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Defenders of truth in the Western Balkans

In the last couple of years, the end of June has marked the start of the EPD’s Annual Conference. In a year full of dynamics, the doors were open to discuss the most prominent topic: elections.

After digesting election results across the continent, and a few cookies from the permanent coffee corners from the venues’ elegant main hall, speakers, moderators and EPD’s session leads found their way to stimulating breakout sessions, including the discussion on disinformation and elections in the Western Balkans and the EU, which gave a taste of the challenges faced across the continent. 

The rapid spread of disinformation distorts people’s perception of truth, devouring our identities, values and sense of place in the world, Omri Preiss, Alliance4Europe’s Executive Director, pointed out after RasKRIKavanje’s journalist Milica Ljubičić shared examples of the 1150  manipulations of information identified by RasKRIKavanje in monitoring the front pages of Serbia’s six largest newspapers in 2023. 
Unconstrained by geographic boundaries, the information space is susceptible to internal  and external influences. Even though we do not have complete control over our own information space, we must do what is within our control, which is strengthening our institutional capacity. Therefore, ‘‘support should be given to information space actors, such as journalists, by reinforcing their capacities, supporting investigative journalism, and improving media literacy.’’ – Irène Mingasson, Head of Unit, Rapid Response Europe, Asia and America at the European Commission, added to the discussion.

Ending with a pinch of optimism as soon as tips, tools, and best practices began to be shared, many of these supported by the EU funded project ‘Combatting Disinformation in the Western Balkans (CDWB), the panel could not have ended with a better flourish than with the Ethical Journalism Awards closing ceremony.  Four journalists from the Western Balkans were awarded for their work on truthful reporting and for embracing ethical journalism principles and leading by example in media reporting in the region. 

The awards were part of the #CheckitFirst campaign, run by ARTICLE 19 within the framework of the EU funded project ‘‘Combatting Disinformation in the Western Balkans (CDWB)’ in which EPD is a partner. This project aims to tackle foreign information manipulation and interference (FIMI) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro and Serbia by:

  • Engaging citizens in awareness campaigns and media literacy,
  • Analysing disinformation patterns and media ethics for advocacy,
  • Improving national and regional regulations while safeguarding freedom of expression, and
  • Building fact-checking skills to enhance media accountability and reliability.

Awarded stories and their significance

Ivana Milosavljević, Teodora Ćurčić, Vladimir Kostić | “CINS in the SNS Call Centre: Hostess Agency, Vote Buying, and Millions in Cash” | Serbia

This article is an investigation into a vote buying scheme in Serbia. It entails first hand solid evidence of the role of call center’s agencies in vote buying processes as well as it tries to raise awareness that such methods and schemes exist in Serbia. 

An-Đurđa Radulović | “There Is No Equality as Long as the Tradition of Bloody Sheets Survives” | Montenegro 

This article aims to raise awareness about harmful traditional practices like hymenoplasty. Unnecessary and harmful medical procedures undermine basic ethical principles and the health of female patients, and hymenoplasty is even advertised on the websites of some clinics.

Dragan Maksimović | “Special and Parallel Connections of Coal Mining” | Bosnia and Herzegovina 

This article conducts a thorough investigation of potential high-level corruption of coal exploitation in Bosnia and Herzegovina which has increased several times compared to previous years. 

Aulonë Kadriu, Dardan Hoti | “If the Videos Are Posted, I Will Lose Everything” | Kosovo* 

This article investigates the consequences  of revenge porn, while also addressing Balkan systemic  patriarchal traditions. The article urges the immediate need to take action in raising awareness as well as creating a legal framework to protect victims of revenge porn. 

The Ethical Journalism Awards ceremony was part of a study visit to Brussels and London where the awarded journalists had the opportunity to exchange views and experiences with each other and experts in the media field, and discuss how to improve ethical journalism in their countries. But, safeguarding truth in a digital age is not an easy task, in fact ”being a fact checker is not easy especially during political campaigns as there is constant propaganda”, as Milica Ljubičić highlighted during the conference session, especially because it’s not just about truth, it’s about the ability to discern if the sources are legitimate or bots, Omri Preiss concluded in his final remarks.

Defenders of truth in the Western Balkans

With the proliferation of FIMI in the Western Balkans due to the rise of digital technologies, and amidst increasing challenges in fact-checking, the CDWB project aims to contribute to tackling disinformation in the Western Balkans through citizen recommendations, media monitoring, policy dialogue and awareness raising. The project will present a conference on the 1sth of October 2024 during its final conference ‘‘Democracy in an Age of Disinformation: Insights and Responses from the Western Balkans’’ in Montenegro.

*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.

Article 19