Sefer Tahiriauthor: Sefer Tahiri

In recent months, the world, in addition to covid 19, is facing false news, but also political / party instrumentalization of the new situation with the virus. Unfortunately, in the country,  journalistic content can be identified in some media in which ethnic inclinations and bias are detected!

Media reporting about covid for political points!

It is understandable that equally as the virus harms health, media deviations also substantially damage journalism and the fundamental truths based on professional standards and ethical norms, as prescribed by the Code of Journalists of the Republic of North Macedonia. The public has been long faced with tendenccies for manipulation through journalism, while manipulators often invoke freedom of expression. Nonetheless, this does not imply the right to an irresponsible and unscrupulous journalistic approach.

A small number of journalists and media, instead of being critical when they notice that politicians (from the government or the opposition) try to instrumentalize the situation, they put themselves in a position to serve the political / party narratives about the coronavirus.

The Council of Media Ethics of Macedonia (CMEM) has reacted to the frequent cases of unethical and unprofessional reporting, in particular to the spread of speculation in certain media regarding the coronavirus pandemic. From the moment of the declaration of state of emergency about covid-19 until August, 70% of the press complaints filed to the Council referred to media coverage about the coronavirus. The public also reacted to the attempts for politicization of the coronavirus crisis in the media. Journalists often do not have a professional distance set from political entities, i.e. Article 14 of the Code of Journalists has been violated  in 37% of the cases reported to CMEM. Media must not be used to divide people on various political grounds, and the coronavirus must not be the 'weapon' to be used for political scoring by any politician, whether in power or in opposition.

Such are the cases of: the Cabinet of the former Minister of Foreign Affairs against the following online media (Denesen) Денешен.мк, Kurir Курир. мк and Republika Република.мк. CMEM’s Press Complaints Commission concluded that the aforementioned portals in their articles issued on March 24th 2020, breached article 14.

Theweb portals and stated that “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense of Dimitrov and Shekerinska spent 2.5 million denars to travel abroad in four days in the middle of the crisis”, while stated that “Dimitrov’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs  spent 1.457.517 denars for business trips in the period of emergency”.

The Press Complaints Commission recognized elements of political background in the reporting, which is opposite to the article 14 from the Code of Journalists. Breaches of the Code are evident in the following sentences: "According to the list, institutions spent 50,053 euros in the period when the leader of the ruling party, Zoran Zaev, proposed cuts in the administration's salaries due to the coronavirus crisis in the country. The Ministry led by Dimitrov is at the top again - MKD 1,100,058, followed by Sekerinska’s Defense with MKD 361,183. The leader of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE, Hristijan Mickoski, also spoke about this in his guest appearance on MTV this evening”.

The Code of Journalists clearly states that reporting from political processes should be unbiased and balanced. Journalists must set a professional distance from the political subjects they report about.

Ethnic (partial) narratives about the global pandemic! 

In some media outlets a surprisingly deliberate and easily recognizable tendency to hidden ethnocentrism in the coverage and interpretation of the the crisis situation have been identified. Such media discourse leads to discrimination against the collective 'Other' in the country.

A report from a commercial national television titled "The municipality of Chair is a new potential hotspot of covid-19", published on May 31st, 2020, highlights there is such a free life in the municipality and it seems as if there is no pandemic of the dangerous covid-19. The television does not project images from other municipalities in Skopje, to compare if measures and recommendations against Covid-19 are respected there. ”On both sides of the new protective wall there are policemen and police cars. The only novelty is the graffiti on the wall which divides Chair’s main street. The rest of the picture is copied from the past days, showing grouped citizens and people who do not wear a mask. However, there were also people who respected the measures and stood two meters apart, left their homes with masks and scarves over mouths and noses", the station reported. On the other hand, a national daily newspaper publishes the text from a news item on a bilingual national cable television which contains one-sided tendency and, to some extent, a stereotyping headline with capital letters "This is why Chair has the greatest number of sick –CITIZENS DO NOT BELIEVE THERE IS CORONA”. The article published reports "The television crew interviewed citizens of the municipality of Chair and was surprised by the fact that some of them do not believe that the coronavirus exists, while others believe and appeal to others to respect the measures and take care”.

While this was the way some of the Macedonian - language media reported on the presence of the virus in the Skopje’s municipality of Chair, where majority of ethnic Albanians live, four months later, the Albanian - language media "retaliated”! In this period, Albanian language media have a narrative overemphasizing the fact that two municipalities in Skopje, whose inhabitants are mainly Macedonians, have the highest number of infected with Covid- 19.

A national commercial television, on October 6th, 2020, reports that "Municipality of Aerodrom is a hotbed of the coronavirus", while the next day, a new headline appears "Municipalities of Center and Aerodrom have majority of active cases of Covid 19 in Skopje"

In the article titled "The Municipality of Aerodrom is a" hotbed "of the coronavirus" the journalistreports in almost similar fashion as the national television in Macedonian language which reported about the municipality of Chair. "For days, Aerodrom municipality has been the main focus of the expansion of Covid 19 and a municipality that has increasing cases each day. However, citizens move freely and there are many who do not respect the protective measures, such as wearing of a mask. It is also noticed that bars work freely”. The second article llists the municipalities in Skopje, while Chair is not mentioned at all. Some web portals in Macedonian language do not forget to highlight that Chair had the largest number of  diseased, which is a fact, but when pointed out separately from the other municipalities it creates an impression of (un) intentional (ethnic) stereotyping. "All other municipalities have significantly fewer active cases, and Chair, which was the municipality with most of the cases cases, now has 55," a Macedonian-language portal reported.

Besides these examples, Vesna Nikodinoska, Project Manager at the Macedonian Institute for Media, at the debate: "Hate speech and discriminatory practices in media reporting –?" pointed out several examples of reporting about Roma people, who according to the presented data  are considered a particularly group under risk, which was confirmed during the pandemic in all countries in Europe where they live. Nikodinoska believes that their stereotyping and stigmatization is present even under normal conditions. "Media’s role is crucial for hearing about the problems of those who are silent, as shown in some newsrooms that gave space for   

for quality articles through which the audience could find out, for example, that:

  • only 14% of Roma women from the survey knew about the information where to go if they have symptoms and what is the procedure for further treatment;
  • in May 2020 there was no place for testing for covid-19 in Shuto Orizari
  • or for example, out of 200 passengers, only 10 Roma musicians were sent to quarantine inPepelishte in Krivolak, at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020," Nikodinoska said at the debate.

However, in her opinion, many questions were not addressed: How many Roma children could attend online classes? How many of them have a computer at home? How many Roma households have access to clean drinking water or water for daily hygiene, especially in times of crisis? Or how did Roma earn for a living during the quarantine?

The way some media report, as we have shown through examples, proves that, unfortunately, even when we face a global health threat, which does not select people on any grounds, the media in the country are divided along ethnic lines, as it has been a case for many other events and occurrences.

To conclude, media coverage about Covid 19, instead of being focused on human values ​​and solidarity, contains negative stereotyping, which leads to ethnocentrism and stigmatization, i.e. discrimination on ethnic grounds.