Independent Journalism: A Key to Countering Disinformation

By Samuel Green, MALD 2020 Candidate, The Fletcher School

Megan Duffy and I both served as Peace Corps volunteers in the Balkans before attending The Fletcher School. She worked as an English teacher in Albania, and I worked as an economic development volunteer in Kosovo. During our time in the Balkans, we both grew to admire the people and the region’s scenic beauty. Duffy and I both grew to understand that the Balkans, which academics regularly treat as a monolith, is a complex region with diverse nations and people with very distinct histories and challenges.

This summer, we decided, with the support of Fletcher’s Russia and Eurasia program, to write a report on disinformation in the Western Balkans. We were determined to make sure that our report would look into each nation’s specific circumstances and unique political situation. In addition to existing reports, we decided to utilize our unique networks to speak with local journalists, local officials, and American government officials.

What resulted was a summer of two to three weekly calls with a wide range of individuals from each of the Western Balkan nations we researched. They helped point us in the right direction, giving specific examples and conveying their perspective on disinformation, one of the most challenging issues facing modern democracies. It became clear to us that the overarching narrative that Russia is behind disinformation in the Western Balkans is often true. Still, it often fails to take into account the domestic factors that allow disinformation to thrive.

The most valuable sources for our report were local journalists. I cannot say enough about the courage and integrity these individuals show daily. Reporting on issues like corruption, the rule of law, and abuse of power can result in harassment, intimidation, detention, or even death. Despite these genuine dangers, these individuals continue to report and serve as a critical check on power. Local journalists’ accounts helped us paint a more complete picture of disinformation in the Western Balkans. Domestic actors often push forward false narratives or claim factual reporting is “fake news” when it is politically expedient. Journalists were also integral to understanding the media ecosystem in each of the Balkan nations we wrote about.

It became clear to me as we wrote this report just how vital independent journalism is to counter the problem of disinformation. One of our main recommendations in the report is to support independent journalism and news organizations like the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network to counter disinformation. That is why we have dedicated this report to the local journalists who risk everything to shed light on the truth. We want to express our immense gratitude to the local journalists and disinformation specialists who spoke candidly about the realities their communities face and the challenges affecting their own professional and personal lives.

I want to thank the Fletcher Russia and Eurasia Program for helping make this research possible. If you are intrigued and want to dig into the report, it can be found here.

Leave a Reply