My interview on Slavko Curuvija in IFJ Blog

Posted by Aleksandra Hristov on April 4th, 2023 under Articles | No Comments »

Excerpt from my interview for IFJ Blog
Who was Slavko Ćuruvija?
“Slavko Ćuruvija is a symbol of brave and independent journalism and must remain written in history as such. I am honored to have worked in his team. In “Dnevni Telegraf” and “Evropljanin”, he brought together some of the best journalists and editors of that time. Slavko stuck to his principles until the end. And when his newspaper was banned and when it was dangerous to criticize the then ruling regime, he did not agree to remain silent. That’s why he was killed. For Slavko, like for everyone else who has been labeled a spy and traitor, that has never been proven in any court process,” emphasizes Aleksandra Hristov, who worked as a journalist for “Dnevni Telegraf” in the 1990s.


Undermined reputation leads to monetary loss

Posted by Aleksandra Hristov on January 23rd, 2022 under Articles | No Comments »

In her her column in a reputable Serbian daily newspaper Danas, Sunday addition, Ms. Aleksandra Hristov wrote the following article:



Novak Djokovic has landed in Belgrade, Serbia after his deportation from Australia. He avoided the journalists as he decided not to speak publicly about this, for the time being. This is a good policy from his PR team, I would have given the same advice. Very noticeably, at the airport there was no official welcome from the Serbian state officials. We could assume that these have been already noticed from Novak about his planned public silence. The State welcome came down to the light show on the two tallest Belgrade buildings, the night before his arrival. In the situation of a wide Novak support from the Serbian public, this indicates the lackluster governmental response to this event.

It is hard to ignore the impression that at the latest SCDC (Serbian Center for Disease Control) press conference, its member Mr. Zoran Gojkovic has distanced himself from Novak. In response to Reuters and CNN questions about the Covid-19 certificate issued by the government institute for public health “Dr Milan Jovanovic Batut”, he answered that Mr. Djokovic had gotten the absolutely valid Covid-19 document with the positive result in the evening hours of December 16, 2021. And he added that any further inquiry should be directed to the recipient. Furthermore, he augmented his statement by saying that in Serbia there are no sanctions for those breaching the Covid-19 self-isolation rules (!?).

In addition to the convoluted decisions by the Australian government, and consequent wider harassment of Novak, the described “Coup de Grace” hitting Novak from the home turf is the biggest assault on his reputation. From Mr. Gojkovic statement we must conclude that Novak was Covid-19 positive, and he made public appearances while he most probably knew he is putting others in unnecessary danger. Mr. Djokovic apologized for his social mingling after he was infected, but only as consequence of his Covid-19 test leaking into public first. That means he reacted too late. To make matters worse, Novak is still not vaccinated, a very untenable stance for public figure in these times of fighting the dangerous virus.

All this is destined be more detrimental to his reputation than all the courts in any jurisdiction. Lacoste corporation, one of his largest sponsors with the 30 million dollars per year contract has just announced: “We would like to talk to Novak in the coming days to discuss the aftermath of his recent presence in Australia”. At the same time, France decided that all Roland Garros tennis tournament participants must be vaccinated. According to Australian press, as direct consequence of “Novak Djokovic” case, there is increase in number of spectators requesting the tournament tickets refund. It is estimated that these refunds may reach 25% mark. Therefore, both Australia and Novak are at loss. We are now waiting to see how these actors, Australia and Novak, navigate their damaged reputation management.


The “Firm” as the Brits colloquially call the royal family, masterfully manages the reputational risks and prevents the beginning of the reputational crisis. This is the current case of the Prince Andrew (61), the younger son of the British monarch.
The Queen Elizabeth II, for the sake of saving the monarchy “renounces” her own son. She decided to strip him of all the official public engagements duties, the royal and all the military titles, the state annual salary of 342,000 US dollars for the royal household working members. This is all in reference to civil law suit against him put in motion recently by the New York City judge that accuses HRH Andrew for involvement in sexual trafficking of Ms. Virginia Giuffre twenty years ago when she was a teenager. After this latest decision by the Queen, Mr. Andrew is going to have to defend himself as the common citizen.

The Royal biographers had already noticed that this son is commonly perceived as his mother’s favorite. However, the 95-year old monarch during her long reign has always insisted that the duty, office, honor, and preservation of monarchy are the highest priorities.
Obviously in sharp contrast to the Balkans, where the family members of the politicians and public figures are habitually defended in spite of their involvement in the scandals while being adults, the British monarch, irrespective of anyone liking her or not, does everything in her power to ensure the smooth continuity of her society and state. This is one of the elements why the Great Britain has been one of the most respected and powerful countries in the world for centuries.


