Fake News – Enemies of Democracy

Media that gravitate between reality shows and propaganda are the key heralds of fake news. Although in basis these aim to discredit those who are critically oriented towards holders of powers and decision makers, the whole society suffers consequences and is in such manner being long-lastingly contaminated and democratically eroded’, assessed Executive Director of the Centre for Civic Education (CCE), Daliborka Uljarevic.

CGO - Lažne vijest – neprijatelji demokratije

During the opening of the second Democracy Forum Fake News – Enemies of Democracy, with gratitude towards FES with whom the CCE has been developing similar projects longer than 15 years, she stated that this theme is a natural follow-up of the previous Forum that focused on populism, posing the question of whether fake news is either cause or consequence of the populism. ‘We in civil society, as well as representatives of relevant institutions, have an obligation to protect citizens from the impact of fake news through raising awareness about that issue, through discussion on this topic that will shed light on it from different angles, through insisting on efficient regulation and self-regulation’, Uljarevic concluded.

Ursula Koch – Laugwitz, Director of the FES Regional Office for Serbia and Montenegro, emphasized that ‘in the previous couple of months several important events occurred in the Western Balkans, especially in Montenegro, for which we cannot say that they lead to the European path. Therefore, my presence here is also a support to all journalists, but also to activists of civil society organisations in Montenegro, who experienced threats or were attacked’.

‘Media literacy, civic education, democracy – all of this is within the framework of what we consider to be European values. Today, I am becoming a little frightened for democracy, since instead of the political and social dialogue we have threat as the prevailing model of political communication. For that reason, we should be grateful to journalists as well as to civil society activists who are fighting against such state of affairs’, she stressed, and specifically underlined the importance of continuous and successful cooperation with the CCE.

CGO - Lažne vijest – neprijatelji demokratije

Suncica Bakic, Deputy Director for Monitoring in the Agency for Electronic Media of Montenegro (AEM), reminded the audience about first half of the 20th century when the press releases appeared in the media which further lead to the distraction from the actual events and news, estimating that this changed the view of journalists on what has the status of news. ‘Nowadays, the possibility of spreading disinformation is much higher and much cheaper, but on the other hand, the possibility of checking it is equally cheap and accessible. Today we have a growing number of fake news and fake media, and this reflects a change in the essence and role of journalism, thus the problem should not be sought in fake news, but in credible journalism’, concluded Bakic.

Srdan Kosovic, the Editor-in-Chief of the portal Vijesti, reflected to the concept of fake news. ‘The term ‘fake news’ itself, as a descriptive phenomenon, needs to be distinguished from what inaccurate news are. Fake news is a conscious effort to produce something that does not correspond to truth, and in the context that it has been given, intends to produce damage.’  He also pointed out that the political context is a key reason why this concept is given so much attention. ‘The emphasised crisis of political structures, as well as the political system itself, both in Montenegro and on global level, represents a fertile ground for development of fake news. With development of technology, fake news also receives an opportunity to spread more easily and then all this is contributed by also a crisis of distrust, not only in media, but also in a complete political system and political ideals.’

CGO - Lažne vijest – neprijatelji demokratije

In Serbia, you have the situation that you are told that the only free media are actually Facebook and Twitter, which reflects the extent of media destruction and gives a bad media picture in the country. On the other hand, Serbia is specific in the manner that precisely the main media are fake media, and they represent nursery-gardens of fake news because they serve the content that is imposed on them. The problem of fake news was created for two reasons – the first is because media are not free and are controlled by the authorities, and on the other hand, this phenomenon occurs because the government is in constant war against all others. And these two things produce deformed media content’, said Slobodan Georgiev, Project Coordinator in BIRN from Serbia.

The Film-Director and Director of the Montenegrin Film Cinematheque, Andro Martinovic, believes that ‘the phenomenon of fake news is not new at all. It gained a rather important dimension in the moment when the media became important, i.e. almost dominant in our societies. Precisely that influence of media is very dangerous. Today, news receive an interpretation depending on who transmits it and therefore it should not be lightly discussed which media are always right, and which are not, because the news itself just carries a certain type of commentary and definition of how certain news is being transmitted. The news today is not just information about the event itself, but also interpretation of the event.’ He also pointed out to a particularly interesting phenomenon in journalism that is placed also in roots of fake news ‘today we are witnessing that precisely fake events exist of which further news is being produced’.

 Sinisa Gazivoda, a lawyer and alumni of the Democracy School, reminded that ‘fight for decriminalisation of defamation and insult in Montenegro, for which the civil sector advocated, happened because it was a criminal offense and because it was institutionally misused for dealing with those different-opinionated. However, after decriminalization comes import of media that violated rights of others and their professional standards and therefore, they caused the greatest damage to the media community itself. It precisely resulted in the fact that, due to the growing occurrence of fake news, society has less trust in the media.’

Also, it could relatively recently be heard the idea of introducing sanctions against fake news via new reforms to media laws. But, it should be kept in mind the fact of who started the first discussion about this because at the end fake news would be the least sanctioned and those same sanctions would serve as continuation of fight against different-opinionated’, Gazivoda warned.

The next panel was devoted to discussing matters such as – To what extent are fakee news threatening democratic values? Whom do they serve and whom they damage? How to fight against fake news?

During the second panel, Slobodan Georgiev said that media credibility is key for protection from fake news, and that information must thoroughly be checked before being posted via news, as well as that a speed of review must not be to the detriment of quality, regardless of how much the market prefers precisely this speed of news publishing.

Suncica Bakic stated that it is necessary to redefine the role of media and to recognize new channels of distribution of information. And since a completely new and different culture of communication has been formed, it is necessary to establish principles that will introduce at least basic principles as per which journalism functions – and that is ethics. If the society wants to support fundamental democratic values, it must give unequivocal support to credible journalism that is the first line of defence against fake news.’

Srdan Kosovic assessed that media literacy and education on media are crucial in the fight against fake news. ‘It is therefore important to think also about the context of understanding the phenomena of fake news. In order to address this phenomenon properly, it is important to pay attention also to the fact that people are interested in what the truth is and not whether they recognize it. On the other hand, it is necessary to accept what is an unpleasant fact for many of us, but that is how it is, and this fact precisely has to be encouraged’ Kosovic underlined.

Sinisa Gazivoda pointed out that the European Court of Human Rights began addressing the problem of fake news and establishing position that fake news is a more dangerous event, a moment, a deed than defamation itself. ‘Because by defamation only one particular person or group is attacked, and on the other hand, fake news is harmful to all consumers because they are making a wrong impression about a certain matter. On the other hand, the Montenegrin courts have not been dealing with this problem so far, because in order for it to be addressed, an individual civil right must be violated. Finally, as far as civil-legal protection is concerned, when it comes to fake news, it does not exist in the Montenegrin judiciary’, Gazivoda said.

Andro Martinovic has problematized that one thing is often overlooked ‘and that is, people are accessing the media nowadays looking for news and searching to read the more sensational news, but only if it has no consequences for their lives. This is why the phenomenon of experiencing news is very important.’

CGO - Lažne vijest – neprijatelji demokratije

Second Democracy Forum Fake News – Enemies of Democracy was organised by CCE in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES).

The Forum gathered around 50 alumni of the School of Democracy that are participating in social-political life in different manners, but also in culture, economy, etc. First Democracy Forum „How to transform populism from a threat to challenge on learning about democracy?” was held in May 2017, and the idea is for this gathering to have current issues in Montenegro and further in its focus.

Milos Knezevic, PR/Programme Associate