On the occasion of 2 April- International Fact-Checking Day, an online panel discussion was held dedicated to fact-checking as a means of promoting media literacy. The discussion was organized by the project “Critical Thinking for Mediawise Citizens – CriThink” implemented by “Metamorphosis” and “Eurothink” with the support of the European Union.

On 2 April, journalists and activists around for the fifth time mark the International Fact-Checking Day initiated by the International Fact-Checking Network, whose member from North Macedonia is the Metamorphosis Foundation.

During the one-hour panel discussion, Bardhyl Jashari, Executive Director of the Metamorphosis Foundation, gave an introductory speech, and all aspects related to the fact-checking will be debated by Filip Stojanovski, Project Manager of CriThink, Vladimir Petreski, editor for fact-checking in Macedonian and editor-in-chief of Truthmeter and Elida Zulbeari, editor for fact-checking in Albanian and editor-in-chief of Portalb.mk.

“Metamorphosis Foundation has been a member of the International Fact-Checking Network from the very beginning and we as an organization recognized the importance of the fight against disinformation very early and we always try to fight against the harmful consequences of misinformation through various tools, projects and activities. However, fact-checking is a very small but important part of these activities, which aim not only to debunk false information, but also to fight the consequences. It is a very difficult struggle, especially now when the sources of disinformation on the Internet are numerous and diverse,” said Bardhyl Jashari, Executive Director of the Metamorphosis Foundation.

He recalled the beginnings when the Foundation started fact-checking in 2011, when fact-checking itself was not so popular and very little practiced, although according to Jashari, it should always have been a practice in more serious and professional media.

“Intentionally or unintentionally, fact-checking is equated with censorship, which is not true. Fact-checking is a responsible work based on a pre-established methodology that does not aim to impose an absolute truth, but on the contrary, to enable debate on different topics by confronting different topics and arguments, in order to achieve freedom of expression,” Jashari explained. He added that the role of fact-checkers is to enable citizens to be properly informed, to recognize credible sources of information and to make decisions based on verified and accurate information.

Filip Stojanovski, Project Manager of “CriThink” shared the experiences from the three years of the project and as he said, what “CriThink” is doing is part of a global process.

“We started with the so-called ‘political fact-checking’, i.e. checking facts or statements related to political promises, only to later realize that the media also have a significant role, and that is why we established the Fact-Checking Service, which is based on practical application of the principles of ethical journalism. In the meantime, it has become a global trend, so we were the first in the region, together with several other partners, to establish the Anti-Disinformation Network for the Balkans. Working in these fields, we realized that in addition to the fact-checking itself, we must work on a wider audience, because the checking itself is not enough to oppose any kind of disinformation, and the propaganda itself does not deal with facts, but with another kind of manipulations, especially manipulations of emotions,” said Stojanovski.

He clarified that within the project “Critical Thinking for Mediawise Citizens – CriThink” which is implemented in cooperation with EUROTINK, and is supported by the EU, in addition to promoting and expanding activities to spread media literacy through fact-checking, includes activities to bring media literacy closer to citizens outside Skopje who face the same type of problems but have fewer resources for information and fact-checking.

He mentioned the cooperation with Facebook, which refers to the third-party fact-checking program, as the most important.

The Editor for fact-checking in Macedonian language and Editor-in-Chief of “Truthmeter”, Vladimir Petreski, spoke at the panel discussion and clarified the methodologies for checking facts, and as the first within the Metamorphosis Foundation, pointed it out through the facts.

“Fact-checking is no different than the standard check-up that journalists do when creating news stories and reports. The difference is that in this context, the fact-checkers do it after the publication of the text or the article “, explained Petreski.

Elida Zulbeari, Editor for fact-checking in Albanian and Editor-in-Chief of Portalb.mk said that checking facts during a pandemic is crucial, because it can really save lives, especially when the media and social networks share information about various drugs, anti-vaccines or mistrust in medical institutions, in order to dissuade citizens from visiting a doctor and the like.

“What I can summarize is that the disinformation is similar in both the Macedonian and Albanian media. Before the Corona virus crisis, there was a variety of disinformation about drugs for cancer or other diseases. Mostly, the Albanian media in the country are influenced by the Albanian media from Kosovo and Albania, as well as the Macedonian media being influenced by the Serbian and Bulgarian media,” Zulbeari said.

She pointed out that it often happens that comments are inserted in the texts, which is unacceptable because they are two different genres in journalism. Zulbeari pointed out that the experience of reviewing and checking the facts within Portalb.mk, shows that among the main problems is that journalists intentionally or unintentionally insert their views in the texts, and Portalb.mk through the reviews indicates that this should not be done by journalists in accordance with the Code of Ethics for Journalists.

International Fact-Checking Day has been celebrated since 2017 by the International Fact-Checking Network in collaboration with over a hundred fact-checking organizations around the world. April 2 was chosen as the antipode to April 1 – April Fool’s Day.

In response to a wave of disinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s motto is “Fact-checking can save lives and I support fact-checkers”.

More information about these activities can be found on the site https://FactCheckingDay.com and through the hashtag #FactcheckingDay.