A regional conference on media literacy organized by the Macedonian Media Institute (MIM) and the EU Delegation in the country was held on 27 September at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje. More than 20 speakers addressed the conference, high officials, representatives of the civil society, the academic sphere, among which were the President Stevo Pendarovski, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell (video address), as well the EU Ambassador in the country David Geer. This is a second conference in a row that is supported by the EU, after the one that was held in Sarajevo and Banja Luka in 2020.
President Pendarovski was speaking first, and among the other things stated the following: “The disinformation campaign polarize the public debate, negatively influence the political processes, undermine citizens’ trust in the institutions and erode societal cohesion. Because of their potential to undermine democratic values, disinformation may even destabilize the country itself. That is why many countries in the world recognize and treat disinformation as one of the most important threats to their national security. In the recent strategic report on its own capacity in this area the EU as well concluded that the disinformation campaigns are one of the main forms of pressure upon the democratic governance models.”
Through a video address, the High Representative Josep Borrell stated that disinformation are a threat to democracy in the world, and that this was especially visible during the COVID-10 pandemic, when disinformation influenced people and caused polarization of societies, and they also threatened the health of the people, because of the false information that were available especially on the social networks. Borrell also reminded that the key EU-Western Balkans summit will be held in a few days, stressing that there is no doubt that the Western Balkans is the heart of Europe, and that the Union is responsible for building peaceful, progressive and united Europe.
In his address, among the other things, the EU Ambassador David Geer stated the following: “In the recent times, as well as during the pandemic, we have been witnesses of the great power of disinformation and of the price that it takes on the lives of citizens and their well-being. We saw their great power to reach only the local public, but how also the local sources may amplificate malicious content.“ He also stated that the resilience to disinformation in the Western Balkans is low and there is a high level of mistrust in science.
The Program Manager of Fighting False News Narratives – FN Rosana Aleksoska was speaker on the first panel. She presented the findings from the study on the dominant narratives and disinformation in North Macedonia in 2020. Aleksoska stated that “polarising and highly divisive narratives were used in an effort to exploit deeply-rooted feelings and (mis)beliefs in order to discredit various actors, including Western institutions in some cases. These narratives sought to incite fear, doubts and confusion among the citizens in certain political events, topics, institutions and processes.”
Aleksoska also presented the main findings and conclusions from the study:
- A common characteristic of all the narratives is their anti-Western sentiment and the undermining of some of the strategic goals of the country, such as the Euro-Atlantic integration;
- Various mechanisms and techniques are used for disinforming the citizens;
- There is a constant trend of dissemination which exploits the huge potential for amplification of the narratives on social media.
- The patterns of amplification reveal eco-systems which are connected to certain anti-Western websites where disinformation are produced or overtaken and disseminated in what appears to be a coordinated manner.
The National Coordinator for Strategic Communications in the Government of North Macedonia Marjan Zabrcanec was also one of the speakers on the first panel and stated the following:
“I don’t think that our efforts should be primarily directed to removing the sources of disinformation, because this is something that does not depend on us. It is very difficult to remove something that you did not create or for which you don’t have responsibility. Our efforts should be directed towards analysis and having understanding, deep definition of the problem and providing in the first place counter narratives, i.e. promotion of the progressive democratic story.”
You can watch the whole conference on the following link