Media sphere in Bosnia and Herzegovina is heavily influenced by fake news

Author: Nataša Tomić

With the spread of social media and the Internet, it was never easier to be well informed and educated on things of matter. In only a few clicks away, one can get information about pretty much everything. And in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is no different. But at the same time, it seems like it has never been easier to be uninformed or informed falsely. This is all because of disinformation and misinformation that are one of the largest problems in public space in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Fake news is also a big threat for journalism in Bosnia and Herzegovina which suffers various transformations that are influenced by many factors which are changing the communications landscape. These transformations are also raising many questions about the credibility of journalism, its quality and its impact.

According to UNESCO, disinformation is information that ‘is false and deliberately created to harm a person, social group, organisation or country’. On the other hand, misinformation is ‘information that is false but not created to cause harm.’ So, it can be concluded that the main difference between disinformation and misinformation is intent. While disinformation is spread with the purpose, one spreads misinformation without actually wanting to do it. Public space suffers from mal-information or ‘information that is based on reality, used to inflict harm on a person, social group, organisation or country’ as well.

 

Sharing fake news with purpose

When it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the topic of false news only recently became current. Some fact-checking portals are emerging as a result of an increased number of false news and information in public space.

According to the research carried out by ‘Zašto ne’ citizen Association from Sarajevo, the fake news in BiH are mainly shared with purpose. More than 60% of fake news in media are about politics and their main sources are timeserving ‘misinformers’ who use anonymous portals and social media to share such information mostly because of financial benefits they have and political and state leaders who use public and commercial media to spread disinformation that favour their ideas and interests.

Mostly, the space for a share of such information is anonymous portals. The same research state that this type of media produces their content intensively and has a big impact not only on readers but on the other media as well. In most cases, they produce content to earn money by online advertisements but some of them are owned by politicians as a tool for an attack on their enemies and political opponents.

State-owned media are also the source of disinformation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This research shows that state-owned media often use anonymous portals to spread the information they are sharing.  At the same time, disinformation is attacking mainstream media mostly because journalists, under pressure to be the first to publish the story, do not do deep research of their sources and information, sometimes sharing fake news unintentionally.

One of the most famous examples of disinformation is the online portal Antimigrant.ba. This media outlet is registered by Fatmir Alishaphić and is a radical site, spreading hate speech and disinformation about refugees and people on the move. This portal is even calling on attacks on this group. Except for people on the move, Antimigrant.ba is attacking institutions, organizations, journalists, activists who are helping and working with these people. As stated by Anida Sokol in her report ‘Propaganda, disinformation and hate models of media and communication in Bosnia and Herzegovina’, ‘this webpage has no ads and the manner of its funding is not known. The fact-checking platform identified it as a high-risk medium for spreading unreliable content.’

Targeting political opponents with clickbait

Dnevni Avaz is one of the most popular and read online media outlets in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This portal was founded by Fahrudin Radončić - former Minister of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina, then journalist, in 1993 – who is connected to SBB (Savez za bolju budućnost), a political party that was also founded by him in 2009. Radončić sold the company to his former wife, but Dnevni avaz continued to promote the ideas of his political party while Radončić formally left the media but continued to impact editorial policies.

As stated in Sokol's report, ‘Dnevni avaz has been reporting favourably on the SBB party, targeting the party’s opponents and its reporting frequently involves non-professional, biased and sensationalist content, with catchy titles and clickbait. The media outlet is also known for its campaign against immigrants, portraying them in a negative and dehumanizing light’.

The online media outlets are regulated by the Press Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina which as the self-regulatory body for print and online media mediates between unsatisfied readers and print, and online media supervises the application of the Press Code of Bosna and Herzegovina, improves professional standards in print and online media, protects the public from unprofessional reporting but also protects the media from political, economic or any other pressures. However, this body does not have any legal means to fight publishing and spreading fake news against anonymous portals. The self-regulation body cannot impose sanctions in the case of professional standards violation. Their actions are focused on warnings, recommendations and advice to media bodies to publish denials, corrections and to remove the published article.  

Also, this body acts only upon readers’ reports and there is no permanent or occasional media monitoring. Only editors and journalists decide if they will follow the decisions of this body or not.  Because there is no law regulating on the start-up of the portals and no official registry of online portals, they can be founded by anyone and anywhere so the increasing number of newly formed portals doesn't come as a surprise.

Older people as victims of misinformation 

Also, due to the outgoing information pandemic, it is becoming difficult to track media sources and portals that are publishing fake news. Low media literacy among the population, especially among older people, causes them to believe such news without any critical analysis. The very carefully planned and organized fake news network in Bosnia and Herzegovina negatively influences the media space of the country and separates an already divided country.

Citizens are not motivated to make a complaint to the Press council about the content that is not directly influencing them, as ‘research Surfanje po tankom ledu: Mladi, mediji, problematični sadržaji’ shows. This research showed that young people would make a complaint only if the controversial content would influence them directly. Also, most people would not check if the media outlet has Impressum or if it satisfies basic journalistic standards.

The promotion of ethno-national and religious narratives or political agendas of individuals or political parties prevents reconciliation, state-building and development of democracy and national cohesion. In some cases, such as Antimigrant.ba, disinformation and fake news can lead to violence towards other groups, in this case, people on the move.

To fight fake news, the legislation on online media should be improved and education about media literacy should be carried out. This, together with improved working conditions for journalists and better civic engagement regarding this topic, should at least reduce the amount of fake news in the media space.