The Pandemic of Fake News in Serbia

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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