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Fast and false

Welcome to the era of fake news, in which the speed of publishing news articles is more important than their veracity.

News in our time is fuelled by speed rather than content and accuracy. Today, news articles do not aim to inform but serve only as bait for clicks and profit. Overloaded with information, both journalists and readers are losing their ability to distinguish between fake and accurate information.

At around noon on the last Tuesday of March, one of the online media platforms reported that “MPs are raising their salaries and per diems,” quoting the Mid-term Expense Framework 2018-2020, which was approved on the same day by the Commission on Budget and Finances. It is impossible to know exactly which medium published the news first, but very quickly the majority of online media in Kosovo distributed the same news.

Reacting to news on online media, citizens began expressing their anger on social media. Their reactions very quickly brought on a reaction from politicians. The Speaker of the Assembly Kadri Veseli declared that “he was against a salary raise for MPs,” continuing to say that, “when they increase the salaries and standard of living for the people, that is when politicians should start thinking about their own wages.” MP Gezim Kelmendi declared that “the decision to increase salaries and per diems for MPs that was just taken by the Parliamentary Commission on Budget and Finances is a shameful, scandalous decision against the social welfare of all Kosovo citizens.” Afraid that he was lagging behind in condemning the “decision,” the head of the Alliance New Kosovo, AKR, Behgjet Pacolli also reacted, saying that “members of Parliament that are holding youth employment and Kosovo’s development hostage are requesting to raise their own salaries… I wonder when this shame will end…”

All this hysteria from the media, commenters on social media, MPs and party leaders resulted from a false news report, which no one bothered to fact-check. The spike in the salary category for 2018 in the Midterm Framework of Expenses 2018-2020 for the Kosovo Parliament resulted from plans for elections and salaries for MPs who would not be re-elected, as well as plans for additional employments in the Parliament’s administration – it was not a result of increased salaries.

A similar comical situation was repeated last week. After the debate organized by the Group for  Legal and Political Studies, various media quoted Nataliya Apostolova, the EU representative in Kosovo, as having “demanded that the Constitutional Court of Kosovo review its opinion about the Agreement on the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities.” The reaction of opposition parties, which criticized Apostolova for intervening in judicial decisions, was immediate. In an attempt to clarify, the European Union Office in Kosovo published the full statement of Mrs. Apostolova. Even after the EU office published Apostolova’s full statement, opposition MPs did not retract their accusations. Moreover the Council for Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, KMDLNJ, reacted against Apostolova an hour after the EU office had sent its clarification.

These case of publishing unconfirmed news are not new, nor will they be the last instances. Kosovo is not the only country that is pursuing journalism that is not based on facts. On January 8, 2011, while a public gathering was taking place in Tucson, Arizona, an attacker fired shots in crowd, killing six people and wounding many others, including the U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. While Giffords was fighting for her life, the biggest media networks like CNN, NBC and FOX News declared her dead. But Giffords survived the attack. Years later, an episode of the TV show The Newsroom based on this story best reflects the absurdity of American media running after the speed in which news is published without first verifying information. In this fictional series, the editors decide not to follow the example of the other media outlets and declare that “a person is not declared dead by the media, but from a medical doctor.”

In addition to creating comical situations, unverified news articles have a bigger effect, especially in cases that deal with issues of public interest such as MP salaries or the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities. But with the spread of online media, copying news content without quoting the original source is also becoming a problem. And in a world where media outlets copy fake news, identifying the source of such news becomes even more arduous. Just as some media hurry to copy news in order to fill their platforms with content and thus generate profit from ads, politicians also react with speed in order to attract attention. When this happens, we move from a single fake news report on to a political stance. Unfortunately, in many cases, even large organizations such as political parties or human rights organizations  fall into this trap.

After the last elections in the US, during which fake news became a topic of debate among presidential candidates, and many believe they also affected the election outcome, other countries are taking preemptive measures. Germany, which is in front of an important electoral process, is considering to adopt a law that will fine social media if they do not offer the possibility to report and remove fake news. It looks like this has pushed Facebook to apply new measures to prevent and report fake news in Germany.

Kosovo is not Germany and the Albanian language is not as widespread as German, so Facebook will probably not take such measures to block the dispersal of fake news in Albanian. Such a responsibility must fall on the Independent Media Commission, which through legal changes needs to extend its supervision to online media. The Kosovo Association of Journalists also needs to go beyond protecting journalists and start protecting journalism.

28 April 2017 - 14:13

Agron Demi

28/04/2017 - 14:13

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.