Part of the annual address of the President of the Republic of Macedonia was devoted to the “fake news”. Are the euphoric statements of Gjorge Ivanov, PhD, against fake news weighable? Are President Ivanov’s statements based on facts or are continuation of his recognizable tactics of spinning, skewing and manipulating the public opinion?
Author: Zharko Trajanoski
WHO’S AT WAR WITH THE “FAKE NEWS”?
“Truth has never had as many enemies as it has today. We are living in a time of fake media reality. There is a war of perceptions through the use of fake news in Macedonia.” (Annual address of Gjorge Ivanov, 2017)
First, let’s see if the following statement “Truth has never had as many enemies as it has today” can be checked. Is this statement based on some kind of empirical research on “truth” in all periods and corners of the world, or it’s a matter of personal “perception”? Ivanov does not invoke comparative research on “truth” and its enemies, so the drawing of such a strong conclusion is rather strange. Thus, Ivanov’s statement is not based on research and facts, but on personal unweighable preconceptions presented as facts.
Can the statement “We are living in a time of fake media reality” be checked? Can the “reality” be false? What’s the cognizance that provides Ivanov with the basis to suggest that all media outlets create “false reality”? It seems that this general accusation of all media outlets is not based on facts, but on prejudice against the media.
The third statement in this section can hardly be checked, as well. Who’s using fake news? The sentence lacks subject, it’s grammatically unclear to whom the section “through the use of fake news” refers to. Ivanov doesn’t even explain the meaning of the phrase “war of perceptions”, he just points out that Macedonia is in such kind of war, without precisely saying when this war has started, who takes part in the war and what the war is being fought for.
Briefly, we can hardly detect any weighable fact-based content in the above mentioned section. It’s prevailed by preconceptions and perceptions that rhetorically try to present themselves as facts for “truth”, “false media reality” and “war of perceptions”.
IS THE INTERNET A SUBVERSIVE INSTRUMENT?
“The Internet and the broadcasting of messages tailor-made for a certain audience are the new subversive instrument used to shape public opinion and influence election results.” (Annual address of Gjorge Ivanov, 2017)
Undoubtedly, the Internet, like any other traditional media outlet, is used as an instrument for shaping the public opinion. What’s more, the public opinion affects the election results. The broadcasting of “messages tailor-made” for the audience is a tool that has been and is still used by the “traditional” and the new “electronic” media. The message sender makes tailor-made messages in accordance with the audience, no matter if the audience is consisted of “soap opera” viewers, TV news viewers, radio show listeners and website or social media “surfers”. “Economic-propagandistic messages” as well as the “political-propagandistic messages” contain tailor-made messages. However, broadcasting tailor-made messages for a certain audience, as Ivanov claims, is not a new tool at all.
Why is Ivanov talking about a “subversive” instrument, even when the broadcast tailor-made messages are not “fake news”? If there is something “subversive” in the “broadcasting of messages tailor-made for a certain audience” by the traditional and electronic media outlets, then the entire media political campaign has to be described as a “subversive” activity.
WHO ARE THE FAKE NEWS GENERATORS?
“The main actors in this war are the fake news and rumor generators, whose aim is to cover up their own incompetence and divert the attention elsewhere. We have seen certain institutions and officials creating cases based on fake news and false information. They went insofar as to blame me of planning to declare a state of war. Instead of reading Chapter 7 that lays down the conditions for declaring state of war and state of emergency, they try to impose a fake image and create a public perception, enabling them to build a case based on deceit. Unfortunately, some journalists and social network users became instruments for transmission of their lies.” (Annual address of Gjorge Ivanov, 2017)
To check the first statement from this section, we ought to know the main actors in the “war”, i.e. who are the “fake news and rumor generators”. If we only knew who they were, we could then determine if those actors truly have the “aim is to cover up their own incompetence and divert the attention elsewhere.” But, Ivanov doesn’t name those actors, therefore his statements cannot be checked. Ivanov doesn’t tell which “certain institutions and officials” are “creating cases based on fake news and false information”. This is also a general, imprecise and unweighable statement. Ivanov doesn’t name the ones who have tried to blame him that he had planned to declare state of war and who have tried to “impose a fake image and create a public perception enabling them to build a case based on deceit”. Hence, it would be difficult to check whether his accusations are based on facts. Ivanov doesn’t even emphasize the journalists and social network users who have become instruments for transmission of “lies”. Generally, such accusations that could hardly be verified if they are based on facts or not, do not spur debate with arguments, but speculations.
ARE THE FAKE NEWS ERODING THE INSTITUTIONS?
“Fake news, rumors and planned leak of information are eroding our institutions.” (Annual address of Gjorge Ivanov, 2017)
State institutions have transparency and accountability mechanisms, as well as other legal mechanisms that can prevent fake news and speculations and can fight them. Hence, fake news and rumor can be “eroding our institutions” only in situations when the institutions are not transparent, accountable and when they fight against fake news and rumor unsuccessfully. Ivanov doesn’t clarify the “planned leak of information”, so his imprecise position begs the hypothetical question: Whether a planned leak of unclassified public information will still be “eroding our institutions”?
