European Commission: Croatian Model of Fact-Checking Relevant to All EU

Katarina Anđelković

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May 22, 2023 – The representative office of the European Commission in Croatia evaluates the Croatian model of establishing a system for checking the accuracy of the information in the public space and a network of fact-checkers relevant to every EU country, noting that it is the only such project financed from the Next Generation EU instrument.

As part of the project for the establishment of information accuracy checks, public tenders were completed at the beginning of May, calling for associations and scientific and educational institutions interested in fact-checking, as well as appraisers of applications for the part of the project for which almost four million non-reimbursable euros were allocated, writes Poslovni.

Deputy head of the EC Representation and head of the media department, Andrea Čović Vidović, in an interview for Hina, pointed out that the European Commission welcomes this initiative of the Ministry of Culture and Media and the Agency for Electronic Media (AEM).

“As far as we know, it is the only such project in the European Union financed from the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, i.e., the Next Generation EU instrument. The project’s goals align with what the European Commission insists on when it comes to media and social media, and they are certainly relevant for every member state”, said Čović Vidović.

She emphasized that the European Commission welcomes the project’s focus on combating misinformation and fake news in the public space, safety when consuming media content, and strengthening credible media coverage and media literacy.

Strengthening the media’s resistance to misinformation

In addition, as stated in the public tender, the idea is to strengthen the capacities and competencies of existing information checkers through the project, establish new independent fact-checkers, and the system and procedure of fact-checking in media newsrooms to make the media resistant to misinformation.

“The dimension of the tender, which refers to the encouragement and creation of media content on the topic of fighting against disinformation, is important in terms of communication and certainly commendable,” she said.

She added that on behalf of the European Commission, she cannot comment on the specific project dynamics of the aforementioned public tender to establish a national network of fact-checkers. On the other hand, she can welcome the initiative again because it reflects the Commission’s efforts to strengthen the member states in their readiness to fight against foreign interference and the fight against hybrid threats.

“The European Commission is committed to protecting societies, citizens, and freedoms from hybrid threats, including misinformation. We want to encourage the member states to detect, prevent and suppress all such attacks while at the same time strengthening their resistance to these threats. At the level of the European Union, in this context, we must not allow nothing to be done about misinformation,” she stressed.

She added that the most active fight against fake news and misinformation is in the digital dimension by creating accurate and precise informative content.

Demystify false and offer accurate information

“It is precisely on the ‘socials’ that we have a unique opportunity for that and the best reach. Through communication on social networks, we often encounter user comments in which unverified misinformation is presented, and quite often, they spread fake news. In these cases, our task is the so-called debunking – to demystify fakes and offer accurate and true information to those users and everyone who sees user comments,” she added.

As part of this, she also announced a workshop on June 15 at the House of Europe in Zagreb, where the importance of digital literacy in the fight against fake news and misinformation will be discussed. The target group is media representatives who work on the social networks of media newsrooms, and the goal is to start a conversation about social responsibility when it comes to this topic, especially about protecting the young audience from manipulation of information, she emphasized.

Čović Vidović also referred to the recent speech of EC Vice-President Vera Jourova, who expressed her doubt that numerous lawsuits against media and journalists in Croatia can be subsumed under strategic lawsuits directed against public participation (SLAPP lawsuits).

“No member state is immune to strategic lawsuits against public participation. A more detailed report on the state of the media in the member states for 2023 will be presented as part of the Commission’s regular report on the rule of law, published halfway through the year. The report will provide information on the current estimated state of SLAPP lawsuits in all member states, including Croatia,” said Čović Vidović.

The EU has a lot of work to do in precisely defining SLAPP

She also assessed that the European Union still has a lot of work to do in precisely defining SLAPP. She reminds that through the proposal of the SLAPP directive presented by the EC last year, the training of legal experts and potential defendants in strategic lawsuits against public participation is particularly emphasized to improve the knowledge necessary for successful participation in such court proceedings. She concluded that the European network for judicial training should ensure the coordination and dissemination of information in all member states.

On the eve of the announced adoption of the European Act on Freedom of the Media, she referred to the provisions that could improve the media scene in Croatia.

“The European Act on Media Freedom, whose proposal was presented by the European Commission in September 2022, includes rules for protecting media pluralism and independence in the European Union. It includes safeguards against political interference in editorial decisions and oversight, and at its core is the independence and stable financing of public media, as well as transparency of media ownership and distribution of state advertising. It establishes measures to protect the independence of editors and reveal conflicts of interest”.

She added that this act would also solve the issue of media concentration and establish a new independent European Committee for Media Services composed of national media bodies and ensure that public and private media can more easily operate across borders in the EU internal market without undue pressure and taking into account the digital transformation of the media space.

“All these are important issues for every member state of the Union, including Croatia. It is now up to the European Parliament and the member states to discuss the Commission’s proposal within the framework of the regular legislative procedure. After its adoption, this regulation will be directly applied throughout the European Union, including in Croatia,” she concluded.

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