Just a few days ago, after quite some time, the SCDC has re-emerged with its presumed own decisions about the pandemic. My well respected colleague is jocularly suggesting that we should start calling SCDC by the name of just “Desk” because of their loss of credibility and ability to influence the public opinion. The management of the pandemic crisis in Serbia became self-parody of what this process is supposed to be. We cannot even safely qualify this as the wrong communication in crisis, since there are intermittently semblances of some strategy attempts, however displaced. The problem is that it is finally clear that the “Desk” is lacking the true power, as it is micromanaged from elsewhere, similar to any other public and crisis communication, pertaining invariably to every governmental institution in Serbia.

The goal here is not to antagonize the majority of the voters, and of course, to gain the most votes in the coming general elections this Spring. The sincere communication and the honest approach to health issues are of secondary importance. This is going to come back for payment. In my opinion, for this kind of resolution we should not wait for long. It is likely that I would have a different prognosis if our Serbian government and the “Desk” went public, and like the Israel officials said: “Our aim is to allow mass infection of the entire society and therefore create the collective immunity”. That would be the correct approach towards own citizens. However, it did not go that way, the professional part of the “Desk” wants tougher measures, its political part is against this. In the meantime, the Serbian public is rapidly getting medically sicker by the day.

The days of my own isolation and healing from Corona-19 virus are going by, this is my second such infection since the pandemic beginning. My illness diagnosis was correctly guessed even before the test by my physician from the City Tuberculosis Hospital, one of the unsung female heroes of this global health calamity. She was able to estimate “Omicron” based just on my SMS list of symptoms. It was Omicron indeed, the quick-test done at the private laboratory finally confirmed. Although still feeling relatively feeble and recuperating, I nevertheless started seeking some answers to reasonably logical questions, the ones we were never able to get from the State and the “Desk”:

- Since I have tested at the private laboratory with the quick-test, is my positive result now part of the 13,693 number of officially infected on January 11, 2022? My colleague, the journalist who follows this subject says yes, I am not sure.
- Is my result now becoming part of the State count, necessary as the basis for renewing my green travel certificate? The same colleague says no!?
- Tomorrow, should I go to the state health field ambulance, wait there for couple of hours to be recorded by the official system, hoping both that I am still positive, and that I shall not infect anyone along the way?
This is evidently illogical and inhumane to the citizens of Serbia.
How is it possible that these private ambulances got the State accreditation, but that same State does not recognize them as relevant? Perhaps there is some higher interest, maybe charging of the tests kept in the closed circle between the manufacturers and the State?
What am I and my compatriots supposed to do?

After this, I cannot get for some time the third vaccine shot, and my green certificate shall expire soon so I shall inevitably enter the “grey zone” for traveling and moving around. This is also irresponsible from the State.

The physicians employed by the State are at the end of their line. They should be commended on their effort, courage, and patience, whereas as a private entrepreneur I do not mind paying them. Why the State does not recognize the results from the private sector that must be paid to obtain? For example, the necessary DDimer category of results is not offered by the State, those have to be obtained at the private establishments.

Concurrently, the chronically ill patients are unable to be serviced by the public health system. Most of their scheduled regular checkups are cancelled due to the overcrowding during the past two years. The patients with deeper pockets are going to private medical doctors. This leaves me, the member of the private business community, to regularly pay my obligatory health, pension expenses, and taxes in order to fill the public funds for all the citizens, and maintain the bloated government bureaucracy while forced to still pay the private medical checkups for my family. This is the classic case of senseless and inhumane treatment of the citizens.

Based on these examples, it is no wonder that we have every right to continue to refer to SCDC as the “Desk”. The management of the crisis situations by issuing the contradictory messages always produces the loss of integrity, reputation, and leads to diminishing of any meaningful influence.

Politics takes the lead

Posted by Aleksandra Hristov on October 3rd, 2021 under Articles | No Comments »

Foto – Zoran Mrdja

BELGRADE, October 1, 2021 (FoNet news agency) – The current Pandemics is often misused for the political purposes, the consultant for the strategic communication Ms. Aleksandra Hristov says for FoNet series Destination, adding that in the crisis it is always forbidden to attempt to score the political points or otherwise attempt to profit, whereas it is essential to continuously communicate with the population. The following are Ms. Hristov’s main thoughts on this matter.

