember that there is an infinite amount of knowledge to learn but it all comes down to what steps you take to acquire it –

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”

-Albert Einstein

It's time for SLAM SURVEY!

Following survey is created as a part of the international “Structured Awareness in Media” project or more often referred to as: “SLAM”. In Bosnia and Herzegovina project implementation is handled by the Bosnian Representative Association for Valuable Opportunities (BRAVO) in cooperation with its 6 international partners and throughout the support of Erasmus +.

Basic aim is to tackle the topics of digital media usage, focusing on its constantly growing influence; freedom of speech and journalism with truly understanding the underlying meaning behind such terms and finally – what role active and aware youth carries in recognizing importance of inclusivity.

Emphasis is especially on the currently heavily discussed groups of refugees and migrants and their undeniable presence within people's lives. Our everyday behaviors and perceptions inevitably shape the society we live in and understanding them is the only way to gain power for righteously managing change.

By participating in this survey You are recognizing your part in the ongoing societal evolution, and simultaneously providing us a strong platform to spread much needed awareness.

When offering anonymity we seek honesty in order to leverage its power, both initially with problem recognition and further on when devising strategy for the better. Society and its ever changing nature is not something abstract and beyond our control, but quite the opposite – it is more a culmination of numerous individual reactions eventually becoming group drivers.

So how do You choose to react now, knowing the power that lies behind one's voice? And even more knowing that those we think the least about, are so often affected the most.

Consortium:

  • Bosnian Representative Association for Valuable Opportunities (BRAVO) from Bosnia and Herzegovina,
  • Mine Vaganti NGO from Italy,
  • Bulgarian Sport Development Association from Bulgaria,
  • Youth for Social Changes (Y.S.C.) from Albania,
  • Club for Youth Empowerment 018 (KOM18) from Serbia,
  • Mladiinfo Montenegro (m!M) from Montenegro,
  • Egitim Programlari ve Evrensel ve Kulturel Aktiviteler Dernegi (EPEKA) from Turkey

Storytelling and fact-checking

STORYTELLING

Once upon a time, one wanted to bring others together, educate, entertain and call them on the action in a unique way. And one told a story. Their audience was touched and inspired by never before heard narrative full of interesting characters, memorable events, and catchy sayings. It was almost a magic and, concurrently, a trendy must-have power. Story by story, the real art of storytelling was created and happily used and admired until the end.

Back to the present, there are plenty of good stories told and written every day for a long list of purposes. Beginning from the business sector, motivating workers and students, to actions of non-governmental and political establishments, well-told stories always do their job. They change us from within, redirect our perspective, and make us move. Stories make everything look possible, and people, loving to believe that, love stories as well.

While storytelling can be used in all spheres of life, it has its importance in cultural preservation. Have you ever heard of the Western African model of storytelling? We bet that it is pure fun to sit around the fire after dinner and listen to a storyteller. Additionally, credits to Irish storytellers as well. They do an exhausting job traveling from village to village to gather people, educate and entertain them.

For sure, they must have noticed what psychologist Jerome Bruner´s research suggests, that a story is more memorable than a fact.  To be precise, 22 times.

Therefore, either through culture, religion, or work, all of us get in touch with this kind of art and become aware of its power. Undoubtedly, we all receive an incentive to develop ourselves into good storytellers.

Finally, we leave you with the famous storytelling of Steve Jobs in 2015, having in mind his words:

“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values, and agenda of an entire generation that is to come….”

Fun fact: He was not always a good one. We all need some practice.

FACT-CHECKING

In the 21-century media environment, there are various challenges media consumers need to be aware of and overcome. Because, in essence, media should aim to inform people about essential everyday news and not to manipulate people's emotions, which can be the case nowadays. However, that is not simple to advocate for since media are getting its attention by headings causing an emotional reaction. Establishing connections between news and people's everyday lives, mainly personally, makes them very influential and omnipresent. In that manner, by personalized advertising with sponsored information, individuals are often first and the last barrier for widespread misinformation or news, which are essential to be informed about. But, since a challenge emerges, a potential solution goes alongside. In terms of this specifical issue, fact-checking occupation gains its momentum.

However, the phenomenon of fact-checking is not a 21-century invention. Its roots date back to the past. For example, in the USA, the first fact-checking initiatives began to appear in the period between 190 and 1900 when organizations for correction of misleading and inaccurate news were first time opened (Fabry, 2014)

As time passes and significantly more news started to be presented to the public daily, fact-checkers gained their importance globally. Social media platforms, such as Facebook in the first place, revolutionized communication but also caused people to freely write the first thing on their mind without being accountable for possible consequences they can drive. The International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), based at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, accelerated global response by connecting fact-checkers globally by establishing fact-checkers in Africa, Europe, North America, and other geographical areas.

