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Almost a quarter of the headlines in the media were negative towards the Prespa Agreement

During signing and implementation of the Prespa Agreement between Skopje and Athens, the media in North Macedonia (both in Macedonian and Albanian language) did not significantly deviate from professional reporting on the details of the process.

This conclusion derives from the analysis of 1760 headlines of Macedonian and 673 headlines from 20 Albanian media in the country, structured by media type (internet, print and television) as well as by language of publication.

Authors: T. Blazevski and E. Zulbeari

The media in the then Republic of Macedonia (2018) informed more positively than negatively, or in other words reporting was in a neutral manner regarding the negotiations that lead to the agreement for overcoming the dispute between Macedonia and Greece, known as the Prespa Agreement, with which, among other provisions, the name of the country changed from the Republic of Macedonia to the Republic of North Macedonia. The number of headlines that viewed the Prespa Agreement in a negative context, though, is not low.

This is the conclusion of the analysis of the media headlines of 20 news channels in RNM (in Macedonian and Albanian language), that were monitored with the aim to make a comparison between how the media in Macedonia and Greece reported during this critical period. The media monitoring analysis was made as part of the Fostering Improved Media Standards project implemented by Metamorphosis Foundation and funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

The reviewed headlines were in classical, traditional media, television stations with national concession, printed media and finally the internet portals, i.e. the online media. The analysis is based on the overall data of the number of analyzed headlines (2433) and in particular, more detailed data only on the conclusions that can be drawn from the statistical indicators of the headlines published in the Macedonian language media (17).

The initial attempt was to cover 22 media, which according to several parameters should be analyzed and definitely are a representative sample of the total number of media in the country on national level. However, those who were monitoring the process came across the problem that internet portal “Zhurnal” and television TV 21 did not have an archive during the period of monitoring– June- July 2018 (shortly before and after the signing of the Prespa Agreement). December and January 2018/2019 were also critical months when the Agreement was to be implemented in Parliament by changing the Constitution that lead to the change of the name from Republic of Macedonia to the Republic of North Macedonia.

 

  1. Positive stereotypes prevailed over the negative ones in the media in Macedonian language

According to the methodology of the research, the titles were to be analyzed according to several hypothetically set premises. The first was Hypothesis 1:

Negative stereotypes outnumber the positive. Reporting aims to prolong the conflict, because it creates a negative image of the “others”, based on nationalistic stereotypes.

Analyzing headlines in two critical periods, June and July 2018 and December- January 2018/2019, it can be concluded that most of the media headlines were not negative stereotypes or presented the signing and implementation of the Agreement itself in a negative connotation.

From 1760 analyzed headlines from the aspect of stereotypes, negative image of the “other” or nationalist elements, some of these elements can be detected in 369 cases, i.e. in 21 percent of the headlines.

Analyzed by media, without counting the headlines precisely, there is a strong notion that stereotypes are mainly present on the internet portals, part of the printed media and the least in main television stations.   But there are differences among internet portals – the part that can be labeled as pro- opposition portals mainly contain stereotypes in their headlines, with a warning that sometimes the impression might be wrong, especially if the content of the article does not correspond with the headline, which is not rare in domestic media.

  1. One quarter were committed to deepening the dispute

The second hypothesis that was to be tested through an analytical overview of the headlines is:

Media coverage is more dedicated to covering decisions in foreign policy that lead to worsening or freezing the conflict rather than its alleviation.

Media headlines concerning the second hypothesis indicate a somewhat larger percent of headlines that support political decisions in regard to the dispute that could cause freezing or worsening the problem, rather than overcoming it.

From the already mentioned number of 1760 headlines, this time, as number of headlines that support the second hypothesis is 424, in other words around 24 percent, that is somewhat less than a quarter of the analyzed headlines. This is not a small number, although it cannot confirm the hypothesis.

If we take a look at media coverage, the numbers here have the same tendency in regards to the first hypothesis. Most of these 24 percent of headlines in Macedonian language media can be noticed among pro-opposition portals. On television and printed media, although such headlines are present, they are rare in relation to those with a neutral tone in the headlines of published articles concerning the problem.

Negative coverage of “the other” is found in around 19 percent of the headlines

Less than 20 percent of the media in Macedonian language deepened the stereotypes of the “other” with headlines of the articles that reported on the Agreement and its implementation in the country during the summer of 2018 and December-January 2018/2019.

This conclusion derives from the analyses of the headlines in regards to the third hypothesis, which was supposed to demonstrate if permanent reporting (during the months June and July and December and January in 2018 and 2019) made the stereotypes of “the others” worse (in this case Republic of Greece and the Greeks) and whether this is permanently present in the media, or there is a noticeable change in regards to the changing relations between the two countries in a positive direction.