WHO’S RESPONSIBLE FOR THE UNCOVERED IDENTITIES OF OUR INTELLIGENCE AGENTS?
“In the past three years, more than 30% of the identities of our intelligence agents have been uncovered. This has provoked detrimental consequences in the form of failed operations in the country and abroad, jeopardizing lives and destroying the agent network for data collection.” (Annual address of Gjorge Ivanov, 2017)
Ivanov’s assertion that “in the past three years, more than 30% of the identities of our intelligence agents have been uncovered” is undoubtedly breaking news, which could be checked only if we knew the total number of our intelligence agents and the number of our intelligence agents whose identities have been uncovered. But we cannot get such information, as it hast to be protected as state secret. Hence the questions: Why Ivanov makes sensationalistic statements which cannot be checked or the check itself would involve revealing of state secrets?
But, can the responsibility for the uncovered identities of our intelligence agents be laid on “fake news, rumors and planned leak of information”? Or the uncovering of the identities of our intelligence agents is a result of the inefficient protection of their identities? Ivanov doesn’t say why the identity protection system of our intelligence agents has failed. Ivanov doesn’t explain how he could decorate the Intelligence Agency in March 2017, if more than 30% of the identities of our intelligence agents have been uncovered? If the Intelligence Agency has suffered detrimental consequences in the form of failed operations, jeopardizing lives and destroying the agent network for data collection, then why Ivanov decorated the Agency in the first place, instead of holding them accountable for the detrimental consequences?
SHOULD FAKE NEWS BE CRIMINALIZED?
“It is high time to face the truth that generating and broadcasting fake news in the media, on the internet and on social networks, without monitoring or measures for civil and criminal liability, is a basis for tensions and conflict. Those who provoke damage by generating fake news must be held responsible. Positive European examples should be implemented in our case as well.” (Annual address of Gjorge Ivanov, 2017)
In the first sentence Ivanov announces the “truth” about “fake news” – that generating and broadcasting fake news “is a basis for tensions and conflict”. Ivanov is inexact again and he doesn’t explain the tensions and conflicts blamed for the “fake news”. In addition, Ivanov’s “truth” on “fake news” contains ungrounded assumption that currently there isn’t monitoring and measures for civic and criminal liability for generating and broadcasting fake news in the media, on the Internet and on social networks. There is civic monitoring (such as Truthmeter, for instance) as well as institutional monitoring of fake news in the media. There are civic liability measures for insult and defamation, after they were decriminalized. Ivanov’s suggestion that there ought to be measures for criminal liability for “fake news” in the media is actually a suggestion for recriminalizing defamation. The statement “positive European examples should be implemented in our case as well” is imprecise and uncheckable, because we don’t know which European examples are considered positive by Ivanov.
THE SPIN-DOCTOR APPEALS TO THE MEDIA NOT TO PLACE FAKE NEWS
“However, the law in itself is not enough. All of us who were elected by the citizens should give our example. It is time to reintroduce public decency in public debate. There is no better or more adequate place for that process to begin, than this house of democracy. The media should also give an example. The Republic of Macedonia needs free, independent and professional journalism, and not media outlets that function as exponents of political parties and place fake news.” (Annual address of Gjorge Ivanov, 2017)
What has public decency to do with generating fake news? In the past decade, we witnessed unscrupulous propagandists that were representing themselves as journalists, “decently” disseminating fake news in the public media corrupted by governmental advertisements. For many years, we had been witnesses of corrupt media who thought organizing public debates between functionaries (that had been corrupting them) and the opposition (that was labeled due to the “indecent” demands for media space for public debate) was indecent.
What kind of personal example did the former journalist Gjorge Ivanov give in times when the press freedom and public debate in the Republic of Macedonia was systemically crushed by the party that brought him to office? Did the President Gjorge Ivanov publicly condemned the calls on lynch on journalists or he was a guest speaker in the shows of the most famous party hatemongers who called for lynching and caused hatred and intolerance on various basis? Did he invoke Macedonia’s catastrophic international press freedom ratings or he tried to spin them as a “perception”? At last, did Gjorge Ivanov, as the President of the Republic of Macedonia, respect the principles of transparency and accountability or, in turn, placed spins, insinuations and ungrounded accusations through the media?
Unfortunately, the answers to these questions don’t favor Gjorge Ivanov in terms of being a positive example of a person that has significantly contributed to press freedoms, public debate, transparency and accountability in the Republic of Macedonia. What’s more, Ivanov’s tirade against fake news in his annual address doesn’t contribute to press freedoms and public debate, but it’s an attempt to lay the responsibility on the abstract “fake news” instead on those who systemically generate them in order to meet their political goals. Appealing to the media not to place fake news though the use of spins is a top-notch hypocrisy.
The Republic of Macedonia needs free, independent and professional journalism as well as a President who won’t function as generator of spins and unjustified accusations.