However, not everyone is familiar with how fact-checking works. Often, because of a lack of information, fact-checking reports go under the radar. But, as ordinary users of social media, having them “on our side” is an alternative for every responsible online user to be appropriately informed and objective. Wright State University (2021) point out steps that can be undertaken to evaluate the newest information, stating four main steps in the following order:

  • Use fact-checking sites
  • Evaluate the information using CRAAP test (Currency, Relevance, Accuracy, Authority, and Purpose)
  • Check biases
  • Step Away

And almost every time, we will find that using fact-checking sites is the first step in evaluating suspicious information presented to us daily.

References:

Fabry, M. (2017) Here’s How the First Fact-Checkers Were Able to Do Their Jobs Before the Internet, Time, 24 August 2017, available at: https://time.com/4858683/fact-checking-history/ , Accessed 31 May 2021

Stanford News (2014) ‘You've got to find what you love’, Steve Jobs, 14 June 2005, available at: https://news.stanford.edu/2005/06/14/jobs-061505/ , Accessed 31 May 2021

Wright State University (2021) Media Literacy and Fact-Checking, available at: https://guides.libraries.wright.edu/c.php?g=1019856&p=7415415 Accessed 31 May 2021

Authors: Ajna Veladžić & Omer Muminović 

Illustration: Ezana Ćeman

Combating fake news in Bulgaria

A new edition of the Media Literacy Index by the European Policies Initiative (EuPI) of the Open Society Institute has been introduced not so long ago. As you could see in one of our previous articles, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and North Macedonia are the least-resilient countries to “fake news” as the report by the Open Society Institute reveals.

This article will speak about Bulgaria, its ranking and way of combating “fake news”. Bulgaria is ranked 30th out of 35 European nations in the media literacy index for 2021, with Greece (27), Romania (28), Serbia (29), Turkey (31), and Montenegro (32). The Open Society Institute's European Policies Initiative (EuPI) in Sofia developed this research.

As for indicators of media literacy this research used the following:

  1. Press freedom,
  2. Education (PISA scores),
  3. Trust in others, and
  4. E-participation Index.

Bulgaria's negative score, according to observers, is the result of a low level of reading literacy evidenced by PISA evaluations, a bad appraisal of media freedom in international reports by Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, and a low degree of public trust.

Several legislative measures to limit misinformation and “fake news” were attempted in Bulgaria during the first half of 2020. These attempts have so far been unsuccessful, and they are widely thought to violate Bulgarian law and the Constitution.

The fundamental issue with the present efforts, however, is the failure to define “disinformation” in a way that is not overly wide and ambiguous, and that is consistent with the Bulgarian Constitution, international human rights norms, and EU institutions publications on the subject.

For the time being, none of the three measures that have been introduced have provided a functional legal framework that is compatible with existing laws. Most importantly, neither proposal was in accordance with the Bulgarian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, press freedom, and access to information.

Furthermore, it puts problematic expectations and duties on anybody who posts online or maintains an online platform, by automatically declaring such individual’s data controllers, and, last but not least, by granting the CPDP broad powers to exert excessive control over online material.

Up to which degree “fake news” can be a useful and powerful tool we can see in the following example, for political parties to gain greater power and influence, they simply journalists, or even a whole television network, to manipulating and divide society.

“Who is against you in the network?” is a documentary film by journalist Nadia Obretenova and Nikolay Todorov. The video focuses on children's unethical use of the Internet and social media, as well as the hazards they confront online and how they try to deal with them. The Together Against Misinformation effort brings together non-governmental groups, the media, journalistic organizations, and higher education institutions to develop norms and regulations to combat disinformation and false news, as well as to educate the public about the dangers they pose. The campaign's target audience is students who have already attended a series of lectures organized by the university.

References:

Krusteva, D., & Makshutova, R. (2020, August). Bulgaria: Legislative attempts to restrict disinformation in 2020. Retrieved May 28, 2021, from https://www.dataguidance.com/opinion/bulgaria-legislative-attempts-restrict

Pavlova, M., Botev, H., Kolev, Y., & Daynova, M. (2021, March 24). Media Literacy Index 2021: Bulgarian society among worst equipped to withstand the impact of fake news. Retrieved May 28, 2021, from https://bnr.bg/en/post/101441762/media-literacy-index-2021-bulgarian-society-among-worst-equipped-to-withstand-the-impact-of-fake-news

Кристи, Т. (2020, April 9). Фалшивата борба с фалшивите новини. Retrieved May 28, 2021, from https://bivol.bg/fake-fight-vs-fake-news.html?fbclid=IwAR14TOqm826yyFoMOaHo_KvJqGfe5NTgxJj1v6xT5FgIBqMsdhvfjE6G9uY

Open Your Eyes Website https://openyoureyes.info/en/database/detail/107

Author: Suad Murselović 

Illustration: Ezana Ćeman

Insight into the Montenegrin “organized fake news and disinformation campaign”

Through the previous articles of the Structured Learning for Awareness in Media (SLAM) project, you could get acquainted with the definitions and characteristics of fake news, and its presence in Turkey, Albania, Italy, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, and Serbia. Now it is the turn to have an insight into the „organized fake news and disinformation campaign“ in Montenegro, one of the countries participating in the aforementioned SLAM project.

