The main actors in the process of counteracting the effects of the disinformation should be the institutions that are tasked with the creation of media policies, but also the media outlets and the journalists. Still, a systematic approach, with participation of several other factors is essential, said researcher Gjorgji Mitrevski at “The Situations and Challenges Related to the Influence of the Disinformation in North Macedonia” session of the “Dealing with Disinformation in the Republic of North Macedonia” conference organized by Metamorphosis Foundation, which was held on Tuesday in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia.
Mitrevski, in fact, reiterated one of the main recommendations of the Metamorphosis’ research “The effect of disinformation and foreign influences on the democratic processes in North Macedonia,” authored by Mitrevski and the Metamorphosis’s Program Director Filip Stojanovski.
Mitrevski said that according to the research, the majority of the people in North Macedonia are aware of the presence of disinformation and that 2/3 of them are able to recognize the disinformation in the media, yet the disinformation and the spread of the authoritarian narratives, have a great effect on the undermining of the democratic values.
“The citizens are aware how widespread the disinformation in the media is, and almost 90% of the people think that the disinformation a real problem in our society. Also, 2/3 of the people in the media they follow have noticed incorrect information that presents the reality incorrectly. 2/3 of these people are convinced they can recognize misinformation in the media they follow. Still, the halted EU integrations, the disinformation, especially the spread of authoritarian narratives, have an influence in the process of undermining country’s democratic values and strategic determinations,” Mitrevski explained.
As an example, he pointed to the concepts of China and Russia that the citizens have, and which are often positive, against the Western system and values, that the country’s plans are directed toward.
“The majority of the people believe that the Chinese political system isn’t worse than the Western political systems. Also, the majority of the people believe that Russia has greater military power than NATO. A large number of people believe that an alliance with Russia and receiving cheaper Russian gas would be crucial to improving the country’s economy. Also, people consider that it is more useful for our country to be allied with the major Slavic Orthodox powers, such as Russia, rather than with the USA or the EU. These are just some of the findings, there are a lot more findings, but with these, we can illustrate the seriousness of the situation with the disinformation in the media, which after a long presence, can lead to undermining this country’s democratic values and strategic determinations,” Mitrevski says.
Still, as he stressed, not everything is black, since the majority of people consider that the fight against disinformation should be more severe.
“The people still have an interest in a change of policies. The number of people who consider that disinformation should be sanctioned by the law is enormous. The main actors in the process of lowering the effects of disinformation should be the institutions that were tasked for the creation of media policies, but also, the media itself i.e. the journalists,” Mitrevski said.
According to Katarina Sinadinovska, the President of the Council of Media Ethics of Macedonia – CMEM’s Managing Board, the media should play a much bigger role than previously. This is because according to the statistics about the complaints CMEM received in the previous years for violations of journalistic standards, what is most often violated is the Article 1 of the Journalistic Code which states that journalists must publish checked and correct information.
“This means that if you are violating this Article, by publishing unchecked information i.e. in other words, this is false news, speculations and, generally speaking, misinformation. Now, what the problem is? I always say that the work of the fact-checkers and checking the information is published is important, but it is not enough because the damage has been done. The journalists must know that the information should be checked before it is published,” stressed Sinadinovska.
Even Sinadinovska agrees that an all-encompassing approach is necessary for the process of dealing with disinformation and apart from the journalists and other previously mentioned factors, the business community i.e. the advertisers have to take part as they are providing a large part of the finances for the functioning of the media outlets. According to her, it is unjust to finance media that are spreaders of misinformation, speculation, and sensationalism.
“We have a situation where those who are publishing speculations and are not considered professional media, to have larger readership, and on the other hand, to be earning more finances from adverts than the media that are working professionally and are checking the information. As a result, we have a situation where professionalism is suffering and it mustn’t be so,” stressed Sinadinovska.
In the session that was moderated by Filip Stojanovski of Metamorphosis Foundation Andreja Stojkovski, the Executive Director of the Prespa Institute and Rosana Aleksoska, the Manager of the “Fight against False Narratives” project initiated by citizen’s association Most also presented their opinions on this subject.