Jeta Xharra, Executive Director of NIRN Kosovo. Photo: BIRN.

Unmasking Lies: BIRN Report Reveals Extent of Disinformation in Kosovo

In a stark revelation, a recent study conducted by BIRN has laid bare the pervasive web of disinformation entangling Kosovo. The study exposes a troubling landscape where false narratives, fueled by foreign influence, not only strain relations between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs but also undermine trust in NATO and EU integration efforts.

“A large Kosovo Security Force military base, equipped with Anti-Aircraft missiles, will be established near Serbia”, reported the self-proclaimed BBC portal in May 2022. The news was shared 80 times, most recently in January 2023, across 15 Facebook pages. The problem with it — it is fake news. 

The portal, using “BBC” in its name to intentionally mislead the public into thinking it is affiliated with the UK broadcaster, published false information that was later republished by three other websites.

This is only one of the examples of disinformation found by a report prepared by BIRN Kosovo, that launched on Monday. The study revealed worrisome results about the external influence on disinformation in Kosovo. 

According to the study, both registered and unregistered media outlets, social media pages, and politicians have been involved in the production and dissemination of propaganda and false information. This has fueled tensions between Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs while also spreading narratives against NATO and EU integration, according to the study.

Tomáš Szunyog, EU Ambassador in Kosovo, at the launch of the report event, on Monday. Photo: BIRN.

“The risk of disinformation has become even clearer at the rise of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified aggression towards Ukraine. Therefore we must work tirelessly to safeguard professional journalism and promote the values of transparency, accountability and truth. The EU has been a committed supporter actively contributing to these causes, including the fight against desinformation,” said Tomáš Szunyog, EU Ambassador in Kosovo, at the launch of the report event, on Monday.

“Today Europe is challenged by far right and nationalistic policies. As a multiethnic society, Kosovo should not allow itself to be impacted by nationalistic disinformation,” he added. 

The report maps out the landscape of disinformation in Kosovo. The authors argue that false stories are repeated in public discourse until they solidify into narratives, shaping the collective narrative of our lives as ‘the story of our lies.’

The main false narratives identified in the report include disinformation related to inter-ethnic relations, anti-EU and NATO propaganda, as well as falsehoods regarding health and the economy.

“The law we operate with is old, is from 2012. In the meantime, the EU has changed the audiovisual media services directive twice in the last ten years. We are left with an old law that cannot deal with challenges that threaten our country,” said Jeton Mehmeti, head of Independent Media Commission at the launch of the report, on Monday.

The study highlighted instances where Albanian and Serbian language media outlets published Kremlin communiqués related to Balkan events without proper editorial scrutiny. This has led to the propagation of disinformation narratives misrepresenting the actual situation in Kosovo. Additionally, information from Kremlin-controlled media sources has been translated into local languages and published without explicitly indicating its source, the study found.

Narratives originating from Chinese-government-controlled media have also found their way to media and social networks in Kosovo. These claims are often disseminated without proper disclosure that they originate from media outlets explicitly labeled as ‘State-influenced Media.’

While some media intentionally spread false information, others become purveyors of disinformation simply because they lack professional journalism standards and basic fact-checking. These sources of disinformation utilize multiple pages on social networks, sometimes managing up to 11 pages, to systematically disseminate false information. This activity transforms these platforms into fake-news factories, continuously churning out and propagating misleading content, as the study reveals.ously churning out and propagating misleading content, the study reveals.

Some articles containing false information were reposted numerous times in Kosovo, with some cases reaching up to 173 reposts within an 18-month period.

“It is true what was said in the report, that communications from the Kremlin come to[are published] Kosovo. But, I want to make a distinction that disinformation is spread with purpose but also some without the intention of disinformation but in the absence of professionalism,” said Imer Mushkolaj, head of the Press Council of Kosovo, on Monday. 

“A large number of journalists who work in the media, in the absence of a job, establish their own media and have no experience and create a product that is not professional”, added Mushkolaj.

Kosovo’s defamation law is one tool to address disinformation, but such cases take five to ten years to be resolved in court, according to the study. Currently Kosovo lacks a single strategy, policy, or any other additional mechanism to deal with disinformation and propaganda.

The main causes that lead to media publishing and amplifying disinformation, the study finds, are the absence of sustainable funding, limited human resources, unclear editorial policies, and external influences, in some instances. The data gathered show that social media and internet platforms specializing in fictitious news remain the key disseminators of disinformation. However, in some cases, even traditional, professional media have fallen prey to this.

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine unfolded, Kosovo also suffered from Russian disinformation campaigns aimed at the entire Western Balkans. This information primarily aimed to impede Kosovo’s NATO and EU integration processes, thus influencing its relationship with the outside world.

27/11/2023 - 15:51

27 November 2023 - 15:51

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.