Disinformation Undermines the Foundation of Democracy – Fact-Checking is the Key

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The Ambassador of the EU, David Geer, emphasized that fact-checkers must work independently and without political pressure. He referred to the fact that elections were approaching, and thus malign influences on fact-checkers were already evident, especially in the online world

We need to become more aware of disinformation in our physical and digital worlds. Disinformation undermines trust in institutions, and therefore permanent fight against various actors who spread it is required, with fact-checkers playing the most important role.

These were the conclusions from today’s conference titled “Defending Democracy in the Balkans: Safeguarding Information Integrity in the Digital Era”, marking International Fact-Checking Day by the Anti-Disinformation Network for the Balkans. The conference featured addresses by Vladimir Ancev, State Secretary in the Ministry of Defense, David Geer, EU Ambassador, Dirk Jan Kop, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, as well as the Executive Director of Metamorphosis Foundation, Bardyl Jashari.

Ancev, in his address, said that it was necessary to become more aware of disinformation in our digital and physical worlds.

“Now wе are in a phase where the boundary between lies and truth is often blurred. Disinformation has the power to incite distrust and undermine the fabric of our democratic institutions. The consequences are far-reaching and deep, affecting public opinion, and encouraging distrust in institutions. If not countered, they may foster conspiracy theories and undermine the foundations of our democracy,” he said.

On the other hand, the Ambassador of the EU, David Geer, emphasized that fact-checkers must work independently and without political pressure. He referred to the fact that elections were approaching, and thus malign influences on fact-checkers were already evident, especially in the online world.

“Our partners from the international community have already voiced support. Unfortunately, this situation is, by no means, unique to North Macedonia, and a similar threatening violent can be expected in many parts of Europe in view of the fact that this year is a bumper, an election year in several countries. It’s therefore our responsibility and the duty for state institutions and all stakeholders to speak out when fact-checkers are threatened. If we abandon this task, we give up the defense of democracy itself,” said the Euro-Ambassador.

Photo: Meta.mk

The Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Dirk Jan Kop expressed satisfaction for being able to support this initiative and event, which brought together activists and journalists sharing a common goal – accurate sources of information.

“In a democratic society, there is a need for a free and open public debate. The Netherlands, particularly with our strategy, works on this topic. People should feel free to states their opinions, no matter how much we disagree with them, no matter whether we find these opinions biased or even shocking, and the governments should not interfere with that freedom. But, there is a difference between an opinion and a fact. And this is where the role of independent fact-checkers really makes the difference. And this job is not easy. There will always be those that consciously spread disinformation and will try to undermine your work,” emphasized the Dutch Ambassador.

The Director of Metamorphosis, Bardyl Jashari, said that the event was a significant milestone given that it marked International Fact-Checking Day.

“This event is an acknowledgement for all of our commitments to protect the truth and integrity, thereby highlighting the indispensable role of fact-checkers. We strongly believe in common commitments, transparent processes, and sharing networks, as this is the foundation of our work in Metamorphosis, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. This Balkan network is like a natural progression in the region from all the conferences held. We want this network to create new partnerships because only through joint work can we make a significant impact”, emphasized Jashari.

He spoke about disinformation and how it undermined the trust in the institutions.

“The struggle demands a comprehensive approach. We are fighting against various actors who are spreading disinformation in the region. The fact-checking process is about protecting the very essence of democracy. This year there are elections in the US, the EU, and also in our country, and that increases the risk of using technology to undermine democracy. This is where fact-checking is crucial. Metamorphosis shares all commitments in protecting integrity and fighting disinformation. Without your support, this event would not have been possible. I want to thank all members from all countries present in Skopje today”, added Jashari.

Robert Huqi, from the Western Balkans Task Force, European External Action Service, also gave a brief presentation, reminding that in previous years, EEAS supported actions dealing with disinformation in cooperation with Metamorphosis.

“The EU is proactive and aims to establish universal principles for the use of artificial intelligence. We must protect the integrity of the digital space because disinformation is spread and is malign, so we must ensure to stay ahead of them. We must support organizations to inform our citizens,”, stressed Huqi.

The conference that took place in the “Holiday Inn” was attended by prominent journalists and experts from the region and Central Europe, including Slovakia, Serbia, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Albania, and Kosovo, who are involved in fact-checking and countering disinformation, as well as national representatives from governmental institutions and non-governmental organizations and embassies.