FREEDOM OF RELIGION LAW AND FAKE NEWS

Tensions surrounding the new Montenegrin law on Religious Freedom are quite high since the law was passed within the Montenegrin parliament at the end of December 2019, directly affecting the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The distribution of the law also led to tensions between Montenegro and Serbia.

The day the law was being voted on, an event occurred within Montenegro’s Parliament and 24 people including 18 MP’s from the Democratic Front were detained. Since then, daily protests by citizens occurred in Montenegro, largely by those that declare themselves Serbs, expressing dissatisfaction with the law.

Despite disagreements, the law came into force on January 8. Consistent with the disputed Article 62, religious communities in Montenegro got to prove property ownership before 1918, otherwise the property will belong to the state of Montenegro. All these things mean that the Serbian Orthodox Church must prove ownership of the property including medieval monasteries and churches, as well as everything built before December 1, 1918, when Montenegro became a neighborhood of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.

Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro acknowledged that the law is “discriminatory and unconstitutional,” and accused the Montenegrin authorities of “inciting divisions and hatred”, while Bishop Amfilohije even said a war could ensue. The Montenegrin Government stated that the Serbian Orthodox Church would still be ready to use its property but that it should be known what state property is, and also warned that the Serbian Orthodox Church is undermining the statehood of the state of Montenegro.

In January 2020, Montenegrin Culture Ministry stated that Montenegro faces an unprecedented disinformation campaign, which culminated in weeks following the adoption of the Freedom of Religion law. It had been a coordinated campaign to spread fake news by a variety of media outlets within the country and the region which are calling for religious and national [ethnic] hatred and violence in Montenegro.

TWO JOURNALISTS AND ONE EDITOR – IN – CHIEF ARRESTED AFTER PUBLISHING FAKE NEWS

On 12 January 2020, the Montenegrin police arrested two journalists of pro-Serb news websites, Gojko Raičević and Dražen Živković. The two editors of the in4.net and borba.me were taken into custody for inducing panic in a public space because of publishing information about an explosion in Vila Gorica Palace, during which senior state officials, including Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović, organize receptions for distinguished guests. After they published their stories, some regional media republished the “findings”. The police later denied the report and said that a minor electrical failure had occurred at the villa, which was soon repaired.

The Police Directorate said Raičević and Živković were arrested because they publicized the news without checking them before. But after his release, Raičević said he had double-checked the information before it had been published and claimed that his arrest was really about intimidating journalists. Journalists’ associations, civil society groups, and opposition politicians warned that the arrests were a violation of media freedom.

The European Commission warned that journalists got to be ready to work safely and without worrying about harassment, political pressure, censorship, or persecution.

On the eve of Orthodox Christmas, Montenegrin police arrested Angela Đikanović, the editor-in-chief of Montenegrin Fos Media portal. Đikanović had published false information that 250 members of Kosovo’s special police unit ROSU would assist Montenegrin colleagues in securing law and order on Christmas Eve. The editor–in–chief of the Fos media website, Angela Đikanović was placed in detention for 72 hours for “causing panic and disorder” after claiming in a piece of writing that the government might turn security forces in neighboring Kosovo to assist quell Serbian Orthodox Church supporters’ protests over the new legislation on religion. Police arrested Đikanovic for reporting that Kosovo police Special Forces were poised to intervene in Montenegro over Orthodox Christmas. The new law on religion has sparked a series of protests led by Serbian Orthodox Church officials who claimed that the legislation paves the way for the seizure of the church’s property. After the Council of Europe reported the arrest of Đikanović, the Foreign Ministry insisted that the arrest didn't affect media freedom in Montenegro or compromise the safety of journalists. The Ministry said Đikanović should have checked the information before it had been published.

“There are indications that the location of this information was an effort by a 3rd party to interfere in Montenegro’s internal affairs to destabilize the state and disturbing law and order,” the Ministry said on January 10, 2020

FACEBOOK, PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS, AND FAKE NEWS

Given that the coronavirus pandemic had made the traditional election campaign impossible, political parties chose an online space, i.e. social networks, to run a political campaign and present programs. In Montenegro, it was mostly Facebook as the most used social network.

