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North Macedonia: politics and miscommunication / North Macedonia / areas / Home

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North Macedonia: politics and miscommunication / North Macedonia / areas / Home

According to a recent study, public discourse in North Macedonia is saturated with toxic narratives: these are spread not only by political parties and exponents, but also by the media, often incapable of carrying out their role as a filter and guarantor towards the public

L’Institute for Communication Studies (ICS) in Skopje produced its first report on “Measuring Politically Harmful Narratives”, in which it analyzed the extent and spread of toxic narratives in the public political communication of political parties and representatives in North Macedonia, as well as in the media coverage of such narratives.

The research monitored the websites and Facebook pages of ten political parties and party leaders with at least two deputies in the 2020-2024 legislature, eleven online media outlets and nine television broadcasters.

The analysis shows that political actors in Macedonia often accuse their opponents of corruption, lack of transparency, unprofessionalism and abuse of office, but make no attempt to support these claims with facts.

Unverified accusations are used against political opponents, developing harmful populist narratives and undermining trust in institutions. Biased data selection often leads to erroneous conclusions and incites socio-political divisions in public opinion.

“Both on the Internet and on Facebook, these toxic narratives are mostly based on unverified corruption allegations, less often on labeling and ridicule, violent language, biased cover-up, and accusations of interference by foreign entities in domestic politics,” emphasizes the ICS.

The main theme for the monitored period between September and October 2023 is domestic politics, with a focus on attacks on political opponents and criticism of the government and other institutions, as well as local governments.

In particular, harmful narratives currently revolve around changes to the penal code, al case of the Oncology Clinic North Macedonia – Bulgaria relations regarding the proposed constitutional changes and integration into the EU, the law on gambling and the amnesty law, but also the current situation of education, the economy, inflation, corruption (especially in the judiciary) and the upcoming elections in the country.

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The second part of the research, dedicated to the media, finds that lack of professional ethics and verification of statements, accusations without evidence, populism, intolerance, disinformation and even hatred towards some groups only encourage political actors to see the media as a free platform to promote their harmful narratives.

“One-sided coverage by some media is a serious problem that indicates unprofessional, unbalanced and biased reporting,” the ICS says.

In October 2023 alone, a total of 136 posts with harmful and toxic content were identified, including 87 on the websites of political parties and others on 49 Facebook profiles of parties and government members.

89.7% of these 136 posts contained unverified or difficult-to-verify claims used to accuse political opponents; 77% unsupported reports of corruption, lack of transparency, lack of professionalism and abuse of office.

48.3% of posts explicitly or implicitly, directly or indirectly promote their ideologies as something that benefits “the people,” portraying political opponents as serving a small elite.

According to the study, a further concern is the tendency to use official government communication channels for party propaganda, i.e. publishing party-related content on the Facebook profiles of the prime minister and government ministers, directly violating the principles of professionalism and impartiality in the communication of government representatives as well as the government code of ethics for public employees.

The code of ethics requires that public employees carry out their role in a politically neutral manner, avoid expressing their political beliefs in the exercise of their function and do not carry out political activities that could undermine citizens’ trust in their impartiality.

“The monitored contents highlight the poor quality of public discourse of political actors in Macedonian society,” reads the research summary.

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“Holders of public offices, as well as candidates for them, must behave appropriately in their public appearances, be accountable, transparent, not spread disinformation and refrain from populist speeches. Otherwise, they contribute to the spread of harmful narratives in society and deny the public’s right to be informed accurately, timely and clearly on important topics and to debate of adequate quality on matters of public interest.”

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