INTERVIEW Goran Mihajlovski: True journalism needs verified sources 

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Author: Kristina Dimitrova

Goran Mihajlovski is the Editor in Chief of one of the most relevant media outlets in Republic of North Macedonia – sakamdakazam.mk  (www.sdk.mk), award-winning and one of the most respectful and well-known journalists, an author of the longest and most popular weekly column in the history of the Macedonian journalism (now in its 30th year), as well as published books. In this interview we covered the flow of fake news, disinformation and misinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic, the issue of censorship and self-censorship among journalists, as well as the need for improvement of media literacy skills among young people. 

The new digital time intensified the flow of fake news, disinformation and misinformation, but undeniably the Covid-19 pandemic contributed to an even bigger chaos in the media world. Did this represent a challenge for you and your digital media ‘Sakam da kazam’ and how did you respond to it in these turbulent times?  

Mihajlovski: It was definitely a challenge and still represents a challenge on daily basis, because we are living in a world of a vast spread of fake news, disinformation, misinformation and spins, especially those related to the Covid-19 pandemic. To be honest, in order to get to the truth, we are facing with at least 10 news stories per day which must be clarified or double checked. The problem nowadays is that some media are getting their news stories from social media and that’s not true journalism, because one of the basic principles of journalism is the news to be verified from at least two different sources. Thus, we can often see media outlets publishing news stories by stating ‘this and this person published on Facebook…’, especially when controversial issues are in question. 

The latest example is with the Danish footballer Christian Eriksen who collapsed while playing on the UEFA European Football Championship 2020, after which many people on Twitter were saying that he got vaccinated 12 days before it happened. Some media immediately started spreading that news and few days after, it was not only confirmed that he hasn’t been vaccinated yet, but that he has never even been infected with the virus either. 

Given that, the Covid-19 pandemic represents a suitable ground for spreading fake news, disinformation and misinformation, also because the anti-vaxxers jumped on board with their movement which intensified the spread even more. I have also witnessed situations myself when respected doctors were sharing news online about the Covid-19 coming from suspicious and unverified sources. They are in fact highly educated people, so it makes one wonder what can we expect from the rest of society? In that sense, this fast-paced world we are living in, as well as today’s technologies, is subjecting people to read only the titles and not the whole articles, which makes them even more vulnerable to becoming misinformed.

According to your rich journalistic experience in various media, would you say that censorship and self-censorship represent a norm in our country, meaning that almost every journalist during his/her work is facing this kind of unwanted ‘temptation’ and what could be the solution for this issue in society?

Mihajlovski: When it comes to the self-censorship, I believe that every journalist at some point of his or her career faced with pressures leading to withholding or nondisclosure of information. The problem is when self-censorship becomes a norm for journalists and I would say that in Republic of North Macedonia for more than 10 years (2006-2017) free-thinking journalism wasn’t really encouraged, but it was more about journalism which ‘wasn’t asking questions’. Given that, a whole generation of journalists who were starting their careers at that time simply weren’t given a chance to learn what is journalism of asking questions. Thus, we were faced with journalism based on reporting and not asking questions. 

If you were asking questions, people would either not respond or even if they did, after, you would be told not to ask anymore and you wouldn’t. The damage is already done and it’s really difficult to take that back because a whole generation of journalists doesn’t know what journalism actually entails and they are not persistent in finding out more. Given that, it is deeply rooted in the journalist’s state of mind that it’s not really necessary to ask questions and that’s how journalism works. Given that, the biggest enemy of journalism is the lazy journalism, as well as, the simple principle – don’t ask questions, because as journalists we must ask and seek answers, not only to convey the news.

Given the fact that there is a need for increasing the media literacy skills, especially among young people, do you think that media literacy, as well as teaching about ethics and morals, should be an integral part of the formal education?

Mihajlovski: I absolutely agree that bigger attention should be paid, not only to the media literacy skills, but also to the literacy skills among people in general, but this is a matter of state policy. Journalists who are creators of the news are in fact not isolated from society, but they are its active participants, affected by its culture and education from kindergarten to higher education as it is, and their level of media literacy is, of course, a consequence of that. 

I also agree that it should start from an early age and I must say this is definitely not an issue which has emerged today, but rather one that has been present for a long time. We actually need a complete reset of the educational system and this is a long-term process, because we can’t teach people about media literacy if they are not literate in general and who in the same time hold a graduate degree. Thus, when talking about media literacy, we have to take into account that it’s only a part of the general literacy in society which must be improved in the first place. 

Given your long-term experience in the media world as a journalist and editor-in -chief, what is the message you wish to send to young journalists of today who strive to make great careers?

G. Mihajlovski: Be yourself, be professional and remember that before publishing, you need to investigate all sides of the story.