Journalist and founder of several online platforms, Duško Mihailović, agrees that a jump in the dissemination of false information was expected in the pre-election period. The number of web pages without the Impressum and physical address had increased.

The digital forensic center was engaged in disinformation campaigns and spreading fake news on FACEBOOK. The DFC detected that unprecedented disinformation campaigns aimed at Montenegro from the same addresses as in the past were intensified during the election campaign. According to Borislav Visnjic, Russia, which uses pro-Russian media from Montenegro, but also Belgrade, has been singled out as the main threat in this regard. “The narratives for this purpose are that Montenegro wants to revise history, that NATO membership is not useful, that the countries of the Western Balkans are weak and corrupt as if the EU and the Alliance are weak and divided.“

It has been announced from Facebook that it will launch an independent fact-checking program in Montenegro with one Montenegrin non-governmental organization. According to the explanation, certain information will be marked as false and in that way, their visibility will be reduced.

FAKE NEWS ABOUT A LITTLE BOY ANDRIJA WHO WAS INJURED DURING THE PROTESTS IN NIKŠIĆ

A photo of a boy Andrija with an injury to his temple, which was allegedly taken as a result of a clash between protesters and police in Niksic during a protest over the arrest of a SOC priest, was widely shared on social networks.

The photo of the injured boy is accompanied by a comment that the injury was the result of “police brutality”, and that it was “torture of the Ustasha Police in Nikšić”.

The picture does not show the boy Andrija from Nikšić, but Vigo from Boston in Massachusetts. The photo was taken in 2012, as shown by a Google search that leads to the Flickr page where it was originally posted.

COVID – 19, LOCKDOWN IN PODGORICA AND FAKE NEWS

During the coronavirus pandemic, several measures were, and still are, in place to combat the spread of the virus. Locking and banning movement for a certain period was the best and easiest basis for making up fake news.

In December 2020, the movement restrictions of citizens in Podgorica were from 19 to 5 o'clock. However, the alleged PrintScreen from the Vijesti portal could be seen on social networks in the same period. That PrintScreen states that movement is prohibited from 13 to 5.

However, the National Coordination Body and the Vijesti portal stated that no extraordinary decisions had been made, that this information had not been published on the mentioned portal, and that it was a matter of editing.

References:

  1. Samir Kajošević, 2020, Montenegro Targeted by ‘Fake News Campaign’, Ministry Claims [online], BalkanInsight, Available from https://balkaninsight.com/2020/01/14/montenegro-complains-on-fake-news-campaign/ [Accessed 10 May 2021]
  2. Sandra Maksimović, 2020, Montenegrin Law on Religious Freedom: Polarization that benefits the government(s)? [online], European Western Balkans, Available from https://europeanwesternbalkans.com/2020/01/13/montenegrin-law-on-religious-freedom-polarization-that-benefits-the-governments/ [Accessed 11 May 2021]
  3. Željko Trkanjec, 2020, PODGORICA – Two journalists arrested after publishing ‘fake news’ [online], EURACTIV.hr, Available from https://www.euractiv.com/section/all/short_news/podgorica-two-journalists-arrested-after-publishing-fake-news/ [Accessed 11 May 2021]
  4. Aneta Durović, 2020, I Fejsbuk protiv lažnih vijesti u Crnoj Gori [online], Radio Slobodna Evropa, Available from https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/a/fejsbuk-protiv-lažnih-vijesti-u-crnoj-gori/30764117.html [Accessed 14 May 2021]
  5. Od malog Andrije, preko lažnih mejlova do teorija zavjere o 5G mreži [online], Pobjeda, Available from https://www.pobjeda.me/clanak/nedjeljni-pregled-dezinformacija-manipulacija-i-laznih-vijesti-u-crnoj-gori-regionu-i-svetu [Accessed 14 May 2021]
  6. Darvin Murić, 2020, Lažne vijesti o zatvaranju Podgorice [online], Raskrinkavanje.me, Available from https://www.raskrinkavanje.me/analiza/lazne-vijesti-o-zatvaranju-podgorice [Accessed 14 May 2021]

Author: Ajla Aljović 

Illustration: Ezana Ćeman

Truth With Many Faces – Fake News in Bosnia and Herzegovina

A very famous song by Jefferson Airplane which came out in 1967 opens with the words “When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies…” This lyric perfectly describes life in Bosnia and Herzegovina ever since the conclusion of the bloody war fought from 1992 to 1995. Over two decades later the conflict which sparked violence all those years ago persists in different forms. Ranging from political ideologies with a nationalistic undertone, all the way to relationships with the outside world, Bosnia, and Herzegovina remains a country without a significant level of unity. The most representative factor in the lack of unity is the way mainstream media in the country deals with news and the level of importance that is given to truthful reporting of facts. Fake news is sadly not only present in the country, but so woven into the process of reporting that the people are getting used to being deceived daily.