Hypothesis 3:

Constant reporting favorites and deepens the national stereotypes of “the others”. Over time, this generally becomes a “constant”, while at the same time the political and economic changes affect the way relations between Greece and North Macedonia are viewed.

From 1760 headlines analyzed based on this hypothesis, our research shows that 346 responded positively to the question of the hypothesis. That is around 19 percent.

If we analyze the media that published such headlines and if a comparison with the results of the first two hypotheses is made, differences can be noticed. Although the internet portals are first place, it can be noticed that they also have a profile that cannot be characterized as pro-opposition, and that in the total number of 346 there are headlines from one television or one daily newspaper. However, the general assumption remains the same in regards to the type of media – internet portals occupy the first place, while newspapers and television stations belong to the group of the “good guys”.

Emotional statements had an effect in over ¼ of the headlines

Probably as expected, the emotional tone of the third-party or persons of third sides of the public and political life, influence the way any media reports, including about the Agreement, the way it was achieved and the way it is implemented. This is pointed out in the test of Hypothesis 4:

Emotional statements from third sides affect media reporting. As a result, the image that is conveyed to the public does not reflect the complexity of international relations and is easily exploited.

Counting the headlines in the selected media in the given period, shows that out of 1760 titles, 447 or approximately 25.4 percent correspond with the hypothesis, which is also the highest percentage shown by the analysis.

Such characteristic headlines are: “Macedonians bleed from treason and crime”, claims of a former minister, MP and influential person in the judiciary, or statements made by official Moscow like: “Zaharova: The Prespa Agreement is accepted under strong external pressure”, or official Sofia: “Karkacanov: Macedonians should wake up and become normal people” …

While checking this hypothesis through the media headlines, the main transmitters of emotional statements from third parties are internet portals. In this context, one can distinguish at least one such portal with a record number of posts which is pro-opposition daily newspaper, but also in the headlines of one television station.

However, we look at the number of ¼ of the headlines, it is not a small number, and it can support the fourth hypothesis.

The Albanian media portals generally reported without stereotypes

The media in Albanian language in North Macedonia which were part of the research in the period before and after signing of the Prespa Agreement, did not use nationalistic speech in their headlines.

Four of the biggest media channels were monitored. Two were the online portals “Portalb” and “Almakos”, the biggest television with national concession in Albanian and Macedonia language “Alsat-M” (for this analysis headlines only in Albanian language were taken into consideration) and the daily newspaper “Koha”. The period of monitoring was identical with monitoring of the media in Macedonian language June and July 2018 and several months later, December 2018 and January 2019.

Research found that in no case negative stereotypes outnumbered the positive ones. Before signing the Agreement, in the headlines there was a wish for ending the dispute for the sake of Euro-integrations. In the headlines there were favorable comments towards the EU and the international community. There is no coverage that aims at prolonging and deepening the dispute, there isn’t any negative picture of “the others” based on nationalistic stereotypes. On the other hand, parts of the headlines contain skepticism on reaching an agreement and similar prognosis.

The research contains the protests in Greece against the Agreement, however without exaggerating pessimism.

According to the research, not a single medium in Albanian language reported in way which favorites and deepens national stereotypes of “the others”. There are several headlines that contain emotional statements, but are balanced and fair.

Big optimism in the headlines during the signing of the Agreement from Prespa

In the period of the signing the Agreement, in the media (in Albanian language) in North Macedonia, reporting was characterized by great optimism. The media reported the atmosphere of congratulations from the international community, but also from across the world. Also, they share the satisfaction of the citizens, who according to them saw the Agreement as the only chance to de-bock the Euro-Atlantic perspective of North Macedonia. Reactions of Russia were also stated, but that is only a small part in the big picture of optimism and hope.

The period after signing the Agreement is characterized with a decreased optimism in reporting, however the positive tone was not lost and it prevailed. In this period the tasks, but also possible barriers were reported for fully implementing the Agreement. The headlines are balanced and there are no stereotypes or similar nationalistic language. To sum-up, 673 headlines were monitored and the conclusion is positive.

***

The initial conclusion was that most of the media, in general tried to report professionally and in an objective manner on the given issue although the numbers from one-fifth to one-quarter of the headlines that were on the opposite side, is not small number to be ignored.

The second conclusion is that the concession from the neutral and balanced titling of the texts, without stigma and degrading of the other is found in media in Macedonian language, while in those in Albanian language this is almost unnoticeable.