The border was no obstacle for the spread of various speculations, Source: Depositphotos

Croatia’s entry into the Schengen area could not evade fake news

Croatia’s entry into the Schengen area could not evade fake news

A prime example of sensationalism feeding nationalism

Croatia has been part of the European Union since 2013. Ever since then, its people have been subjected to a slew of false narratives, considering that the country’s path to the European Union itself had been complex. This was partly because of unresolved issues from the Yugoslavian wars, and partly because of territorial disputes with neighbouring Slovenia.

This informational legacy can explain why some Croatian citizens were also sceptical about their country's recent entry into the Schengen area.

The Schengen area entry meant the removal of border checks with other member countries. It had already been planned to take place earlier, but due to issues, such as the pandemic and the migrant crisis, it was delayed until 1 January 2023.

Exploiting public fear and anxiety

In the months preceding that day, various articles circulated in the Croatian media claiming that neighbouring Slovenia would block entry into Schengen, just as it had done initially on the doorstep of the European Union. Furthermore, Austria and Sweden were also mentioned as possible objectors on Croatia's way to the Schengen area.

Nevertheless, the official government position about the course of the country had always been consistent and steadfast. Prime Minister Andrej Plenković had been repeating for half a year that Croatia will enter both the Eurozone and the Schengen area on the same day and that it is unlikely that this will not be the case, regardless of what the sensationalist media write for the sake of clicks.

Croatian media also quoted the Austrian Kurier newspaper, which had written that the Austrian government is against the expansion of the Schengen area. The outlets immediately spread the news that Austria is against Croatia in Schengen. After a few days, however, when the Austrian prime minister arrived for a state visit, it turned out that he was in fact, in favour of Croatia’s entry, and that the mere speculations of the media were incorrect.

As it turns out, the constant speculations, a hallmark example of a disinformation climate had created a fertile ground for the spread of cross-border false narratives.

Even that refuting of speculations and rumours did not stop the disinfo frenzy, because the media then focused on Sweden and Germany, and speculated that they could be the roadblocks to Schengen. It also turned out that these claims were incorrect.

Lack of journalistic accountability

After the country's smooth entry into the Schengen area, the same media outlets, however, did not exercise critical self-evaluation and did not address the falsity of the insinuations that they had written on their front pages. The reason they did not feel the need to apologize for spreading rumours and speculations was explained by the fact that to some extent they had also represented the fears and doubts of the Croatian public itself.

That itself raises an important question about the media culture of a country, is it there to inform, to shape opinions or simply to speak to and feed already-formed prejudices?

Once it became known in December that Croatia has cleared its way to the border-free community, the tone of the media changed to a more upbeat one without skipping a beat. Schengen was then seen as a positive development. On New Year's Eve, reporters flocked to the border crossings with Slovenia and Hungary to testify about how they will be dismantled.

Croatia’s story is a glaring example of how fake news isn’t really news per se, but something akin to the sounding of false alarms in society – all likely with the aim of creating content and attracting daily readership through sensationalism and fear-stoking. This calls for various counteractive responses, among which fostering better emotional awareness and intelligence among citizens but also perhaps a legal oversight into what is considered news and what isn’t.

This article is part of Read Twice – an EU-funded project, coordinated by Euro Advance Association that targets young people and aims to counter disinformation and fake news by enhancing their skills to assess critically information, identify vicious and harmful media content and distinguish between facts and opinions, thus improving their media literacy competences.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union nor of TheMayor.EU



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