According to research conducted in 2018 by the Open Society Institute in Sofia (Bulgaria) which deals with the level of media literacy in European countries, Bosnia and Herzegovina are third to only Albania and Macedonia when it comes to countries with the lowest level of media literacy in the Balkan peninsula. Taking into account the complex internal state organization of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and combining it with the discouraging fact of the country’s level of media literacy, one can safely assume that Bosnia and Herzegovina represents a paradise for all those who want to spread misleading information and fake news. The topics mostly represented in articles that earn the label “fake news” in Bosnia and Herzegovina are domestic and foreign politics, celebrity culture, and country-related issues such as economy and culture.

Battling fake news in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Since fake news came to prominence as a valuable topic for research in 2016 (BBC takes this as the unofficial start of significant research into the matter following the 2016 US Presidential Election) a very small amount of said research came from Bosnia and Herzegovina. It comes as no surprise that a country with such low media literacy would fail to consider the impact of fake news on its society as a whole. However, this started changing rapidly in the following years. Many websites appeared with the sole purpose of exposing fake news outlets and calling them out publicly concerning their dishonest and manipulative reporting. The most prominent of these websites is “raskrinkavanje.ba” which has gained immense popularity since it first appeared due to its track record of being accurate in recognizing what is true and what is fake news. This website came into existence as a result of the activities of an NGO known as “Zašto ne” which translates into English as “Why not”. The members of this organization used reliable fact-checking methods with particular emphasis on statistical analysis in their research of news published in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their effort resulted in the publication of a 106-page study related to the state of fake news in the country and the methodology necessary to prevent its spread titled “Disinformation in the online sphere: The case of B&H”. This was given very little attention in mainstream media despite the credible methodology used in the extensive analysis of this very important issue.

Current state of fake news in Bosnia and Herzegovina

According to the latest Press Freedom Index (PFI) published by the Reporters Without Borders, Bosnia and Herzegovina is in the 58th position when it comes to the freedom of media out of 179 ranked countries. Considering the level of development, this is an encouraging fact to be made aware of, but unfortunately, the freedom of the press is being used for the systematic spread of fake news. According to a 2018 analysis conducted by the raskrinkavanje.ba website, in one year almost 2500 articles were labeled as either fake news or contained a certain degree of them. Out of the 2500 total articles, 62% or 1468 were related to politics and were published by 477 different media outlets. The sample also showed that following the blatant fake news themselves, the most often used type of false reporting was clickbait which serves to create profit for those who publish it. The most discouraging finding of this research was that 2 sources of fake news were state-funded news outlets one of which even represents a national television channel of the Republic of Srpska entity. Furthermore, the highest-selling newspaper in the country for decades now is owned by a man who has his political party and was a former presidential candidate and a minister in the Federal Government. Needless to say, there is no analysis necessary to recognize that this newspaper is “biased” towards the goals and beliefs of its owner despite being bound to be unbiased and fair by the journalistic principles widely accepted around the world. This is the reality of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country that sits in the middle of the worldwide PFI table.

Truth With Many Faces

As it is with everything in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country with three constituent nations, the truth is often split into three different perspectives. For one side, a convicted war criminal such as general Ratko Mladić is a hero, for the other, he is a criminal and for the third, he is not exactly relevant in terms of the suffering their nation went through in the Bosnian War. Similarly, the success of a Bosnia and Herzegovina national side in any sport is viewed as a massive reason for pride in one part of the country while it is considered completely irrelevant in another simply because it was achieved under a flag which is not exactly celebrated in that geographical area. Truth is an abstract concept everywhere, but very rarely is it so obviously just a matter of perspective as it is in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Truth in its essence should be unique and unchangeable, but in this small country in the Balkans truth has at least 3 faces at all times. Fake news can only be stopped when the truth is agreed upon, and as of the moment of writing, that seems like a movie plot twist that the Bosnia and Herzegovina motion picture is not yet ready to have unveiled.

