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Media Fact Checking Service

USAID Project for Strengthening the Media in Macedonia
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Conclusions from the international conference e-Society: Fact-Checking and Influence of New Technologies on Journalism

on 1 - 03 - 2017       
E-Society Conference - Factchecking versus Fake News. Photo: Vanco Dzambaski, 2017
E-Society Conference – Factchecking versus Fake News. Photo: Vanco Dzambaski, 2017

 

On 31 January 2017, the 12th international conference e-Society: Fact-Checking and Influence of New Technologies on Journalism took place. The focus of the conference, organized by Metamorphosis Foundation, and attended by more than 130 representatives of the civil society sector, public institutions and international organizations, was laid on fake news presented as facts, fiction as reality and (mis)use of principles and standards that are the basis of journalism.

 

The conference highlighted the importance of:

  • Media fact-checking both from the aspect of fight against fake news and respect of journalistic standards;
  • The Media Fact-Checking Service, which is recognized as a tool for educating citizens through the publishing of corrected information compared to the ones published in the reviewed articles;
  • Media literacy is highly important to the development of democracy, and the ethical media assist us to understand the environment we live in.

 

The conference drew the conclusion that:

  • The categories news, facts, fiction, propaganda are more and more intermixed and it becomes more difficult to differentiate them;
  • Macedonia is not an exception therefore the Media Fact-Checking Service plays a pivotal role. During the conference the guests from the region mentioned that the Media Fact-Checking Service is a “brave” project, which would not be easy to be replicated in other countries because it would have been under attack of the discontent media;
  • Past year’s practice of the Media Fact-Checking Service shows that the media, though there still are manipulations, struggle to publish direct untruths, which slowly move to the social media;
  • The coordinated and powerful 24-hour propaganda cycle of spun and manipulative news, driven by dozens of media and controlled by one center, still has a far-reaching role. Generally, it begins from the websites, all of them publish same manipulations and attacks during the day, which are later aired by TV stations and the next morning end up in the newspapers, and afterward this cycle is repeated using new attacks and manipulations.
  • According to the complaints received by the Council of Ethics in Media, the media condition is still poor. More than 70 percent of all complaints refer to disrespect of the basic journalistic rule of check of information’s accuracy;
  • There are numerous examples of breaking the rule of respect of privacy, hate speech, mixing facts with comments;
  • Media Fact-Checking Service’s main aim is promotion of media literacy, thus higher awareness and knowledge of citizens to request accountability and media standards from the media;
  • Institutions are usually closed for media that are critically-oriented and work on investigative journalism;
  • Fact-checking is the only tool that can help us find our way through the gloom of information created by the media

 

Or, more thoroughly in contexts of fact-checking as opposed to fake news:

  • The hopes were high that the appearance of the Internet will lead to increased communication, which happened. However, it brought detrimental effects such as fake news;
  • In order to find out how to fight fake news, we have to take a look at the history of propaganda and how it has been functioning in the past, especially over the course of the Cold War, when propaganda had ideological background, unlike nowadays when it is said that truth is simply unimportant or it is ignored. Even then we can think of ways of how to point out its value, no matter if it is unpleasant and to warn how its influence can be dangerous.
  • When facts and truth are ignored, future is ignored as well, i.e. the idea of the future and progress is ignored and made unimportant. It is replaced by fantasies and calls on glorious past which largely didn’t even exist, but it’s sold as idea of the future.
  • One of the ways to fight fake news is true and in-depth listening to the problems and requests of citizens and by following such requests, journalism ought to be concentrated on in-depth and constructive journalism, which will answer to the audience. All of this will preserve journalism above conspiracies that offer fake news and open a new field which is more susceptible to the audience which will be exposed to information of direct interest.
  • The journalism is an integral part of democracy. The idea is building a bridge between civil society and media;
  • Though media types are altering, truth is constant and journalistic standards remain dedicated to truth;
  • Fake news flooded the world. It is of utmost importance to know how to report properly and professionally. It is indispensable to stick to the facts and check the sources;
  • Journalists should be on the side of citizens, readers and will be relevant;
  • It is difficult to have an influence in a system reigned by clientelism and where politicians know they will not be punished;
  • If journalists don’t know what’s fact-checking, how can the citizens know?

 

Furthermore, conclusions from the panel discussion on media literacy and citizens’ request for higher media quality:

