Debunking Misinformation in Sarajevo

After a two-day orientation workshop, seven BH journalists and researchers are set to trace and analyse disinformation and deconstruct dangerous narratives in the media.

The concept of post-truth sticks to the idea that facts are not important but narratives are, and this is the basis for the analysis of politicians’ statements in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region as the focus of the work that the participants of the workshop „Debunking Misinformation: Deconstructing Dangerous Narratives in BH Media“ are devoted to as a follow-up to the event.

The workshop was held in Sarajevo on August 6 and 7 by trainers Jaroslav Valuch, Boro Kontic and Elvira Jukic – Mujkic, within a project by South East European Network for Professionalization of Media (SEENPM) and Transitions, implemented in BH by Mediacentar Sarajevo.

The workshop included discussions on how media in BH multiply statements by politicians without checking them for accuracy and in that way cause damage to the public. Similar examples from the Czech Republic and other European countries were analysed.

Valuch, who works with Transitions in Prague, presented different approaches in debunking misinformation and showed examples that worked in other newsrooms and with specialized projects. 

“There is a special role for journalists because people still do expect journalists to help them in navigating through the information chaos that is so obvious these days. First of all, journalists should do their work as best as they can, really to do proper fact checking, really do proper verification. I know it's often difficult because they are under pressure of time, they need to constantly publish something, but they still need to provide good quality [media] outlets”, Valuch said.

Training in fact-checking and the use of different verification tools is necessary for journalists, but it is also important for them to talk to people about what quality journalism is. Boro Kontic, trainer who held a session on lessons from Bosnia and Herzegovina’s past and reflected on how media reporting incited national hatred prior to the 1992-95 war, said that disinformation is a catastrophe for the journalistic profession but also to the general public.

“Disinformation makes people confused and it more or less creates damage for one’s whole life. Unfortunately, we have no way to measure damage it can cause, but according to what we can see – our public often being confused, wandering around and believing all sorts of things – it is among the worst issues happening to our profession”, Kontic said.

Journalists and researchers who participated in the workshop and who are set to work on their analysis of disinformation, pointed out that the problem is particularly pressing when it comes to online media and social networks. Some of them pointed out that disinformation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is largely being produced by so-called ‘wild portals’ or those with no information whatsoever about ownership, legal establishment or journalists and editors, which mostly exist to earn money and do not care about ethical standards.

One of the participants of the workshop, Vuk Vucetic, added that fake content is re-produced in the traditional media as these take over content from different online portals – unverified sources. In order to stand up to the mess caused by disinformation, it is important to learn how to recognize it, to use proper tools and approaches in analysing it and explaining it to the public.

The project by SEENPM and Transitions, implemented across the Western Balkans, is designed to put efforts in that direction with the aim is to raise awareness about the quality of media reporting.

Following the workshops in several countries of the Western Balkans, some 40 participants (young journalists and journalism students) will produce articles exposing and challenging distorted media content, including cross-border work on such stories.