References:

  1. Reporters Without Borders website, Available from https://rsf.org/en/ranking
  2. Emir Zulejhić; 2019; Istraživanje o dezinformacijama u online medijima: Ko kreira “mreže lažnih vijesti” u BiH i regionu? [online]; Zašto ne; Available from https://zastone.ba/istrazivanje-o-dezinformacijama-u-online-medijima-ko-kreira-mreze-laznih-vijesti-u-bih-i-regionu/ [Accessed 13 May 2021]
  3. Zašto Ne website https://zastone.ba/app/uploads/2019/05/Disinformation_in_the_online_sphere_The_case_of_BiH_ENG.pdf
  4. http://www.cimusee.org/mil-resources/learning-resources/balkan-countries-most-vulnerable-to-fake-news-report/
  5. BBC website https://www.bbc.com/news/av/business-38919403
  6. Raskrinkavanje website https://raskrinkavanje.ba/

Author: Emir Šogolj 

Illustration: Ezana Ćeman 

The Pandemic of Fake News in Serbia

What is fake news?

Fake news is a media report that contains unequivocally false claims, that is, information that does not correspond to the facts. Unlike a reporting error, fake news involves knowingly misinforming the public. In other words, it is information that someone invented and presented as real news or published knowing it was not accurate.

The phenomenon - fake news in Serbia

According to the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announcement, Serbia is a country “with weak institutions that is prey to fake news spread by government-backed sensational media, a country where journalists are subjected to almost daily attacks that increasingly come from the ruling elite and pro-government media”. Regarding the 2020 Media freedom index, conducted by the RSF, Serbia is currently holding the 93rd of 180 places, which is a very low place for a country that wants to become a part of the European Union.

The Serbian media market is small and oversaturated with media working under extremely harsh economic pressure. There are more than 1600 media outlets registered in the Serbian Business Registers Agency (SBRA), although due to a poorly regulated media system, the exact number of registered active media outlets remains unknown. The two public broadcasters – RTS with the national coverage and RTV with the regional – receive most of their revenues from the state budget. Besides that, they are competing with other media outlets for shares in a shrinking advertising market, which according to Nielsen was worth around 174 million euros in 2016. Meanwhile, in the new annual report of the US government-funded Freedom House, Serbia is placed in the category of hybrid regimes. The report highlights that there is a regression in terms of democratic governance at the national level.

According to Radio “Slobodna Evropa”, the Serbian media are one of the largest exporters of fake news to neighboring countries, as stated by data from specialized portals that monitor this negative phenomenon in the Western Balkans. At the same time, according to the latest available research on the impact of fake news, Serbia is the third country in Europe – just behind Romania and the Czech Republic. Although that is data from 2018, on the report of the European Communication Monitor, the editor of the Fakenews tracker portal, Stefan Janjić, points out that the situation has not changed much.

The number of fake news is shown by the fact that the portal Raskrikavanje detected 945 fake news in the years behind us, only on the front pages of the four highest – circulation tabloids in Serbia – Alo, Informer, Srpski Telegraf, and Kurir. Many of the fake news from Serbia are crossing borders into other countries. Research conducted in 2019, by Raskrikavanje, showed that from 29 media detected as sources of political disinformation, 15 of them are in Serbia.

On the front pages of Serbian media outlets, almost every sixth headline published in 2020 was fake news, according to a survey “Foreign Policy Consequences of the Covid-19 Crisis in Serbia” conducted by the Strategic Policy Council (CFSP) with the support of the US Embassy. The research “Epidemic of fake news” conducted by Dajana Ostojić and Miloš Mihajilica, showed that the main topics on the front pages were news related to the coronavirus – a total of 26.9 percent, daily politics – 17.5 percent, and of the major foreign that represented mostly the U.S. (170 times), Russia (84 times) and the EU (50 times).

How to suppress the spread of fake news?

It is very important to learn how to detect fake news, because if we do not check the information that gets to us, probably we will share it on our social media platforms and fall into the circle of spreading fake news in the public sphere.

These are the 5 key things you should always do when reading an article:

  1.     Check the author of the article;
  2.     Check the look of the news portal/web page;
  3.     Check if the news portal has an Impressum;
  4.     Check the news at other sources/news portals;
  5.     Think critically before you share the news.

References:

  1. Svetla Miteva; 2021; In Serbia, fake news is spread by state-backed media [online], EURACTIV.com, Available from https://www.euractiv.com/section/digital/news/in-serbia-fake-news-is-spread-by-state-backed-media/ [Accessed 11 May 2021]
  2. Reporters Without Borders website, https://www.mom-rsf.org/en/countries/serbia/
  3. Reporters Without Borders website, https://rsf.org/en/serbia
  4. Ognjen Zorić; 2020; Srbija ‘izvoznik’ lažnih vesti [online]; Slobodna Evropa; Available from https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/a/srbija-lazne-vesti/30404473.html [Accessed 11 May 2021]
  5. Safeta Biševac; 2021; Istraživanje: Svaka šesta vest sa naslovnica dnevnih listova u Srbiji lažna [online]; Danas.rs; Available from https://www.danas.rs/drustvo/istrazivanje-svaka-sesta-vest-sa-naslovnica-dnevnih-listova-u-srbiji-lazna/ [Accessed 11 May 2021]

Author: Sara Međić 

Illustration: Ezana Ćeman 

Fake, but Not for No Sake: News in Italy

We continue our exploration of the fake news world in the country rich in cultural, fashion, religious, and political events. Thanks to widespread misinformation, the people of vivid Italy struggles to keep up with continuous happenings in their spirited cultural and societal life.

