How would you describe the mission and expertise of your organisation in the field of media literacy/ critical thinking/ fact checking/ countering disinformation?
The Centre for Investigative Reporting that I run is a media agency aiming to provide fair and unbiased information to the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the whole region, because some of our topics are also regional. By doing that we try to provide as factual information as possible, based on original, undistorted sources and documents, as well as on facts distilled from opinions or diversions. In this way we hope to raise the level of understanding of the situation in the country or the region, but also to educate our readers which information is true, how to find it, whom to trust and why to trust a particular source. As a result, we counter disinformation – basically just by teaching the audience that information is available through trusted sources, they fight disinformation by doing research. Fact checking is a new global trend in the media sphere, and basically every serious news organisation does it internally within their own resources. In our case, it is the last stage of verification before the story is published: an independent person who did not participate in the journalistic investigation checks if all the statements reported in the story that had earlier gone through the editorial process and is ready to be published are based on the documents and are not misinterpreted, which is basically the main thing. So fact-checking in the context of media reporting is an inclusive part in the process of developing stories, videos or any other media product. It is integral element of the media reporting process.
What are the main resources developed by your organisation you’d be willing to share?
Investigative stories are available on our page https://www.cin.ba/en/. Since we function basically as a media agency, media organisations in our country or in the region take over the stories we publish. Eventually the stories are deposited on our web page, where they are permanently archived, available both in local language and English. All stories are accompanied by multimedia content, be it videos, animations, infographics, photos and other material depending on the story. We try to come up with as many additional documents as possible to make the wider audience understand the story better. We also try to adapt the content to different social media platforms, which require a different approach. Although, being investigative reporters, we do not have our own training programs, but we do provide input for the trainings organised by other organisations. Our educational materials are published on our web. So basically it is the collection of all the materials we have produced throughout the 16th years of existence. We also summarise our yearly activities in annual reports. In addition, since the amount of documents and official information that we collect for every research or investigation is massive, we try to provide additional use for that by disclosing our databases. In this way – by sharing a digital access to the documents that are in our hands – we assist officials, fellow journalists, researchers, and everybody else to continue the research. That is a big thing in Bosnia these days, because data journalism is relatively new in the Balkans, unlike in the rest of Europe or the world. We try to inspire others to try to find a different angle, a different story, an additional story in the documents we have made the use of https://cri.lt/#publications
Which are, in your opinion, the three biggest current challenges related to countering disinformation in your country?
I think the biggest challenge overall is that we have to fight very hard to return to the basis of journalism. Journalists will have to go back to respecting professional standards which have not changed. Journalists these days are fighting with social networks or citizen journalism – which is a new concept that is hopefully going to trail away because it is not journalism. At the same time, journalists are often criticised today for not being professional, being biased, being politically affiliated with different political options. This is definitely diminishing their position. So the challenge is to go back to the basics, to resume professional standards and to adapt to the new times, as the need for unbiased and truthful information has not ceased to exist. Challenges are also financial, professional, and educational, you name it, but that is not different from any other profession, we just have to continuously learn and adapt to the challenges of society.
Could you name three solutions that you implemented or else want to recommend as an advice how to counter disinformation, strengthen societies’ critical thinking skills and build civil resilience to disinformation?
Journalists need to start cooperating with their fellow colleagues from the rest of the world. There are great solutions out there, and it has never been easier to access them via Internet in the global world. So first of all: communication and cooperation among journalists, exchanging information, knowledge, solutions, ideas how to come up with a story, what steps to undertake to investigate this or that. On the other hand, we as citizens will have to realise that not all the sources are truthful, as well as to engage more in selecting the sources of our information feed. In this way we will be able to fight disinformation, which, together with hate speech, is a threat to a society.
What are the top three events or dates you have witnessed this year that have caused an intensification of disinformation activities?
Covid19, Covid19, Covid19. I think the start of the pandemic is not the date that we can assign to the start of disinformation campaigns – it only clearly highlighted all the evil sides of manipulative activities, how they can confuse people and strike fear.
In your opinion, which future three dates/events are likely to bring about the intensification of disinformation activities in 2020-2021?
Eventually we will get to a point where we have a vaccine available for the general population, which I think is going to activate the anti-vaccine movement, so that will definitely be the date in the time to come. The anti-vaccine community is going to grow again and they will be very loud and visible. Another milestone in the future will be when we are able to officially declare the pandemic is over – and we will have to learn again how to live normally, as before the pandemic. Still another date is in my opinion related to the moment we accept that human rights are to be respected with no questions asked. When will this date come, and will we be able to mark the day or the period in time when everybody agrees that human rights are equal for everybody – that is another question.
What are the prevailing disinformation narratives you have observed in the media space this year.
Again, Covid 19, of course – numerous disinformation narratives are about Covid or around Covid. But I think we are also seeing the rise of populist movements around the world, as well as the rise of nationalistic, if not fascistic movements in Europe in particular, but also in the rest of the world.
Have you been relying on any fact-checking tools? If yes, please describe them or share the links.
There is a rise of fact-checking portals that are not journalistic, but they function as typical fact-checking organisation. They take a story that is available and check it against facts and sources of these facts. That is a good way for educating the public who starts noticing and regularly visiting those sites, because they pop up on a regular basis. Here in Croatia we have Faktograf, but there are similar organisations across the Western Balkans and wider. Is a good way to learn what to look for in an information, and to understand that not everything that we read, be it media or social network, is true or unbiased. So just by learning what to look for in a story is a first step in fighting disinformation globally. Expecting that only one group, one part of the society is responsible for making the world better, we would never be able to win this battle.
Would you like to highlight any of the disinformation cases you have witnessed/ discovered/ debunked?
My personal favourite is the anti-vaccine movement. I truly believe people have a freedom of choice, but if they choose not to vaccinate themselves or their kids, then they should not be able to enjoy all the other aspects of the modern society.
In your opinion, who are the best performing actors – in your country, as well as in the EU – playing crucial roles in the field of media literacy today and why?
It is hard to pinpoint one actor. I think that public figures in general should be responsible for alerting the public – no matter what they do, no matter what their profession is. Once someone becomes recognisable, his or her role is to contribute to people’s understanding of everything including, media literacy.