Todays Date
August 21, 2019

NOT TO DEFEAT FREEDOM IN THE FIGHT AGAINST FAKE NEWS

Both the government and the AJM oppose fake news, former with an Action Plan, latter by establishing a credible media list. The journalistic community believes that in order to believe in honest intentions, all moves of the government must include journalists and the media

Svetlana Unkovska

The very announcement of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev to fight the fake news has upset the media community and raised doubts – is this also an announcement of this Government for dealing with critics and dissenters with the government? Some media organizations and associations assessed this as an open announcement of censorship and restricting freedom of expression. Zaev announced that an action plan would combat the spread of misinformation and attacks on democracy through security and proactive measures.

“The government is planning to establish clear criteria for the media that are accredited to monitor its work, support model for media content production and educational programs, as well as co-operation with fact-checking organizations and a register of sources disseminating misinformation”, said Prime Minister Zaev.

The opposition VMRO-DPMNE reacted to this, pointing out that Zaev is trying to impose censorship on the media that do not think like him.

“It is clear that Zoran Zaev’s plan stipulates, through accusations of fake news, to cover all the scandals, affairs and crimes that come out every day”, VMRO-DPMNE reacted.

Not to cross the lines of freedom of speech

Dragan Sekulovski, director of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, says in an interview with Inbox7 that they are closely watching the process and that it is generally good that the government has an interest and idea in preventing misinformation and malicious information that occurs in our society every day. However, he adds, the action group tasked with combating fake news should not judge whether someone is ethical and professional.

“If this action group has a proactive role in having occasional activities thus trying to impose their views on whether something is ethical or not in the media itself, then we have a problem. Whether a media outlet does its job professionally or not, whether a journalist is acting within the code of ethics or not, it’s a matter for the journalistic community alone. Here we cannot say that a government institution or a body composed of representatives of multiple government institutions could be objective and have the potential and capacity to somehow deal with the truthfulness of facts or the truthfulness of information created by professional media and journalists in our country”, Sekulovski points out.

Longtime journalist Zoran Ivanov considers it very important for the government to clarify its role in the implementation of this project and in particular to present the tools, instruments for its implementation so that there are no public dilemmas.

“It would have been best for the Government to initiate a debate on the intention and especially on the contents of the strategy before writing and publishing the draft strategy. In that initial phase it should have included journalistic associations, newsrooms, journalists, journalism faculties, NGOs whose topics of activity are the media and media products and the public. It is assumed that in this way, initially, mainly from the professional journalistic community, which itself fights against the fake news daily, it would have gathered supporters and assistants for success in the permanent project realization and it would have made the front against media lies and in general against fake news and their sources the widest”, Ivanov said, adding that although according to him it is not an attempt to silence the media, the announcement of a government body sounds a bit ugly. This is especially so since the libertarian media public has been burned by the former regime’s past, and now “a burnt child dreads the fire”.

“Control of the truth is not Government’s job. Taking care of the truth is the public’s responsibility. The government should only create the conditions, budget the activities and take its hands off the media even if they are producers of fake news. With a government rather than a non-government body or entity that will be produced by the Government, funded by the Government, staffed by the Government and orchestrated by it, no matter how professional and objective it may be, the public will experience it as censorship. By doing so, the Government itself, like it or not, at the very beginning narrows the room for project success”, Ivanov says.

Sekulovski: The list of relevant media is a kind of online media self-regulation

And all this concern, reaction and criticism were followed by an announcement of the creation of a list of relevant media. And the question immediately arises, is a “black list of media” being prepared, what is its purpose, who will select them and what criteria will their relevance be assessed on? Director of AJM Sekulovski says such an initiative originates from the association in direction to contribute to the fight against fake news and applies exclusively to the online media.

“We, as an Association, in cooperation with the Council of Media Ethics of Macedonia and in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce, are launching one, I would say, bold project, through which we will try, say by the end of the year or in the coming months or the next period to create a register of professional online media within the Ethics Council. With precisely defined criteria what a medium is. The effect we want to achieve is the following: those online media that still do not have those elements of professional media, there are still media that have no contact and we do not know who is behind them, so if they want to be treated as professional, to be recognized by advertisers, will have to somehow correct themselves, and those who somehow want to continue doing such unethical work may continue to do so, but the public will know that they are unprofessional and the business community should not support them”, Sekulovski explains. He is convinced that the so-called portals most often used to market hate speech and slander and insult must also be focused.