Only 29% of the Italian population reports that they trust the media (Newman, Flethcer, Schulz, Andi & Nielsen, 2020, p.75). The reason lays primarily in political influence on journalism in form of corruption or either aggressive forcing. To illustrate, there are cases in the pre-election period in 2016. Italy was shaken by a shocking story about a 9-aged Muslim girl being raped by her 35-year-old ´husband´. In addition, photographs of a Democratic Party member, Maria Elena, joining the funeral of mafia boss Salvatore Riina were circulating across the country. The news, however, was fake, but not for no sake. As it was never completely clarified who stands behind the ideas, it is reasonably believed that political propaganda was in action for once again, this time to advocate attitudes against immigration and to harm the reputation of political rivals. Recalling that the news was published in the pre-election period, everything does add up.

Therefore, it makes sense that the most trusted media brands are those that are least associated with political parties and organizations.

Facebook for Italy, Italy for Facebook

According to Matteo Renzi, a party leader, social media, especially Facebook, has a crucial influence on democracy in the country. Interestingly, his statement leads to a decision from Facebook to create a special 1-month program for Italian users in 2018. The program worked as a debunking system that would receive reports of fake news from users and then deliver it forward to working professionals situated in Italy. They would not only check the truthfulness of the news but also write an accurate version if the initial one was proved to be fake. The result showed up two years later – in 2020, Facebook was the second most trusted and favored social media channel in Italy, winning the trust of 75% of Italians. To compare, Twitter was trusted by merely 18%.

However, Italy´s struggle with rampant misinformation is ongoing and the country started to show efforts not only to suppress the spreading of fake news but also to educate the people to recognize and distinguish between real and fake ones. With that aim, some experimental projects on media literacy are brought into being and hopefully, will be a stepping stone in boosting Italian media quality.

Coronavirus news

Let us recall how severely Italy was affected in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. General public panic and uncertainty created an environment ideal for generating and spreading fake news. Not surprisingly, the news was usually made in a way to increase already overwhelming fear and panic at citizens. The pandemic may leave Italy with a lower rate of trust in media than it was before the pandemic.

Nevertheless, even if it does not happen, there is still a need for fighting the spread of misinformation and increasing media literacy to provide Italian residents with the deserved right to accurate news.

Finally, let us take a look at instances of fake news that have been encountered by Italian people in the recent period.

”Corona virus in Vimercate, contaminated women work at the shopping center ´Torri Bianche´.“

Source: MBNews

„Bills, the move that helps Di Maio in view of the ballot boxes.“

Soruce: Il Blog delle Stelle

„Fiscal joke: taxes higher for 3.2 million VAT numbers.“

Source: neXt

Author: Ajna Veladžić 

Illustration: Ezana Ćeman

E vërtetë apo e gabuar?

According to a 2018 Media Literacy Index report conducted by the Open Society Institute in Sofia, it was found that “Balkan countries are the most susceptible in Europe to ‘fake’ news – owing to their highly controlled media, low educational levels and low levels of trust in society.”1 Every single country, not only in the Balkan region but worldwide, has had its own experiences with fake news and press freedom or the lack thereof but it all comes down to one thing – how is it being handled? The main country of focus for this country-level analysis is the beautiful Republic of Albania. Being one of the most beautiful countries I have ever personally visited, full of rich and traditional culture, amazing food, a complex language with various dialects, and perhaps the strongest feeling of nationalism you have probably ever experienced, you might say Albania truly has it all. But, is this the case when it comes to fake news in Albania? As of this year, Albania is currently ranked #83 in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, positioned about average when compared to its neighboring countries.2 Bordering Albania, Kosovo* is ranked #73, Montenegro is ranked #104, and Greece is ranked #70.2 Albania has seen a mix of increases and decreases over the past 8 years which can be seen in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Ranking since 2013 (Source: Reporters without borders)

Aside from Albania’s ranking when it comes to freedom of the press, the country has had its own issues with the handling of fake news and disinformation, many issues that are still avidly prominent today. In a 2021 study titled “Mapping Fake News and Disinformation in the Western Balkans and Identifying Ways to Effectively Counter Them”, Albania along with the rest of the countries in the Western Balkans were analyzed and key points related to Albania's case were found which will be explained further on in the text.3

