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Kosovo Lacks Capacities to Fight Disinformation

kosovo lacks capacities to fight disinformation
kosovo lacks capacities to fight disinformation

Kosovo lacks sufficient capacity to combat disinformation and false narratives, with public officials also often falling for these narratives, experts claim.

Experts call on the Kosovo government to increase the capacities to counter false anti-Western narratives that often not only influence the country but also target it, as even public officials are sometimes affected.

In mid-April 2024, the Ministry of Internal Affairs sent an email with inaccurate information to 7,000 public officials, testing them. The results showed that some officials believed the email.

Kallxo.com found that in public communication offices within public institutions, the capacities to address misinformation are limited, and in some cases, they are nonexistent.

Alban Zeneli, a professor at the Faculty of Journalism at the University of Prishtina, says that Kosovo has not taken this issue seriously enough so far.

“Unfortunately, our state is lagging behind in terms of actions and decisions that should have been taken to combat disinformation coming from non-Western propaganda in Kosovo,” Zeneli declared on Kallxo Përnime TV Programme on Sunday, April 28.

Extensive use of social networks in Kosovo have allowed readers to access hundreds of thousands of pieces of information and in different cases, its narratives and disinformation from outside the country.

Përparim Kryeziu, Government Spokesperson, stated on the Kallxo Përnime TV Programme that this challenge is global, and they have started training officials.

“This is a global challenge, and Kosovo, besides not being an exception, is often the target of such campaigns by unfriendly states. We have been cooperating with the British government for a year now through the embassy to increase awareness and consciousness through their experiences and training to deal with and counter disinformation,” Kryeziu stated.

Non-Western states including Russia and China have exerted influence through disinformation campaigns, distributing narratives in the Balkan countries, including Kosovo, whose institutions lack the capacities to handle this issue.

“Narratives often start with a statement from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and then they are reproduced by Serbian state officials, for example, the way they describe the Serbian community in Kosovo, alleging suppression, oppression, and violation of rights that have been proven untrue even by international organisations,” Kryeziu emphasised.

To ensure that the public opinion critically assesses the information they read and hear throughout the day, communication experts suggest introducing a subject in schools that would teach young people how to read internet content.

“For several years, we have been requesting that this subject be mandatory because the pandemic has shown that we no longer have the luxury of it being an elective subject, given that both during the pandemic and in countering non-Western propaganda, citizens’ ability to detect it is essential,”  Zeneli further explained.

Studies on this fake news issue in Kosovo have shown that over the years, the country has faced disinformation narratives from Russia.

According to former journalist and ambassador Avni Spahiu, the media must play a significant role in timely debunking disinformation from the Kremlin.

“The media worldwide are undergoing an extraordinary development, but at the same time, there have never been more dubious, half-true news in all media. Russia leads in this, as it has an opposing position and is waging a hybrid war that includes propaganda and fake news,” Spahiu declared.

“It is very important to respond to this propaganda, not only by institutions like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but also by the media themselves. The media need a filter for every piece of news to prevent Russian disinformation from penetrating,” Spahiu explained.

Arbër Beka, spokesperson for the Kosovo Police Inspectorate, says that information, especially regarding security matters, requires careful handling as it can lead to high levels of destabilisation.

“It can influence citizens’ perception, their trust in these institutions, but it can also lead to destabilisation and issues of national security. It is important how quickly we can debunk fake news,” Beka said.

To combat disinformation regarding the justice system, the Kosovo authorities have decided court sessions to be public, but disinformation is still evident.

“The spread of news with an exclusive title regarding a judicial process or decision without verification by judges is harmful to the parties involved in this procedure and also to the judicial system,” Marcel Lekaj, spokesperson at the Court in Prizren declared.

Meanwhile, Imer Mushkolaj, an analyst and member of the Kosovo Press Council, who continuously works to ensure that the media respect accurate information and the code of ethics said that  “we also make decisions on violations of this code, many of which are related to inaccurate reporting, all for media awareness. Just last year, we had 180 complaints from citizens of various profiles, from the government to ordinary citizens”.

“The state needs a strategy to combat disinformation, but it should not try to intervene in how the media reports,” Mushkolaj added. 

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