Balkan Media Supported by BIRN Up Skills to Fight Fake News

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Balkan media outlets with the support of BIRN mentors are taking proactive measures to combat fake news and disinformation while promoting accountability in journalism.

Illustration: Igor Vucic / BIRN

Media outlets in the Balkan region are making progress in combating the scourge of fake news, taking a multi-faceted approach to the issue.

Grantees of the second phase of media project Media for All, 28 media outlets from Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia, have gone a step ahead in the fight against disinformation, by combining engaged citizens reporting with other journalistic strategies.

Besides, fact-checking, correcting misinformation, and increasing transparency, the use of the BIRN’s engaged citizens reporting ECR tool is a particularly promising strategy, as it fosters community participation and encourages the development of trust between media outlets and their audience.

“The use of ECR has helped Historia Ime to produce quality journalism, dedicated to the fight against disinformation and fake news towards the community it represents,” journalists from Historia Ime from Albania said.

Historia Ime employed the innovative digital tool to involve the LGBTQ+ community in public debates, especially to engage them in the fight against fake news and disinformation that often circulates in the media and public space around this community.

Media outlets participating in the project have gone beyond traditional journalistic strategies by leveraging the ECR tool developed by Balkan Investigative Reporting network.

The tool’s aim is to facilitate engaged citizens reporting by enabling media outlets and citizens to communicate with each other.

The ECR tool allows media outlets to solicit and receive submissions from citizens, such as testimonies, documents, files, or responses to specific queries, fostering a more collaborative and transparent news ecosystem. In turn, citizens can participate in reporting and engage with media outlets directly, building trust and improving the quality of news coverage.

Throughout the duration of the project, media outlets in the Balkans have engaged citizens in various pressing issues, including inflation, gender-based violations and discrimination against Roma and other minority groups.

For instance, Voice from Vojvodina, Serbia, debunked fake news about Ukrainian war refugees in Serbia, while Amfora Media from Tirana reported on the tendentious use of historical facts, attacks on national historical figures and incorrect information in school textbooks.

“Citizens have reacted well with answers, which can be seen from the number of respondents, which has steadily increased during the course of the project,” said a journalist of Romtegra, a media outlet that engages the Egyptian, Ashkali and Roma communities in Kosovo.

The Media for All project, supported by the UK government and led by the British Council, is part of media development programme  supporting greater media independence in the Western Balkans.

After the successful first phase of the project, which supported  51 media outlets directly and engaged 39,000 citizens in six Balkan countries, the second phase aimed to boost media outlets’ capacities to fight false information and equip their newsrooms with new strategies.

In the project, 66 journalists participated in online training, led by Balkan Insight Editor and Fact-checker Ivana Jeremic, aimed at improving their fact-checking capacities and resilience to fake news.

Media outlets were supported by 11 mentors who provided advice on various editorial work, including drafting questionnaires, identifying potential sources or fact-checking before publishing.

“Working with a mentor was above all constructive. We addressed all the challenges, if there were any, in an adequate manner and solved them efficiently in the shortest possible time,” said Mladen Bubonjic from Gerila, a Bosnian portal that investigated the challenges facing communities living near environmentally endangered habitats..

“Mentoring on the project had a positive effect both on the outcome itself and on upgrading our existing knowledge related to working with the ECR tool,” he added.

The project has resulted in qualitative progress in the media as outlets improved their fact-checking methods and sensitivity towards research, media outlets reported.

The continued use of the ECR tool in investigative reporting by media outlets will constitute a tangible demonstration of the enduring impact of the project. With the support of the BIRN, the transfer of knowledge will continue to ensure the project’s impact is sustained over time.