Case Study #1: The Social Media Prime Minister

Dubbed “The Social Media Prime Minister”, Prime Minister Edi Rama is currently serving as the 33rd Prime Minister of Albania and he has had his fair share of run-ins with spreading disinformation for political purposes. Just like with every country, politicians are known for taking advantage of the people they are supposed to represent and protect by spreading disinformation and by discrediting the media but how does this help PM Rama in the long run? In March 2020, what we know as the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, PM Rama was forced to make a public apology due to his role in the spreading of disinformation. His misconstrued views of a video made international headlines and caused tensions between Albania and Spain which could have been ultimately avoided if he and his team did their due diligence and fact-checked what was going on. “Rama was forced to make a public apology in March 2020 for fabricating allegations that Spanish officials were deploying violent police tactics to stop the spread of COVID-19. His ‘evidence’ turned out to be a video of Algerian riot police attacking protesters.”3

Albanian newsite, Exit News, “commits itself to independence, accuracy, and honest reporting, we pride ourselves on digging deeper and telling the stories that others do not wish to cover.4 Many media platforms are either completely biased or even scared to tackle strong political figures like a Prime Minister for example but not Exit News. By instilling fear in the people he is supposed to protect, PM Rama used a video of Algerian riot police attacking protestors, claimed this was happening in Spain, and then threatened his own people with the same use of force if curfew was broken. Exit News did their due diligence and shared with the people how this video has nothing to do with Spain or COVID-19 and they state “The Prime Minister’s attempts to pass off these images as a government’s ‘normal’ reaction in a time of crisis may be a cause for concern.”5 Instances like the one aforementioned should all be a cause for concern because it simply should not happen today and it should not happen by someone who holds so much political power.

Case Study #2: Anti-defamation package

In December 2019, just months before the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and PM Rama’s public apology, Albania introduced its “anti-defamation package”, a set of laws that was “supposed to” tackle the fight against disinformation. This package was highly scrutinized by journalists as well as the Council of Europe as it is an “an attempt to muzzle the media while the government countered it was merely regulating “a jungle of misinformation and hate.”6 So what does the package specifically include? Simply put by Reuters editor Enton Abilekaj, “This law says ‘if we do not like your news story, we can remove it and fine you’”.6 How is this possible in 2021? Easy. When the government itself is heavily corrupt (Transparency International has Albania ranked as #104/#180 in its 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index), then laws are changed and created to benefit those who are in power. Reuters states “Parliament adjusted two laws to empower the Albanian Media Authority (AMA) and the Authority of Electronic and Postal Communications to hear complaints about news websites, demand retractions, impose fines of up to 1 million leke ($9,013.88), and suspend their activity.”6 At the end of the day, it is all business. As unfortunate as it sounds, these laws were not created for the betterment of the country, rather as a way to censor the media and to make quick money simultaneously.

What happens next?

Just like with every country in the Western Balkans and across the world, fake news and the spreading of it are major topics of conversation where next steps are still being determined. Just two weeks ago, PM Rama declared victory in Albania’s general elections. Even with his public apology and many negative run-ins with the media, he seems to have the public’s support nonetheless. In regards to the anti-defamation package, Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that the package and it’s newly enforced laws were in urgent need of improvement yet improvement has yet to come. Although every country is different and every case is different, what we can do as constituents is to educate ourselves as much as possible on the realm of fake news and to educate others to ensure that manipulation tactics are not being used to construe our own thoughts and ideas. We here at SLAM are hoping for a better future and it all starts with us.

References:

1“Balkan Countries Most Vulnerable to ‘fake’ News: Report.” COALITION OF INFORMATION AND MEDIA USERS IN SOUTH EAST EUROPE. EU-UNESCO. Web. 09 May 2021.

2“Albania : Threat from Defamation Law: Reporters without Borders.” RSF. Web. 09 May 2021.

3GREENE, Samuel, Gregory ASMOLOV, Adam FAGAN, Ofer FRIDMAN, and Borjan GJUZELOV. “Mapping Fake News and Disinformation in the Western Balkans and Identifying Ways to Effectively Counter Them.” European Parliament. Policy Department, Directorate General for External Policies. Web.

4“Our Mission – Exit – Explaining Albania.” Exit. 09 July 2020. Web. 09 May 2021.

5“Albanian PM Claims Video of Algerian Police Beating Protesters Is Spanish Government's Response to Coronavirus – Exit – Explaining Albania.” Exit. 21 Mar. 2020. Web. 09 May 2021.

*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244(1999) and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.

Author: Ezana Ćeman 

Illustration: Ezana Ćeman