On the subject of the consequences of the corona pandemic for the society in general it has to be highlighted that sending the uneven and contradictory messages remains one of the main problems in the communication of the Center for Disease Control in Serbia (CDCS) towards the citizens (in Serbia).

The general public has noticed that the political part (and not the professional) of the CDCS always prevails, and consequently the trust in their measures is eroded.

This has a very detrimental effect to what is to be achieved, namely the protection of the population against the transmissible disease as the practice of CDCS of criticizing the citizens behavior must be condemned.

In the past several days the vast majority of medical doctors have again warned about the dramatic increase of newly infected with the corona virus while for the past three weeks the CDCS pompously announces the introduction of the Covid-19 certificates, whereas at the same time one of its own board members says that this particular measure is not necessary.

Serbia currently does not have the strong anti vaccination movement but the population nevertheless does not trust anyone anymore as it is one of the results of the wrong way of public communicating.

When promised, it is imperative that all the rules are put forward and implemented together with the defined sanctions for those who fail to comply, otherwise the citizens continue to behave as they find appropriate.

In principle every action is loaded with the responsibility, and CDCS evidently does not feel the moral obligation to resign because their recommendations are either not implemented or produce the low numbers of vaccinated individuals.

Almost all the individuals are capable of understanding practically any situation but they need to be communicated to properly with including the education effort and detailed explanations, without the key information being concealed, scoring points and contradictory messaging.

The strong impression is that the CDCS uses only one channel of communication (official state news outlets), and always talking to one particular part of the public and not to the entire population.

In the past the CDCS news media conferences used to be organized, and that has now ceased, whereas the social media networks followed by the younger generation have always been uniformly neglected.

Today you can say that everyone follows a different news venue option, consequently it is necessary to cover all the target groups, no discriminatory news companies selection for announcements is advisable, including the selective appearances of officials in just a few particular outlets.

Thanks to such selective approach the CDCS looks as if always talking to the same targeted group of people, showing that its own board members have not thought through how to communicate with the citizens.

The CDCS could improve its public communication effect by using all the channels available towards all the target groups.

Business Magazine article “The uncertainty is still enormous”

Posted by Aleksandra Hristov on May 5th, 2021 under Articles | No Comments »

In the Business Magazine latest edition, at the section about the challenges for the communication and marketing professions in 2021 and the priorities in the second year of the pandemic crisis, Aleksandra Hristov the director and owner of the Hristov consulting d.o.o. in her article has focused on the great uncertainty in the economy, and the imperative of redefining of the existing business and consequently communication strategies.


“Never let a good crisis go to waste”, Winston Churchill said during the World War II, and he won in the end. It is always necessary to be brave, think outside the box, to find opportunity, and adapt to the new times.

We are almost in the middle of 2021., and the economies around the world are still trying to find the answer to several key questions – how long is this pandemic going to last, what is the depth of the economic crisis after the pandemic going to be, and at the very least how is that crisis going to effect the operations and survival of the specific industries and sectors. All these are undoubtedly the challenges for the corporations and their consultants that handle the strategic communications.

It is already a well known belief the Internet brought the changes that surpass those brought by the industrial revolution. Such abrupt advancements in history had always created socio-economic change that disrupted the functioning of the economies, society and the entire countries. The current pandemic only accelerated such environment that ensured internet presence, social networks and the new media shall increase as the preeminent channels of communication in the future.

However, this does not pertain equally and in the same manner to all the industries and organizations. Therefore, in order to meaningfully follow the trends and recognize new opportunities it is necessary for them to engage the qualified business consultants who can help give the efficient and timely guidance in change management and communication strategy during these turbulent times. It is almost guaranteed that the change is going to be profound, and that such challenges shall affect Serbia sometime shortly after the rest of Europe.

In the context of such developments, it is imperative to immediately prepare and establish the structured and continuous individual client tailored following, analysis and opportunities recognition of the pertinent business areas and related main venues of communication. Based on that, the client’s strategies of communication have to be closely monitored and adjusted in relation to particular companies’ and organizations’ needs. It has been proven during any uncertain times, the thinking outside the established patterns and “boxes” is usually one of the best options to consider. Nevertheless, the things that are certain to survive as paramount are the established trust, good business ethics, and the organizational culture that is bent on serving clients while remaining committed to its own employees’ satisfaction.

The economic crisis of 2008., like every previous time of change, has shown that the science and art of the public strategic communication is absolutely crucial for the survival and future path to new found success of any serious business, organization and institution.

