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World Press Freedom Day: The biggest threat is the disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic

“A free press is one where it’s ok to state the conclusion you’re led to by the evidence.” (Bill Moyers)

Today is 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, which is being held for the 27th time, and every year the celebration of the day is accompanied by various challenges. This year we are dealing with the spread of the COVID-19 and at this moment the approach to credible reporting and information is of even more critical importance.

The Metamorphosis Foundation would like to express gratitude to all fellow journalists, friends, partners and donors for their support in protecting media freedom and providing open, secure and equal access to information that can be trusted both online and offline in these critical times.

On the occasion of today’s World Press Freedom Day – 3 May, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for greater protection of journalists, stressing that they are providing an antidote to the pandemic of disinformation resulting from the crisis caused by the spread of the coronavirus.

As UNESCO emphasizes, the main challenge faced by journalism this year is disinformation related to the coronavirus.

The Republic of North Macedonia is not at all immune to such developments. On the contrary, the influx of disinformation related to COVID-19 is extremely high in the Macedonian media and on social networks to the extent that it can lead to the spread of the infection and cause unnecessary casualties among those citizens who trust and follow unfounded and unscientific advice given by various quasi-doctors and spread through unprofessional media and thousands of social media profiles.

The Metamorphosis Foundation has long ago perceived the negative consequences that can result from an influx of disinformation and the need for accurate, verified and credible information, which at the time of COVID-19 pandemic proved to be extremely important. Over the past decade, Metamorphosis has developed a rich media program that in recent years has grown into a special part of the foundation’s work under the name Media for Democracy. This programme aims to provide information based on facts. This includes working on a media literacy education plan and developing critical thinking via Crithink, fact-checking in the media via proverkanafakti.mk, accountability and transparency via vistinomer.mk, as well as accurate and verified reporting, data analysis and visualization via meta.mk and portalb.mk.

According to the measurement of the international non-governmental organization “Reporters without Borders”, the freedom of the media in the country in the last few years has improved, i.e. from 118th place in the world, North Macedonia has risen to the 92nd place this year. However, much work has to be done and many media reforms are yet to be implemented until the desired goal is achieved.

Research conducted by Metamorphosis has identified problems with media reforms in four main areas:

  • There is no strategy for the media sector and no intentions to prepare such a strategy;
  • There is insufficient political will among all relevant political stakeholders in the government and the opposition to completely distance themselves from the influence on the editorial policy of the media;
  • Reforms in the public broadcasting sector, primarily in the MRT/NRT Public Broadcaster and in the AAVMU regulatory agency have not been implemented, although the legal preconditions were fulfilled more than a year ago;
  • Required by the media themselves, the major private broadcasters, but also newspapers and portals to non-selectively receive funding or other subsidies directly from the budget, from local government, from public enterprises or joint-stock companies of state or mixed ownership.

Within its commitments for free, independent and professional media, Metamorphosis Foundation for Internet and Society considers that the direct allocation of public funds puts the media in a position that leads to undermining editorial independence and media freedom, to the disruption of integrity and increased political influence. State financial aid to the media should not be provided through the direct allocation of funds. The aid ought to come in other forms such as lowering the tax rates and lifting the journalist employment fees and it ought to be for quality and professional journalism regardless if it a matter of print, electronic or online media.