MIRKO STANIĆ: Tabloids are a source of fake news in Montenegro

Author: Emir Pilav

‘The main cause is the tabloidization of media space in Montenegro, where we have media scene from Serbia as dominant factor. Every day, through a series of content on TV stations, in daily newspapers and through internet portals, they create space suitable for spreading all kinds of fake news’, says Mirko Stanić, politician and international relations expert from Montenegro. 

In your opinion, how widespread are the fake news in Montenegro?

Stanić: Unfortunately, there are more and more fake news, and as independent and professional journalism often leaves space for interpretations, depending on editorial or ideological conception, it’s really difficult to identify and separate fake from real news.

What caused this increase?

Stanić: The main cause is the tabloidization of media space in Montenegro, where we have media scene from Serbia as dominant factor. Every day, through a series of content on TV stations, in daily newspapers and through internet portals, they create space suitable for spreading all kinds of fake news. All this is accompanied by a weak, divided and insufficiently financially strong Montenegrin media scene, some of which, due to the single click, took over this way of creating and placing news. Of course there is a global tendency for social networking platforms to become a source of fake news, which is situation in Montenegro, especially if we take into account that almost 60% people over the age of 14 have accounts on social networks.

Is fake news more prevalent in democratic societies today?

Stanić:  The organization of society itself does not have a crucial role, it is played by regulatory agencies, but also by media literacy itself. I am firmly in the position that two things are necessary for the development of society, according  to the Scandinavian model – education and independent journalism. If you have an educated, literate citizen and a journalist who will not sign fake news for professional and moral reasons, then the chance that something like this will happen is very small.

 

On the other hand, in Montenegro as we speak, we have over one hundred media platforms, TV stations, newspapers, internet portals. Does anyone really think that we have 200 professional journalists, at least 2 in each newsroom? Of course not, it is usually enough just for someone, out of this or that interest, to establish a portal (you don’t even have to register in Montenegro) and start producing and spreading information. It is clear to everyone what consequences all this can have.

What is the best thing to do when we spot fake news?

Stanić: It is best to report it to specialized teams led by two NGOs from Montenegro which monitor it very diligently. Of course I assume that someone who has read the fake news not once, but more than once, will no longer buy those newspapers, follow channel or visit the portal. This is the best way to prevent spreading of fake news, because by doing this, those channels of communication will lose the ability to fulfill their primary mission – To create space in which no one will know what is true and what is false.

How did Facebook and Twitter become such powerful and dangerous tool for spreading misinformation during the parliamentary campaign?

Stanić:  Simply, those are ideal platforms on which hundreds of thousands of citizens have profiles. By doing so, but also by organized and joint action coordinated from abroad, you are creating conditions for a “perfect storm” of fake news.  Thousands of fake accounts, with thousands of shares and retweets, have done their job and with that significantly contributed to the creation of an atmosphere that is anything but democratic when it comes to political campaign.

Do social networks need to work harder to verify the information they post?

Stanić:  Of course they have to, but it’s a constant game of cat and mouse. 5-10 or 20 operators cannot control the content placed by thousands of people. Because the account on Facebook or Twitter can be opened in 5 minutes and it is possible to create 100 accounts every day without any restrictions.

 

Therefore, it is up to the owners of these networks, as well as regulators within national or international systems, to find the right way to battle these anti-democratic tendencies aimed at weakening institutions, spreading xenophobia, populism, hate and everything that has negative effects on process of democratization.

Social media platforms and elections in Montenegro

How much influence did social media platforms had in the pre-election period?

Stanić: Big influence, very big, like never before. Especially at the time of the ban of traditional ways of conducting political campaigns, due to the corona virus. Therefore, the impact of specific news created for these needs was more pronounced than ever before. This includes not only Facebook and Twitter, but also Instagram, Viber and other mass communication networks.

Is the result of the parliamentary elections shaped by the influence of fake news?

Stanić:  I couldn’t claim it was, but it certainly had a big impact. We certainly felt the impact of spreading false news towards my party in the part of voter support. Creating an environment in which there is no essential topics on life issues, economy, integrations, youth policies, and many other topics has resulted in those political structures, that did not rely on populism spreading negative perceptions of competitors, receive less support than which they would really deserve if the conditions were regular.

What is the role of state/government in order to prevent spreading fake news?

Stanić:  Large and underused. We have verdicts against media imported from Serbia for the defamation of progressive civil and European organizations and political parties, according to which it is forbidden to sell the daily number of a newspapers from a month ago.

Imagine now the protection of citizens, representatives of the NGO sector or political parties and leaders when they see that someone is punished for not being able to sell “further” newspapers published 20-30 or 40 days ago. It is ridicule of justice and the consequences of an overly liberal attitude towards spreading false news.