The Independent Journalist Center (IJC) put a strong focus on fighting propaganda and misinformation. Read the interview with IJC director Nadine Gogu:
#mediadev: The Independent Journalist Centerwas the first Media NGO in Moldova. You are in the field for 25 year. When did media literacy become a strategic project?
It happened back in 2014 after the war in Ukraine started and the propaganda from Russia spread around and Moldova as a former Soviet country, republic was among the targets of the Russians and it was pretty obvious that they were trying to reach Moldovans’ minds and hearts. They used different tools, but most heavily they used media to spread their propaganda and they succeeded, mainly because we have many TV stations in Moldova that re-broadcast content from Russia that is produced in Russia. People were used to watching TV content from Russia. They are happy with the content. Especially entertainment, TV-series, movies and so on, but they are also watching newscasts, shows, and political ones. We had been monitoring the media content in Moldova before 2014. So, we had results of media from the past. So we could see how the content had changed and what kind of material, information was spread after 2014. We saw a lot of manipulation, disinformation and propaganda content. That’s why we understood that it is time to do something in order to help people think critically, develop their critical thinking. So that they could discern between true and fake news, and I saw a lot of fake news in Ukraine. The same content was spread in Moldova as well. This was the beginning of our work in media literacy.
#mediadev: Is it easy to discern between true and fake news?
It was easy in our case. When you watch a TV show produced in Moscow for instance it is pretty obvious – not only for us as journalists or as media actors, but also for other consumers who think critically – that they invite different persons to the studio, but that they mimic a kind of pluralist opinion, but it is actually the same faces, the same people who are invited. They are saying that they represent Ukraine or the US, but actually our perception is that they are paid to be part of the show just to be used. In the case of the Russian content, it is pretty obvious, the propaganda. And we are also engaged in different regional monitoring projects. We looked at the message spread by the Kremlin through the local media. We looked at narratives and so on. We had some experience in that respect and of course we got a lot of evidence that propaganda is there, and manipulation and disinformation. And now, not talking only about external propaganda but also about internal propaganda, we had media in Moldova that are used by politicians and political parties for their own interest in staying in power. They are using this media just to spread propagandist messages that they are the best and they are doing the best things for people in Moldova. They sometimes use fake news and they have their own sources and experts. They are there in every show and telling us the same messages.
#mediadev: How does your organization work?
We started in the beginning working with journalists and independent media and their beneficiaries more or less, but now we also work with media consumers, since one of our strategic projects is media literacy, improving media literacy among citizens and media consumers. Now we have among our beneficiaries journalists, independent media and also media consumers, schools, teachers, students and parents. We are pretty active on social networks, we have several web-platforms which helps media consumers to understand how media manipulates or misinforms. We developed games, quizzes, studies. We use different approaches to reach different audiences, not only students, but also the adult population, journalists and so on. When it comes to the issue of media education, we have a partnership with the Ministry of Education. They are pretty open. The staff at the Ministry of Education changed, but anyway they remained open. We succeeded in introducing media literacy – well, with our help it succeeded. And now media literacy is taught in primary schools as an optional discipline and also in secondary schools. Now we are working on developing a manual, a textbook for the high schools. Our job was to work with experts to develop the curriculum, to train teachers, to develop textbooks and to work with the Ministry of Education in order to ensure that those teachers who are interested in teaching this course will know how to do this and that they are paid for this.
#mediadev: How would you describe the standard of media literacy in Moldova?
Compared to other countries things are better in Moldova, but anyway I would say that we have still work to do. Not all people think critically. We conducted several surveys and asked people about their perception of manipulation and propaganda, if they can discern between this information and disinformation. They say: “Yes, we know what manipulation means and what disinformation means”. But, we did also conduct focus groups and other quality research to understand, if it is only a statement or if it is true. These results show that the percentage of those who know what the word manipulation means had increased lately. Another indicator is the trust in media. It is decreasing. And that again is an indicator showing that people think critically. Hopefully it is also due to our efforts.
#mediadev: What is your strategy against the challenges of fake news and misinformation?
Every day we have different challenges. Today you approach one of them and the next day it will be a different one, like viruses.
We had several Hackathons about media education in recent years and our winner in one Hackathon developed different applications that help us to identify trolls for instance. The application was developed in Chisinau and now if you have it on your mobile you can see the profile of a person who is commenting or spreading some disinformation. These applications analyse the profile and after that it says if it is a troll or not. And there are some other methods, not only games. For instance, we implemented a methodology and now we are looking for funds in order to implement it to monitor the content of websites, because we have a lot of online and even fake webportals. They are just maintained for one or two weeks. Their job is to publish some fake information. Traditional media are quoting this site and they are spreading the words around. After that the websites disappear. They are just made to spread fake news. After we implemented the methodology we access websites and they will have a kind of sticker on it. They show if this site is reliable or not.
#mediadev: You are one of 13 members of MILEN (Media and Information Literacy and Expert Network). What advantages do you see in such a network?
Before we founded MILEN I had several opportunities to meet different colleagues to see what they are doing in their countries and to share our experiences. In MILEN we have people with different backgrounds and they are working for a different target audience. I made some connections with colleagues from other countries and we agreed that we would take some of their games on our platform ) and we are also sharing our experience with the Minister of Education in how to teach in schools and so on. It’s very good to have this kind of network where people can share experiences and can contribute also. When we organize something, maybe we will benefit from the experience of others. I often simply write down some ideas and after a while I roll back and see how we can implement, what kind of projects we can develop to have this also in Moldova. We are learning every day, sharing every day and MILEN is a great opportunity to do this and to help.
#mediadev: What gives you energy when you are not working?
During the weekends I try to stay away from work; we have a small forest near Chisinau and usually when the weather is fine, we are in the forest, walking around and watching how the seasons are changing and benefiting from this. It gives me energy. I´m charging my batteries.