Fifteen young people from all across Bosnia and Herzegovina participated in a three-day debate camp on freedom of speech and disinformation on the Internet that was held on Trebević. The aim was to gain debating skills, learn about the role of traditional media in society and about disinformation, focused on freedom of speech.
Anida Sokol, a researcher and project coordinator at Media Centar Sarajevo and one of the trainers at this camp, emphasised the importance of young people understanding the concept of freedom of speech as well the need for them to realise what freedom of speech is and to understand that it is not absolute and that there are certain restrictions. Anida explained that the emphasis of the camp was on how to regulate social networks, considering their responsibility to ensure that they are not used to spread harmful content.
“Freedom of speech is limited in certain situations when we spread hatred towards others on the basis of certain protected characteristics, when certain information or misinformation is dangerous for security in one country, for human health and the like. So, we are talking to them about regulation. How to regulate, where is the border between dangerous, harmful speech and freedom of speech. This is exactly what we are discussing with young people. To gain skills and recognition of problematic media content through debate, but also an understanding of the role of traditional media, credible information and the importance of such information for democratic society and even understanding what freedom of speech is and why it is important.”
Jasmin Hasić, an assistant professor at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology, who led the debate camp, pointed out that young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina have great ideas but often lack the means to realise them. Jasmin saw this as the most importance aspect of the debate, stating that the necessary skills are systematically neglected in our educational system. He emphasised that young people rarely have the opportunity to sit together and discuss topics that are important to them in terms of what they do and the spheres in which they work.
“What we are trying to do through this simulated form of debate is to point out to them the importance of the topic as a topic and not their views. We want to distinguish that what they are talking about does not necessarily maintain their worldview, whatever it may be.”
Jasmin said that it is very important that these young people are aware that in life they will not often have the opportunity to use the form of debate that they followed during the three days of debate, but that the skills that this simulated model brought are the added value of debates. He said that the skills and knowledge they practised are necessary in the public sphere and go beyond just a certain knowledge of the topic they want to debate.
Nadina Maličbegović, a reporter for Al Jazeera Balkans, who participated in the debate camp, spoke to the young people and answered their questions about her work, especially with reference to her reporting on the war in Ukraine, as it was at the time of the beginning of the Russian invasion of that country. Nadina emphasised that the education of young people and their media literacy is extremely important. She emphasised that such camps are extremely important, especially when you consider that people come to different areas with different attitudes and with different ideas.
Nadina stressed the importance to Bosnia and Herzegovina as a country still living in a post-war situation where these divisions are so obvious and where society is totally divided. “They have been exposed to one narrative for years and now they are gathered in one place and their views are now opposed. You can help them by trying to direct them to understand that not everything written is not necessarily true. … Even if young people from a camp like this leave with their views they will still learn that there is another side and another position that should be given the opportunity to be heard. They will adopt the information that helps them continue to act and the way they reshape their consciousness, if it needs to be reshaped.”
Nadina stated that during her stay in Kiev misinformation prevailed in the media and that there were violations of media freedoms. She said that it was clear from the beginning that apart from weapons there is an information war, a war of propaganda, and for that reason every piece of information had to be checked several times and sources sought, especially for information coming from the armed forces of one side or the other.
She emphasised that it is very difficult to report in such crisis situations and that the problem is that there is not much time to prepare and that it is very important to stick to official sources in such situations, to seek confirmation from several sides. She said that it is important to hear the Russian side as well, regardless of the fact that that country invaded another sovereign and independent country. She said that this was facilitated by the fact that Al Jazeera also had a team in Moscow.
The young people were provided with knowledge through practical examples and interactive workshops in the field of media information literacy with emphasis on the regulation of social networks. Kenan Junuzović, from Gračanica, was one of the participants of this camp. He believes that participation in such and similar projects will help young people to become strong activist and youth resources that will later serve the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“I think that during this camp we gained the necessary knowledge in the field of critical thinking. We managed to develop our communication skills, since we had two sides to each topic who advocated for and against and thus we exchanged our opinions on various topics. That is what enriches this type of non-formal education through debates and through such activities.”
Milica Kos, from Laktaši, another participant, said that she came to the debate camp to learn more about the media, freedom of speech and the difference between freedom of speech and hate speech as well as to meet other young people from different parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina to exchange opinions, but also to learn from professionals.
Milica, who is studying at the Russian University of Friendship of Peoples in Moscow, said that recognising and spreading misinformation, which was one of the topics of the camp, is a very important segment because disinformation spreads with incredible speed. She added that it is extremely important that this type of education is acquired at camps in their local communities, because, in her opinion, this will contribute to shaping opinions about the media in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Dallal Daffalla, from Gračanica, another participant, stated that she applied to this camp because she does not follow the media enough and wanted to learn something new. She believes that such workshops are important as they help you to learn how to recognise false information and to recognise the difference between freedom of speech and hate speech.
The debate camp was held as part of the project ‘Youth for Better Media’, which is funded by the European Union and implemented jointly by the NGOs ‘Media Centar Sarajevo’ and ‘Ja bih u EU’.