In Serbia, manipulation and misinformation on the part of pro-regime TV stations is part of everyday life. A major problem is the lack of information and the Government’s intention to manipulate public opinion through its TV stations and discredit political opponents.

Vuk Velebit is an author and researcher who explores Russian propaganda in Serbia’s daily press. He has been examining the way in which the Pro-Russian narrative is created, that is, whether that narrative is being created in Russia or is a product of journalists and editors in Serbia.

Velebit completed his studies in International Relations at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and then enrolled for a Master’s Degree in International Security at the same university, and was a guest at the German University “Konstanz”. He will soon defend his master’s thesis on the topic of Russian propaganda in the daily press in Serbia.

At the moment, he is working as an author at the “Talas.rs” portal and occasionally writes columns for the weekly “NIN” and daily newspaper “Danas”. As a student, he was an activist and actively participated in the 2017 protests. Today, he talks about current protests in cities across Serbia.

Velebit believes that only with argued and critical texts can the media gain credibility with readers. “The problem in the Serbian media is not just their tabloids, but rather that they have become the main source for informing a large number of citizens in Serbia, whose news is often unverified and untrue,” he says.

When can we expect the publication of the results of your research and what is the main message in it?

– The final results will be presented to the public soon, but what I can tell you is that the press in Serbia reports more sensational stories and more positively about Russia and Serbian-Russian relations than Russia’s Sputnik does in Serbia.

What is the most common media manipulation and misinformation in Serbia?

– If we talk specifically about Russia, there is a certain proportion of news that contains incomplete and inaccurate information. This is most often the case when it comes to purchasing armaments from Russia, mainly circulating news that Russia will give us some kind of weapons, and then in other news on the same topic, it says that we will pay it a special price, and the public is never fully aware of the intentions and at what price this armament is being procured.

On the other hand, in Serbia, manipulation and misinformation on the part of pro-regime TVs are part of everyday life. This is especially the case during protests, when on television on the national frequencies false data on a number of citizens is being gathered. However, A major problem is the lack of information, the Government’s intention to manipulate public opinion through its TV stations and discredit political opponents.

Does your government have a plan to combat misinformation and how active is it?

– There were announcements from officials that the state would fight fake news, but it is a paradox, because our government is one of the main sources of this misinformation and manipulation of information.

Do you know of any convictions for causing a general danger by spreading fake news or hate speech?

– There have been convictions by the competent institutions for hate speech and disinformation for a few politicians and journalists, but these cases are rare and justice in these cases is out of reach. Even if there is a verdict in favour of the victim, her reputation would be greatly damaged as well as her integrity due to the spread of false information that is published about her, the effects of such cases are inconsequential.

Are media associations active when it comes to combating misinformation?

– There are several media organizations who work towards exposing fake news, however, one has to ask what are the benefits of exposure , because once it’s out there, it is a hard fire to put out. Sadly, today distant truths we hear, have more weight.

How is Macedonia represented in the media in Serbia?

-In regard to events in Macedonia, the media is silent or it is mentioned in a negative context, ever since Zoran Zaev came to power. As well as the Ukrainian scenario that is mentioned when tabloids want to blame the opposition for wanting to incite major unrest, a Macedonian scenario is often mentioned. When the agreement between Greece and Macedonia was signed, the Serbian media was virtually impossible to read any extensive news, apart from H1 and possibly two daily newspapers.

Is there often misinformation about Macedonia and which are the most common?

-I would first say that it is a matter of them remaining silent about information in Macedonia rather than misinformation. There was disinformation during the protests in Skopje, before the arrival of Zoran Zaev, because the government then, was close to Nikola Gruevski.