Disinformation, manipulations, political smear campaigns and a rising pressure on journalists, sometimes even leading to physical attacks – these are all dangerous phenomena which have become all too painfully known to us during the last years. They pose a direct threat to free journalism, at the same time challenging the very integrity of democratic processes and societies.
Being very much aware of the severity of these trends, Heinrich Böll Foundation in 2018 has engaged in a whole range of activities meant do support and strengthen the capacities of journalists, but also in bringing the problem to the attention of media recipients. One of the highlights was the annual media conference of the reporters’ network n-ost entitled „Face it! Journalism beyond denial and ideology” which took place in Warsaw on September 20th – 23rd. Over 160 participants – mainly journalists, activists, and academics – discussed topics such as “Media in a polarized society: Insights from Poland”, “The Visegrad Four: The future of Europe?” “Face it! Biggest stories and challenges that come with them” and “Doing journalism in a new world” (for more information see the conference website).
Beyond practical exchange and networking for people working in the media, we also cooperated with several competent organizations implementing workshops and creating practical educational materials on how to identify and unmask fake news. A very interesting proposal of this kind is the Video Academy of the fact-checking portal Demaskatory24.pl (run by the media holding Polska Press). In six subsequent video clips, users can acquire knowledge about how to verify the authenticity of pictures, films, websites and social media accounts as well as successful searching techniques for finding reliable information on the Internet.
In autumn 2018, Panoptykon Foundation conducted a series of workshops across Poland (in Gdansk, Warsaw, Poznan, Wroclaw, Cracow and Lublin) to empower local journalists, bloggers and activists in combating “Fake News”. During these workshops, held in the run-up to the nationwide local and regional elections by Dorota Głowacka (Panoptykon foundation) and Beata Biel/Anna Gielewska ( Reporters’ Foundation), the almost 60 participants reported on their personal and professional experiences with disinformation in their working life and the strategies to deal with it.
A vast majority of participants (75%) have come across disinformation in their work in the last 4 years and many of them have reacted to it (51%) (usually by publishing an article debunking it). However, as much as 39% indicated that they faced some repercussions (like online hate, threats of legal consequences, pressure from local authorities) as a result of reacting to disinformation. At the same time, a significant number of participants (42%) (or the media outlets they work for) have not taken any general measures in response to this problem. Only 18% of respondents claimed that they had received internal training related to disinformation, 11% participated in external training and another 11% had internal guidelines/codes of conduct in the media outlet on the matter.
After the workshops the participants kept in touch with the trainers and could approach them with questions related to the workshop’s topic and asking for legal advice. The participants were asked to publish materials based on the skills they learned during the workshops in order to raise local awareness in their communities or among their readership for this topic (some of which can be found here: Zielone Wiadomości, Demagog.org.pl, Miasto Obywatelskie Lubartów). The insights gained so far shall be used as part of the research material for a report to prepare better for the upcoming general elections in Poland in 2019.