Electronic disinformation is spreading and no-one is immune to that. They present a threat to society. The fight against disinformation demands partnership between the institutions and the civil society. This was stressed on today’s conference “Building Social Resilience to the Harmful Effects of Disinformation in the Republic of North Macedonia”, organized by the Presidential Centre for Political Education and the Metamorphosis Foundation.
The openning of the conference was marked with the addresses of President Stevo Pendarovski, Dirk Jan Kop, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Netherlands to North Macedonia, Bardhyl Jashari, Executive Director of Metamorphosis Foundation, as well as Prof. PhD Aleksandar Lj. Spasov, Chairperson of the Programme Council of the Presidential Centre for Political Education, Adviser to the President on Internal Affairs, Foreign Affairs and Constitutional Issues and Associate Professor at the Law Faculty “Justinian I” at UKIM.
“Disinformation as a tool for causing and aggreviating societal divisions or as a tool for psychological warfare is neither a new, nor a unknown phenomenon. Disinformation is present in every society in different periods and utilized by various groups within and beyond a given society. In that respect, especially vulnerable are democratic societies, because pluralism of opinions and positions – or the freedom of expression – includes the freedom to verbally disagree with the essence of democratic societies and the manner in which the decisions are being made”, stressed President Pendarovski in his introductory address.
He said that all information – except that of security nature – should be accessible to the public, because the truth is the best weapon for fighting disinformation and lies.
“Key for long-term resilience of Macedonian society is education. The educational system needs to include media literacy contents, and I also recommend political education in the spirit of democratic values in the mainstream education process. The Presidential Centre for Political Education has already started such an initiative in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Science, the Bureau for Development of Education and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy from the United Kingdom. To that end, the publication with clear directions and recommendations for the implementation of policies from this segment will be promoted tomorrow”, stressed the President.
Ambassador Jan Kop focused on the interest of the Netherlands and North Macedonia -which is straightforward – and that is that both countries want stability and prosperity.
“It is for that reason why the country, apart from being a member of NATO, should also be a EU Member-State”, said the Ambassador.
Since the beginning of the Russian aggression, reminded Ambassador Jan Kop, there has been so much disinformation.
“The narrative has been reinforced by local actors for short-term political gains or for more likes on the social networks. This year both of our countries are celebrating 30 years of diplomatic relations. What remains the same throughout the years is that the Netherlands is the most loyal friend and the strongest supporter of North Macedonia for EU membership. We are happy to support the Metamorphosis Foundation that deals with projects related to disinformation and propaganda coming from extremist actors in the region. If we focus only on fact-checking and debunking, we will always be a step behind. Social resilience to information is required and that demands national guidelines and legal regulation. People should not believe in everything they read. Students need to ask their teachers and citizens need to question their authorities. We need more critical, more analytical and more lateral thinkers”, stressed the Dutch Ambassador.
The Director of Metamorphosis, Bardhyl Jashari, emphasized that since 2011 the Foundation has recognized this problem and embarked upon fact-checking first.
“In time we realized that disinformation is a very serious problem. It is also a security threat and should be addressed as such. We believe that all of us together need to work on such complex societal issues in order to find a solution and reduce the harm caused by disinformation campaigns. We should establish a system that will reduce harmful influences. That is why such a joint initiative is very important. The role of civic organizations is important, citizens need to be educated, capacities built, and analysis and research need to boost the level of credibility of our work. Central institutions should be more transparent leaving no space for manipulations. The academic community and media should adhere to their standards. The mission is not impossible if we work together, focused on the fight against disinformation”, said Director Jashari.
On the conference, Professor Aleksandar Spasov spoke about the necessity of fighting propaganda and establishing a system.
“Propaganda and disinformation have been living with us for a very long time. Their influence is strong on a geopolitical level, but also on internal policy level. That system does not consist of only central government institutions, but it also implies a resilient social system. The most efficient fight against propaganda is when society itself can recognise the stereotypes, the prejudices, the lies and the truth”, said Professor Spasov.
Within the framework of the conference, a session titled “State of affairs and challenges related to the influence of disinformation in the Republic of North Macedonia” also took place. Erold Musliu, Director of the Intelligence Agency, Mile Bosnjakovski, General Secretary of the Cabinet of the President of the Republic of North Macedonia, Filip Stojanovski, Director of Partnership and Resource Development of the Metamorphoisis Foundation, as well as Biljana Georgievska, Executive Director of the Media Ethical Council of Macedonia also addressed the audience.
The second session was titled “Solutions and next steps – recommendations for joint action”. Elida Zulbeari, project manager in Metamorphosis Foundation, Svetlana Siljanoska, Associate for Communications and Public Relations of NATO and Security Issues in the Government of the RNM, Petra Balažić, representative of the Centre for European Perspective from the Republic of Slovenia, and Rosana Aleksoska, representative of the Civic Association – MOST also addressed the audience.