Between censorship and self-regulation!
By Bardhyl ZAIMI
The government recently presented an action plan to combat misinformation. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev stressed that the misuse of technology to create false ethnicities and invent non-existent events has become a serious attack on democratic elections and seriously threatens to affect citizens’ trust in institutions and the media. Fake news has long been a stand-alone issue, while media representatives in the country have been seeking for a solution for a long time. Despite the engagement of people in the media and civil society, the problem of misinformation remains a Gordian Knot for social development as a whole.
In essence, this action plan to combat misinformation and fake news seems like a good step for the government, as it has long been sought to get its hands on the fake news chaos, in that chaos information operates without any rules, but only through the inertia “as you can do it”. However, despite the good intentions of the government, whenever its “hand” is “extended” to a sensitive sphere such as the media, doubts and reactions are more than normal.
The government’s plan was seen with a big reserve by the people in the media, though most felt it was necessary to make order in the chaos of fake news and misinformation in general. However, they were cautious in their excuses, pointing out that this action plan proposed by the government could create some kind of media censorship. It is well known that governments have a constant tendency to control the media as an instrument to carry out their propaganda. It is precisely this fact that creates great suspicion and uncertainty, and rightly so, as some public people in the background project some sort of possible censorship through the “noble” subtlety to fight the fake news, which undoubtedly remains abundant in Macedonia.
All this sensible unreadiness relates to the bitter past of previous media control by the previous government, which in time created brutal forms of fake news, misinformation, semi-controlled information that always ranked North Macedonia last in terms of freedom of speech media.
Due to the overall context in favor of media freedom, there have been changes in the last few years, but they remain insufficient to consolidate an independent and competitive media space in their content. The fight against fake news remains a global phenomenon, with conferences in Europe and the Balkans being held, and various manuals being published to counter this dangerous phenomenon that is always a threat to democratic values. Fake news is essentially aimed at distorting the truth, creating confusion for the reader and, moreover, creating an uncertain and irritating environment that always remains in the service of ideological reasons, where they are also designed and produced. There are hundreds of books and manuals on this problematic issue already in the world, which remains a constant challenge to democratic values and to the democratic and political legitimacy of institutions and the entire public sphere.
It is very important that this topic is already recognized as a concrete initiative, which should undoubtedly be complemented by many other elements that provide debate, transparency, inclusiveness and long-term solutions to the phenomenon of fake news. The very period of government presentation of this plan is a mistake, especially after the “Racket” affair, which has shaken the foundations of the justice system but also concerns the owner of a television medium deemed to be close to government officials. However, this plan remains a good predisposition to establish the necessary fact-checking mechanisms and to create and consolidate a free and open space for the media, given the deontological journalism mission that has now fallen to the ground.
This action plan can in no way be thought of outside the concept of media self-regulation, which remains one of the key premises for securing media freedom. However, this process requires a lot of analyses, a lot of comparisons, in order to find a suitable model that can combat the fake news that has already flooded the web. There is a lot of research that proves real chaos in the field of online media. There are dozens of media that operate without minimal transparency, while fake news produced with a particular function is reproduced without any verification.
Self-regulation remains a difficult challenge despite the fact that in many cases it has been debated by media actors and experts. It is undoubtedly very important to create the necessary mechanisms to combat fake news and misinformation in general, which constantly attack the public sphere brutally, create misconceptions or keep the public in the fog of controlled chaos.
The fight against fake news can never be thought of without another important dimension related to media education and critical thinking. This action plan must be based on this comprehensive concept of indisputable dimension of projects, specific media education programs, in particular for young people as potential receptors for online information where fake news is usually present.
Predicting this educational watchdog remains a necessary goal in order to achieve quality communication with media content that must fully respond to diverse, accurate and fair information. This concept undoubtedly means promoting professional journalism, which is currently under the rubble of the online media “one man show”. Self-regulation essentially implies a paradigm of professional journalism, it implies ethics of the profession, which already knows codes of conduct.
The inclusion of these elements and many other deeper aspects that are also related to the larger societal and ideological divisions that relate to the power of government and interest groups may open up another horizon of conception for misinformation and the phenomenon of fake news that remain a very serious problem on the Balkans and Macedonia. Otherwise, if this initiative remains only as a presentation to the government, then we too will suffer, for a long time, from the chaos of misinformation, the chaos of the media rushing for one-click, with no idea what journalism really means.
It is never too late. But provided the initiatives are accurate and inclusive and based on broad and meaningful debate, validated experiences and models and stakeholders leading to the completion of a jointly designed and developed plan.
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