BIRN and the EU Office marked the international day of fact-checking with a high conference where the preliminary findings of a disinformation study in Kosovo were presented.
PM Albin Kurti, EU ambassador Tomas Szunyog and many representatives of institutions and media participated in a conference that marked the International Fact-Checking Day, celebrated on the second of April, one day after April Fools’ Day.
Jeta Xharra, co-founder of BIRN and director of the organization in Kosovo, said that the truth should not be a discriminated or oppressed concept because, according to her, the truth should be a daily part of our lives.
“We witness that the truth is not guaranteed even in the democratic and developed countries, as the truth often faces the victory of lies, conspiracies, misinformation, that aim to divide societies, confuse them, but also scare them in order to make decisions that reasonable individuals would not do”, Xharra declared.
The country’s PM, Albin Kurti, opened his speech with an ‘over time’ comparison, as he
called it, to describe and depict how much the way of conveying news has changed.
“In contemporary political life, nothing has compressed public discourse more than the almost frenetic acceleration of the flow of news and information. If only a century ago, people went to the cinema to watch state-run film chronicles shot at the front days before [their viewing], today people can see the fighting from the fronts in Ukraine in real time, through live broadcasts”, the PM said.
Albin Kurti added that authenticity and reliability go together as values, but also practically and concretely at all times. “Whenever there is a talk about the right to report freely, I am happy to affirm that I am at the head of a government of a country where freedom of the media is an example to the countries of the region and beyond, as stated in international reports”, he noted in his speech.
EU Ambassador to Kosovo, Tomas Szunyog, also highlighted the importance of fighting disinformation.
“It is our collective responsibility to fight disinformation and explore new strategies and partnerships to promote professional journalism and media literacy and ensure access to verified information, transparency, and accountability. The EU will continue supporting Kosovo in this regard,” said Szunyog.
The EU is there to help fact-checkers in the region, promote independent journalism and ensure quality journalism, said the Head of Strategic Communications Taskforce and Information Analysis at the EEAS, Lutz Guellner, addressing the conference through a video.
“The issue of foreign manipulation of information has become even more important since the 24th of February of last year. We have seen more and more activity. […] One the answers is resilience in our societies and you as journalists, as fact-checkers, as professionals and as part of this community play a crucial role”, Guellner said.
Kreshnik Gashi, co-author on the disinformation study, shared the initial findings of this research on the flow of fake news and disinformation in Kosovo.
“Some of the facts that we collected in this research -based on more than 100 sources like web pages, portals and political debates- were initially monitored through computer algorithms”, Gashi told the audience.
As part of this research, from October 15, 2022 to March 15, 2023, 315 false publications were found, 33 related to inter-ethnic relations, 30 related to the dialogue process with Serbia, 20 that had to do with health and 10 connected to the economy.
The researchers found misinformation about the foreign influence and the anti-integration propaganda.
By means of this research, Kreshnik Gashi emphasized that 40 television platforms, 50 social network accounts and political shows have been monitored so far.
One hundred and sixty-nine  statements and public declarations have come out as suspicious from people who are considered as political influencers in the society.
A survey based on a sample of over 1,000 citizens from different ethnicities was conducted, so that researchers would consider to what extent fake narratives or misinformation have influenced them. In addition, an experiment with 5 different public professions was conducted, to understand how people are easy prey to fake news and disinformation.
“It is worrying that many citizens believe news that is false, starting from the category of teachers, with 30 per cent, but this also includes judges who do not have enough knowledge to distinguish the definition of false news”, Kreshnik Gashi added.
Italian Ambassador, Antonello De Riu, wrote in a letter ahead of the conference that disinformation is one of the major concerns of democratic countries.
“Behind false news or fake news, strategies are often articulated to manipulate public opinion and erode the stability of states and their democratic institutions”, he stated.
According to him, the widespread use of digital media and platforms allows for campaigns to spread quickly.
De Riu further stated that the media has a central role in addressing the impact of disinformation and it is highly valuable in countries like Kosovo which has the highest internet access.
Speeches were followed by a discussion panel where the challenges of disinformation and fake news in Kosovo were talked about. Xhemajl Rexha, Chairman of the Board of Association of Journalists of Kosovo, Jeton Mehmeti from the Independent Media Commission, Brikenda Rexhepi, Chief Editor at Koha Group, Faik Ispahiu from Internews Kosova and Budimir Nicic from Media Center in Çaglavica composed the panel.
“Suppression and penalization of the freedom to express the critical opinion has opened the way in the virtual world to build narratives and virtual truths which in the real world are ending in fights, conflicts and war. The only way to prevent this is to present the facts. Because today, this is not only an issue of the media, today the verification of the facts is actually a matter of national security”, said Faik Spahiu, director of Internews Kosova.
The EU Office in Kosovo and BIRN Kosovo are currently working on a study on disinformation in the Balkan country, which will be published by the end of May.
BIRN has been a member of the International Fact-Checking Network since 2017. BIRN’s fact-checking and disinformation efforts have helped it gain tremendous public trust and win dozens of prestigious awards.