Aleksandra Hristov
CEO, Hristov consulting, member of the  Association of Management  Consultants of Serbia

Propaganda and the public: The enemy of the public interest that is hard to overcome

Posted by Aleksandra Hristov on May 24th, 2020 under Articles | 1 Comment »

The Hristov Consulting team is made of the consultants with many years of experience in the area of strategic communication and media.
The organizational culture of the firm is based on shared ethical work values that enable us to always provide to our clients, in their business and institutional endeavors, the unquestionable added value.
We are proud to announce the text authored by our senior consultant Ms. Gordana Lazarevic, recently published in the latest issue of “Novi Magazin“, titled

The most important fact, which is both the beginning and outcome of every discussion about propaganda, is that it is conflicting with journalism, equally incompatible with public relations, equally irreconcilable with marketing and promotion and most of all, that it is an enemy of the public good and society as a whole.
Propaganda is the systemic manipulation of people which intentionally pollutes facts, utters half-truths and spreads fake news. It does incorporate accurate information, but incompletely, chosen to validate the message of propaganda. There is no particular need to further remark on why this is harmful to the public’s interest, at the core of which lies the right for us to be correctly informed and to make decisions based on this information.
This should be the end of every discussion on propaganda, with a possible recollection of historical examples and an analysis of the harm it inflicts whenever utilised. As the scope of propaganda grew, so did its harmful effects. In today’s world, however, this does not end the story, as we don’t have that “happy ending”. We cannot say that we have learned from previous generations’ experience nor that we have grasped the moral within the situations we had witnessed ourselves.
CONSTRAINED CITIZENS: Of course, as in the past, the primary outlet for propaganda has been the media, which has changed and evolved, but the significance of this “utility” has remained constant. The reason for this is perfectly logical – the media is the fastest and most efficient way to spread messages. The only “catch” is that news outlets should not be allowed to do this since it is utterly contradictory with their central and most important mission – to provide the public with truthful, timely and complete information on all questions of public interest. This also means that their task should be to recognise propaganda and expose it. All of is because people should make decisions not based on intuition, but rather information and reason. Now, of course, there is no news outlet out there that does not claim to do just that, and as consumers of media, whether through our professions or as citizens, we chose whom we believe.
In Serbia today, the mood is such that most people would claim not to believe any outlet fully. Media outlets have lost the public’s trust for various reasons, and not only propaganda is to blame for this. A large amount, one could even say too large, of classic news outlets have encountered, due to the advent of social media, an extreme amount of competition, causing a great crisis in which they fight for survival in a non-journalistic fashion, with quantity rather than quality – a quantity of unprofessionally put-together articles and reports. And here we see fertile ground for propaganda. This crisis trickles down even to outlets that labour to serve their function professionally. They have fewer “followers” and therefore, less influence, smaller capacities and a limited reach. Their access to relevant sources is restrained, as well.
I’m afraid that at the moment, I’m in the defeatist camp, as I don’t see an escape out of this situation. Invoking self-regulation in media and or personal ethics of journalists seems to me like a fight with an immortal and armed-to-the-teeth robot against an inept kid armed with only a pure conscience. On the other hand, one can’t remain silent lest they become an accessory, or even the one guilty of the murder of truth. This applies, I have to emphasise, especially to people working in public relations, whether in agencies, companies, organisations or institutions.
PROPAGANDISTS VS. THE MEDIA: I don’t know exactly when, but certainly more than a decade ago, when I was still working in journalism, there came a moment when so-called PRs started to intensively work toward dictating the news to media outlets. I am not saying that this had never happened before, but it seemed to be on a whole different level. We were suddenly getting all these requests and pressure on journalists to “integrally” publish what they had sent or said. They also started “defending” their clients by breaking off all contact with journalists or only speaking to select ones, over whom they had some control.
By a significant margin, most PRs at the time did their job incorrectly. What we had wasn’t “public relations” work guided by ethics or professionality. I had the impression that all this wasn’t done by PRs but by the executors of their clients’ bidding. Instead of representing a bridge between the media and the public on one hand, and their clients on the other, they represented a gigantic ramp that is raised only for some. And when it is raised, they tightly control what can and cannot pass through – and there is no guarantee that what does pass is truthful and complete information. Among their clients, the role of the PR was also understood and accepted in completely the wrong way – as a marketing tool even for falsities, packaged as sparse announcements or addresses in bought time-spaces of electronic media, with already formulated “appropriate” questions. Of course, not all PRs or their clients acted in this way. The dominant impression was, however, that this was the “business model” of the majority. As time passed, nothing had improved.
Many people presenting themselves as PRs work as “propagandists” (I am not sure if this word exists on any list of professions). Their arsenal of weapons is getting larger, but all of it mostly comes down to finances, on which, of course, all news outlets rely. And yes, I do think that this model is entirely OPPOSED to the media and entirely OPPOSED to the public’s interests. I am also certain that we, as a society, are paying the price for the propaganda we view, listen to or read, but I sure as well that we are yet to pay the full price. Here lies my curiosity, will we as a society be able to at some point recognise this or will we be so manipulated and “overfed” that we’ll haul propaganda around with us forever? That said, I’m unsure as to whether I, even with my tenure in media and information, always recognise propaganda.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT ANSWERS: Though I see no escape, I still harbour some hope. It is personified by the part of society that performs their work professionally, whatever that work may be. Such people exist, to be sure, both in journalism and in PR. To be precise, in PR, my line of work, for every door we need opened, we use the truth, verified and complete information as keys. We build the reputation of our clients on their actions, but also the insistence on always laying out the full truth and standing by everything released to the public. We will advise them on how to address the public, we will help them be available, we will answer every question from journalists, but we will not allow the “bending” of the truth to their detriment, nor their benefit. We will fight so that the media receive information on our clients because it is reliable and important to the public interest, not because it is paid for or “whitewashed”.
The previous paragraph may seem to many as an advertisement, in which we claim to be better than others. No, this is not my goal. I believe this is how all skilled PRs work. Furthermore, those who truly need the services of a genuine PR look for and can find one here and all over the world. The question lies in when to “secede” from the “propagandists” and propaganda, and this is a question both for the media and PR. I’m afraid that, as of yet, no such answer exists, neither domestically or globally.
Gordana Lazarević
The author is a consultant at Hristov Consulting.