  • According to the research on citizens’ attitude toward media in Macedonia, almost 90% of citizens consider informing as fundamental function of media.
    • More and more citizens inform themselves via social media.
    • Confidence in media is very low, 1/3 of citizens don’t have confidence in media, whereas only 5% have complete confidence, which is a challenge for the media themselves who should increase citizens’ confidence in them.
    • Citizens keep on developing critical attitude toward media content, so 68% of examinees consult several media in order to form complete image for one particular event.
    • 50% of media believe that journalists publish their own views and incorrect news as well, 60% can recognize speculations and defamations in the content, whereas 70% can recognize propaganda in media.
    • If the citizens are certain that their voice will be heard, that will have an encouraging effect on them, but they are afraid that they may face consequences due to public expression of opinion.
  • The findings from the research on media literacy and educational needs of journalists and public in Macedonia show that media literacy should be a new approach in education, not a new subject, which will comprise every stakeholder in the system. Media organizations must understand why media literacy is important to citizens, and also journalists must know what media literacy is.
  • According to the research by the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Services of RM, 62.7% of the examinees think that TV stations provide different information on same events. 63% of the examinees consult multiple media in order to check the same news.
  • Media fact-checking is important so we can think outside the bubble.
  • Media and digital literacy do not cancel one another, au contraire, they are closely linked. Children are category that must not be forgotten when we refer to digital literacy. The research on digital literacy carried out on Romanian children 4-8 years old shows that they are alpha generation that is given digital devices in order to be distracted. Adult generations are not connected to the Internet, albeit 2/3 of households are. Though the mobile connectivity increases, still most excluded groups are elderly, women, people in rural areas and Roma.
  • Census is the image of a country. Politicians observe the census only from two aspects, ethnicity and language, and census is especially important because it provides the image of citizens’ literacy.

 

Moreover, the conclusions after the presentation of Media Fact-Checking Service’s products were the following:

  • Time machine is a tool for archiving media content, operating for six months now. Picturesquely, it allows travelling through websites and archiving content, access to content that can be erased, comparing archived news with main news, copies with originals and also comparing similar articles.
  • A Compendium was prepared within MFCS, which should represent an important resource to journalism. It was authored on the basis of the Code of Journalists of Macedonia and Media Fact-Checking Service’s Methodology, which are the framework of the publication, and then this framework is upgraded with thematic groups of articles. All lessons and analyses arise from the journalistic practice and are reflection of the spirit of time of the Macedonian journalism.

 

Regarding the session that saw the promotion of ethical journalism we can conclude:

  • Ethics is lacking – information is secondary, propaganda gets prime spot on many occasions;
  • Building of professional journalism in unfree country is like building a skyscraper with sand;
  • The degradation of journalism is a result of the degradation of democracy;
  • Pluralism of ideas / should other interlocutors be searched for at any cost in times when institutions are public persons are silent in order to maintain balance?;
  • Big advertisers have impact on the editorial policy;
  • Self-regulation is a process that will lead to greater credibility of media;
  • The standards for objectivity, accuracy and balance are true journalists’ responsibility
  • Journalists from countries with authoritarian tendencies should also have the roll of civil activists;
  • Journalists ought to be aware of the danger of discrimination;
  • Disputes between journalists and media degrade the profession;
  • Journalists do not consult multiple sources;

The discussion on the current situation with media in Macedonia drew the following conclusions:

  • The digitalization of the broadcasting sector in RM has ended, but the unfinished things are still echoing. The digitalization severely hit the broadcasters from a financial point of view, and the process was insufficiently transparent. There isn’t final report and analysis of the finalized process of digitalization.
  • A research on the process of digitalization has been conducted, which showed that:
    • Analyses based on scientific criteria, made by regulatory bodies, are scarce, so the given measures and recommendations are more politically motivated
    • Key thing hasn’t been done: Previous analysis of the digital dividend
    • Confusion in the process of planning, implementation and monitoring of the digitalization.
  • According to the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Services of RM, the digitalization has been implemented in compliance with the Law (Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services), there is a separate Report penned by independent agencies in Macedonia, and plenty of data (research, analyses, reports) related to the digitalization are available on Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Services’ website.
  • According to the research of the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Services of RM, television is a dominant medium, i.e. 75% of citizens use TV as a source of information, and the second place belongs to the Internet.
  • The legal regulative regarding the media is primarily good, but its implementation is insufficiently good. The possibility for doing something regarding responsibility on social media should be taken into consideration, regulatory solutions online. In addition, public interest in media should be defined and how such public interest should be protected.
  • Macedonia is still in a phase in which the traditional media dictate the pace and the narrative, which is later spread on social media (fact: 75% of citizens use TV as a source of information)
  • The twitter community is a trouble to the government’s propaganda.

In context of internet tool and tactics for journalists and active citizens, it can be concluded that:

  • Tableau, Infogr.am, Piktochart, TimelineJS are useful tools for analysis of data and visualizations;
  • Social media in Macedonia are a tool for swift and prompt informing of citizens;
  • Presenting news as short videos is a good way to reach wider audience;
  • It is important for the media and the civil society associations to protect their websites from digital attacks through the use of free tools

The Watchdog journalism workshop drew the following conclusions:

  • Having a fact-checking methodology and securing relevant documents from the institutions are important
  • Formation of new databases from various activities and projects of the government and other institutions is excellent base for investigative journalism;
  • It is important to speak up about the facts, if the authorities are silent – it is a sign of complete ignoring, but if there is some kind of reaction, it means that we have reached them and the subject is topical for themselves too;
  • The new concept of journalism comprises utilization of two new tools, 1. Social media and 2. Fact-checking.

 

The conference was organized within the USAID project for strengthening the media in Macedonia, Media Fact-Checking Service component, implemented by Metamorphosis Foundation.

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