Belgrade Regional meeting of media councils from South East Europe and Turkey focuses on tackling online disinformation

15 March 2018

Online disinformation has been enabled by the development of digital media, yet it is a multifaceted problem with various causes and solutions. Convinced of the role they can play in talking this problem, representatives of press and media councils from South East Europe and Turkey gathered to exchange best practices on the maintenance of standards of professionalism in media in the online world.

The meeting took place in Belgrade on 3 and 4 March 2018 as part of the UNESCO project “Building Trust in Media in South East Europe and Turkey” and strengthened regional cooperation regarding the ever growing challenge of online disinformation. Organized by the Press Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina a co-partner of the Project, the 44 participants of this Master Class exchanged on how their bodies succeeded in adapting to the online world and addressing breach of the journalistic code of ethics offline and online.

“The Press Council in Serbia Is a pioneer in reaching out to online readers and to journalists through new technologies. We have launched earlier this year a mobile Application to allow citizens to file complaints through their mobile phone. The mobile Application also displays the code of ethics and its new ethical digital guidelines for journalists,” said Petar Jeremic, Member of the Press Complaints Commission of the Press Council in Serbia.

The new digital ethical guidelines for Serbian Journalists cover issues such as the online archiving period, the use of information found on social media, the right to be forgotten, the moderation of comments. A majority of press councils from the region have developed similar guidelines while the rest is  currently in the middle of this process, such as Albania.

“The majority of the complaints we receive concerns information published online and this has considerably increased our workload. Unfortunately, a lot of disinformation and hate speech is spread by online platforms that are not providing any details about who their owner or editor are, where the information comes from, if it has been fact-checked. Neither do they offer a possibility for the reader to ask for a correction or a right of reply. Our work as a press council is limited as any kind of mediation and moral sanction is not possible. Should those platforms be considered as journalism? This is a challenging question for all of us, especially as the number of such platforms is growing before election periods”, explained Ljiljana Zurovac, Executive Director of the Press Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

As a response to this challenge, the Press Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina explained to the participants of the Master Class how it embarked in a campaign to educate citizens on how to spot false and misleading information, how to distinguish trustful media outlets from platforms created to spread “fake news”; while encouraging citizens to file complaints with the press council. This linked to a presentation of the MIL (Media Information Literacy) component of the project and the activities initiated to enhance MIL in the region.

The need to continue supporting press and media councils with adequate funding to tackle dis and mis information online and restore public trust in media was emphasized during most discussions of the event.