The COVID-19 pandemic has caused changes
in the way the the journalists and the media in general work. Still, depending on the context of each country separately, it can be noticed that the pandemic has a different influence on journalism. This regional analysis is presenting the findings of 10 interviews that were carried out with journalists of four countries in the region: Bosnia and Hercegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Albania.
Author: Dren Grguri
In each of these countries, the journalists have had a different experience of the pandemic, and their professional duties were performed in a different way than normally, adapting to the situation and the circumstances dictated by the new situation.
Internet applications – important tools in the work of the journalists during the pandemic
The use of new technologies in the line of work is the common denominator for all journalists in the aforementioned four countries. Different internet tools have become a very important part of the work of the journalists – even though they were used previously it still wasn’t with the same intensity as during the pandemic, said the interviewees.
Journalists from these four countries stress that as a result of the limitation of movements, their communication with their contacts and sources of information has decreased. Still, because of the digital technology it is easier to conduct interviews with experts and other authorities from the health sector. Adriatik Kelmendi, General Secretary of TV “Klan” Kosovo, the editor in chief of „А2СНН“, Elert Izeiriand a journalist from Bosnia , Milorad Milojević, has stressed the gains from these tools.
The Editor in Chief of “Koha Ditore,” Brikenda Rexepi, stressed that even in conditions of restrictive measures against COVID-19, they didn’t stop with media coverage of important events such as the field work and visit of border crossings, before they were completely closed.
Also, the Bosnian journalist Milivojević pointed at the difficulties that the media workers in his country have faced with as the result of the movement restrictions and the inability to attend government press conferences.
Due to the circumstances that were caused by the coronavirus the mobile journalism surfaced , said Aleksandar Manasiev, the Editor in Chief of “VidiVaka”. This form of journalism was applied by “Koha Ditore” as well said Editor Rexepi.
Regarding the transparency of the institution and the access to public documents, Bosnia and Hercegovina and Kosovo, the access to information about the pandemic was easier but for other issues, the difficulties have continued just like before the pandemic. Despite this, as stated by Darko Omeragić, the journalists from Bosnia and Hercegovina have managed to uncover two scandals: the scandal with the purchase of respirators and the scandal with the purchase of a mobile tent hospital.
Talking about the situation with the transparency in Albania, Aleksandar Chipa of UAH, stressed the fact that even though the scope of data was increased still it didn’t increase the transparency of the institutions and the process of providing information of public interest.
And journalist Goran Lefkov, an editor at “Inbox 7,” also, stresses the reticence of institutions as problematic.
Gentiana Begoli who works for AHK stressed that the general public’s trust in the media in Kosov remains unchanged. In Albania, according to Chipa the distrust has increased toward online media. On the other hand, Manasiev considers that in North Macedonia, the level of trust has remained the same as it ever was – low, while Milivojević stressed that the citizens of Bosnia and Hercegovina has had a greater trust in the media only when it comes to information relation about the coronavirus.
COVID-19, the reason for losing jobs and lowering the salaries in all four countries
In all four countries, as was stressed by the interviewees, the basic equipment for protection against the coronavirus: masks, gloves, and disinfection gel. At TV Klan in Kosovo, a protocol with 12 points is applied, that is defining the behavior, the working schedule, the measures for freeing a certain categories of workers from their duties, etc., said the General Director, Kelmendi.
Begoli stresses that during this period AHK has helped the journalists with a donation of over 300 packages with gloves, masks, and disinfection gels.
it should be noted that during the COVID-19 pandemic in all four countries there was a lack of psychological support for the journalists even though there was a need for it.
The sustainability of the media and the security for journalist at work, is another important issue that deserves attention. COVID-19 has caused journalists to loose their jobs and part of them to continue working with lower salaries. In all four countries there were journalists who were left out of their contracts and among them Omeragić, who was among the 10 workers who were laid off from the daily newspaper “Oslobođenje.” Omeragić said that he was surprised by the laid offs of journalist at certain media especially the good journalists.
In Kosovo, because of the pandemic the daily newspaper Zeri was closed and 22 workers have lost their jobs. In Albania, said
Во Косово, поради пандемијата беше затворен весникот „Зери“ и 22 работници ги загубија своите работни места. Во Албанија, како што вели Chipa, around 12% of media workers were affected and 47 journalist have lost their jobs. In North Macedonia, according to Darko Duridanski five journalists have lost their jobs.
A lowering of salaries occurred in all four countries, and unlike Albania, in Kosovo, ALbania, and North Macedonia during this period none of the media was closed.
An explosion of disinformation and lack of strategy in the fight against false news
With the outbreak of the pandemic, there was also an outbreak of disinformation about COVID-19 especially on social media.
The countries in the region lacks strategy for fighting disinformation even though there isn’t a shortage of initiatives. Apparently, NGOs and certain media are trying directly to fight disinformation that are dominant on social media. Duridanski of the Macedonian Independent Syndicate of Journalists and Media Workers considers that when the media is doing their job then there will not be any need of a “special force” to fight disinformation. Izeiri, Kelmendi, and Milojević, also said that the professionalism is the best method in the fight against disinformation. .
The sources and the motives for spreading disinformation in each of these countries are different. What is common in all four countries is that the social media is considered as the main source of disinformation. The people who spread disinformation are different from those that want to attract attention, said Kelmendi, to those who are using the situation for certain political or business interests, as was stressed by Omeragić.
Another joint point in all four countries is the fact that the intensity for launching disinformation has increased with the pandemic. In Kosovo, apart from the health crisis, the society witnessed a political crisis, but still, the main disinformation are COVID-19 related. In Bosnia and Hercegovina, the coronavirus disinformation was used to divert the attention from the controversial public procurement, stressed Milojević.
The freedom of press was jeopardized in Albania and Bosnia and Hercegovina
The freedom of press was mostly jeopardized in Albania and Bosnia and Hercegovina. Chipa says that in Albania there were fines for media and journalists under the excuse of failing to observe the social distancing in offices and television studios. He mentions the fine against TV Ora and stressed there were over four cases of violence and disruption of journalists’ physical integrity who have tried to report from hospitals and public health institutions for cases and situations related to the virus. In that sense,
Izeiriis mentioning the calls made by Prime Minister Edi Rama to the Albanian public to be careful and to “seat as far as they can” from the media.
In Bosnia and Hercegovina, there was a case of the state interfering in the freedom of speech through a decree for spreading panic, but after the public’s reaction and the international organizations, the decree was withdrawn. There weren’t such legal initiatives in North Macedonia, but Duridansk says there were five attacks on journalists. The journalists were prevented from doing their work in Kosovo as well, and during the pandemic three such cases were registered, stressed Begoli.
The journalism after the pandemic
The financial implications seem to be unavoidable and that is what is worrying the journalists in all four countries. Duridanski thinks there is risk wjen accepting this type of work during a pandemic, with lesser people with an increased use of tools for digital communication which can lead to a lesser need of workers and lesser reporting from the field. That, according to him, will result in a low quality journalism.
Manasiev predicts that there will be a greater need of digital tools and an increased involvement of mobile journalism. And Kelmendi fears the greater use of technology, stressing that the direct contact is irreplaceable and journalism can lose a lot if the interview is replaced with a communication through digital assets. Izeiri hopes that this condition will make the media to be more responsible, more careful, and more objective, and Milojević stressed the fact
that in Bosnia and Hercegovina there is an absolute uncertainty and he predicts serious financial consequences for the media world.
The pandemic has once again revealed the importance of the media and the journalists and it also confirmed that we cannot rely on information that were made by those that were not called upon to do that, from those that do not understand the importance of the information or the role of the media in the society.