How would you describe the mission and expertise of your organisation in the field of media literacy/ critical thinking/ fact checking/ countering disinformation?
I was vice-president and chief editor of Radio Slobodna Europa, a station which broadcasts in 26 languages. When you broadcast in multiple languages, you cannot have the same task for each country. You have to adapt your program to the country in which you broadcast. But the main task is always to provide basic information, truthful information, and give your listeners, readers or viewers the possibility to come to their own conclusions based on the information you gave them.
What are the main resources developed by your organisation you’d be willing to share?
Everything Radio Slobodna Europa does, they are more than happy to share with others. Be it its website https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/, databases, or any other type of knowledge.
Which are, in your opinion, the three biggest current challenges related to countering disinformation in your country?
The media are almost 100% owned by individuals or the state. Sparse independent media have very little influence. I think the biggest challenge is the ignorance of mainstream media to all the scandals the independent media discovers. It will be hard to make a difference.
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?
I think fake news is an industry. This is an industry which has employees, working hours, norms and pays. The only way to battle against the industry of lies is to create the industry of truth. I think the reaction to fake news is sometimes good, sometimes not, but in principle the reaction to fake news is wrong. You can have a brilliant reaction after one hour, for example. But in that one hour, fake news already spread enough to cause damage. So, I think reaction is just one of the necessities in the battle against fake news. Second, an example from Finland, where they decided to start countering disinformation, believe it or not, from kindergarten. They teach children to think critically, to fact check everything, etc. So, it is not a battle to be won by reacting only.
What are the top three events or dates you have witnessed this year that have caused an intensification of disinformation activities?
First of all, the American elections. The second one is, of course the Coronavirus situation, the crisis and the nonsense which is happening. There is a Twitter account in England, with 30.000 followers, which promotes claims the pandemic started because of some people using the 5G technology. These are the two big subjects, and then each country has its own ones. But the only constant is the propaganda against the EU and the NATO pact coming from the East.
In your opinion, which future three dates/events are likely to bring about the intensification of disinformation activities in 2020-2021?
It will get worse in America not only during the presidential elections, but also after the presidential elections. Here in the Balkan region, fake news will probably appear in the Croatia-Serbia relation. On the one hand, you have a peace campaign, on the other – people who do not agree with that. In 2021, there will probably be a lot of talk about the EU elections.
What are the prevailing disinformation narratives you have observed in the media space this year.
Except for the coronavirus, I did an analysis, but not this year, about how the Russian radio station Sputnik purposely sends out fake information regarding NATO and the EU.
Have you been relying on any fact-checking tools? If yes, please describe them or share the links.
There are some web pages in the region and much more in the world which deal exclusively with that. FAKTOGRAF in Croatia, ISTINOMER in Belgrade, ISTINOMER in Sarajevo, FAKENEWS.ORG from Ukraine tackling fake news coming from Russia. NEW YORK TIMES and WASHINGTON POST, you have a lot of websites which deal with this problem. You’ve got FORENSIC.COM if you want to check photographs.
Would you like to highlight any of the disinformation cases you have witnessed/ discovered/ debunked?
I will give you a known case. A long time ago, the Serbian television announced the president Milosevic was arrested. Official television, official channel, official news program. After that, reporters found out he was not arrested, he was at home. And fifty of his followers came to support him. However, when the authorities saw such a small number of adherers, they decided to arrest him the following day. So, it was a purposely placed fake news. The state and state television wanted to check how much support Milosevic would get if he really got arrested. When they saw only few supporters, they did arrest him.
Are there any other points you wish to raise during this interview?
Be patient and go deep.