European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and EU Ambassador to BiH Johann Sattler opened today the first EU – Western Balkans conference on media literacy and the fight against disinformation. As part of the conference, three panel discussions were hosted from three cities (Brussels, Sarajevo and Banja Luka) on the subjects of media literacy, fact-checking and disinformation, with a focus on the pandemic in this sphere.
In his opening address, EU High Representative Josep Borrell emphasised: “Misinformation and disinformation proliferated in the Western Balkans, in the European Union and in the whole world during the pandemic. This has been dangerous for all of us. Above all because lies about medical issues can even kill.” He further emphasised the importance of the work of fact-checking organisations and their partners in debunking disinformation in the Western Balkans.
The conference was jointly organised by the European Union in cooperation with the BiH-based “Why Not” (Zašto ne) Association and the Association of High School Students in BiH, within the “Ne klikam u prazno” project funded by the EU with the aim of strengthening media literacy among youth.
EU Ambassador to BiH Johann Sattler spoke of the significance of the conference in view of its aim to educate the public and highlight best practices in the fight against disinformation in the region: “The EU in BiH has been working together with the fact-checking community in BiH for a few years, who are at the very heart of the global fight against disinformation.” He stressed that effective action on preventing the spread of disinformation requires participation from not only fact-checkers, civil society and independent media, but also representatives of the authorities and regulatory bodies, adding that cooperation in this field needs to be strengthened in BiH.
The conference gathered over 20 experts in the field of media and information literacy, EU and regional officials as well as activists, including Member of the European Parliament Tonino Picula, Minister of Defence of North Macedonia Radmila Šekerinska, Associate Director of the International Fact-Checking Network Cristina Tardáguila, President of the “Why Not” Association Darko Brkan, journalist of the Serbia-based Crime and Corruption Reporting Network “KRIK” Jelena Vasić, and many others.
Representatives of fact-checking organisations emphasised the importance of strengthening media literacy, especially among young people, as well as of the further development of tools for verification of online content and cross-border cooperation on debunking disinformation that can have a harmful effect on citizens and democratic processes.