Fonet published opinion editorial about disinformation and propaganda

Posted by Aleksandra Hristov on February 8th, 2020 under Articles | 1 Comment »

FoNet, the oldest private news agency in Serbia with the independent editorial policy, has recently published the digested version of my opinion editorial from the leading Serbian weekly Novi Magazin.
BELGRADE, February 03, 2020
The governments around the world are currently the most serious creators of the fake news and propaganda content, suggests Ms. Aleksandra Hristov, the Internationally Certified Management Consultant in the area of Strategic Communication.
Ms. Hristov, the director of Hristov Consulting, in her analysis „PR in the service of Conflict“, explains  that   the media should work in the public interest, while PR generally works in the interest of its clients. Where these interests overlap, cooperation is both necessary and possible, stated Hristov in her recent opinion editorial for Serbian weekly Novi Magazin.
However, she warned we are often confronted with the situation whereby our profession is used as  an instrument in the hands of those who have their own specific goals, and who do not hesitate to choose any means to achieve them.
As a rule, stated Hristov, those who knowingly agree to be an instrument of the special interests, without following the professional  codes, are eventually always abused and victimized by their own clients.
Whereas, the PR sector, if it does its job properly, is an ally of the media, and contributing to the safeguarding of the public interest and the development of the society as a whole.
Hristov goes on to conclude that the European Union officials very often do not see or understand how much the freedom of the media in Serbia is endangered, including the undermining of the public benefit and the democracy itself. In addition to that, the most of the principles prescribed by the laws and the codes are habitually not applied in practise, or to a lesser extent even abused. When bots, trolls and other “helpers” are added to this, it’s almost impossible to explain to the visiting foreign officials and experts what this is all about.
Referring to the existing EU Study, she notes that elements of disinformation and propaganda includes the information that is designed to be wholly or partially false, manipulative or misleading, or is using the unethical retelling techniques
Ms. Hristov has emphasised that the disinformation and propaganda are always intended to create insecurity, hostility or polarization in the society, or is attempting to disrupt the democratic processes. They are spread and / or amplified by the automated and aggressive techniques, such as social bots, artificial intelligence, micro-targeting, or paid human “trolls”, and are used to increase the public visibility of its sources.
Additionally, she mentions the public statement made by Richard Stengel, a former chief editor of The Time magazine and the undersecretary of State during the Obama administration, who defined disinformation as an intentional fraudulent content used to deceive someone. Furthermore, Stengel connects the raise of the authoritarian leaders to the spread of internet and sophisticated methods of using of the media and information in general.
Leaders in these situations limit the dissemination of information they do not want, while promoting the information they desire, which is a very dangerous combination.
The end 15:24

PR In the Service of Conflict

Posted by Aleksandra Hristov on January 24th, 2020 under Articles | No Comments »

Aleksandra Hristov article in the leading Serbian weekly magazine: Novi Magazin
In our public domain, we often hear the assessment that European officials coming to Belgrade do not see or understand how much the freedom of media in Serbia is endangered, including undermining of the public benefits and the democracy itself. One possible explanation would be the fact that in their countries this is no longer a topic they are dealing with, and in Serbia all this is “formally – legally” – all right.
The new media strategy is about to be adopted, despite the big battle currently underway for the survival of the Press Council, a self-regulatory body that is currently the only such entity doing its job professionally.  Existing media laws and codes have been drafted to European standards, while everybody is questioning the functioning of the Electronic Media Regulatory Body (REM) and of the public media service (RTS).
The fact that most of the principles prescribed by laws and codes are not practically applied, or to a lesser extent even abused, it is difficult to present this case to those in whose countries the mainstream media, the courts and the public are functioning in a democratic manner. When bots, trolls and other “satraps” come up, it’s really almost impossible to tell strangers what this is about.
The main focus in their countries, as well as in the European Union as a whole, is how to deal with propaganda, misinformation and spreading fake news on online platforms and how to resolve the conflict between two principles underlying democracy, namely freedom of speech and the right of citizens to be timely and objectively informed. It is difficult for them to explain that in our country there is actually a problem in the main pillars on which the informing of our citizens rests, which is the traditional media where our society is mostly informed for the time being.
According to a survey by the Plum Mark agency at the end of 2018, 4.2 million citizens of Serbia are online, of which 73 percent are from urban areas. The majority of citizens, according to a survey by Ipsos, still receive information through television, or 5 million. According to a December 2018 survey by Ipsos, the internet reaches up to 4.9 million people, radio up to 3.6, magazines 2.5 and daily newspapers reach up to 1.3 million. However, Serbian citizens are following the trends when it comes to online information, which is constantly growing as a source of information.
The European Union is solving the problems of misinformation and propaganda, but mostly in the sphere of social media dissemination. Thus, one study commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs was “Disinformation and Propaganda – impact on the functioning of the rule of law in the EU and its Member States”. This study examines the effects on the functioning of the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights.
According to the Study, elements of disinformation and propaganda are information that is designed to be wholly or partially false, manipulative or misleading, or is using unethical retelling techniques; deal with an issue of public interest; are intended to create insecurity, hostility or polarization in society, or is attempting to disrupt democratic processes. They are spread and / or amplified by automated and aggressive techniques, such as social bots, artificial intelligence, micro-targeting, or paid human “trolls”, which are often used to increase public visibility.
Additional manipulation of the domestic public is the misrepresentation of data on global trends advocated by some agencies and individuals in the PR sector as if things had already been resolved and that the whole world, including the media, was engaged in creating this PR content and marketing. However, the world media such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Guardian have reformed and strengthened their online sphere due to the decline in print sales, but have returned primarily because of their insistence on the credibility and reliability of information. When you read the text online at The Guardian, you get a window asking: “We have chosen a different approach. Will you support it? Unlike many news organizations, we have decided to keep all our independent, research texts and reporting free and accessible to everyone. We believe that each of us, worldwide, has access to accurate information with integrity at its core. At a time when factual reporting is necessary, the support of our readers is crucial to preserving the editorial independence of the Guardian. This is our model of open and independent journalism. If you can, support Guardian today with at least 1 euro.”
On the other hand, the fight for the status of online platforms like Facebook is well underway and the outcome is uncertain. So after many years of resistance, the company had to defend its position before the US Congress last year, and only two weeks ago had to announce on its blog that it would still be removing videos that were modified by artificial intelligence known as deepfakes. “Deepfakes” are computer-generated clips designed to look real. Facebook will remove videos if it realizes that they have been edited so that they are not clear to average person, or if they have misled the viewer into thinking that the person in the video said words that they did not actually
At the same time, Richard Stengel, a former editor of The Time magazine and secretary of state for the Obama administration, in his latest book, Information Wars, describing his experiences with propaganda and misinformation on the internet, believes that Facebook, like other social media, should bear the responsibility for publishing content and it is not enough to remove content that promotes violence. According to him, recently reported on CNN, online platforms, although they do not provide professional content as media, it does not mean that they are not the publishers of that content and that Facebook is the largest publisher in the history of mankind and it has an obligation to remove fake content, hate speech, deepfakes, and speech that incites violence. In his view, this implies a change to Part V of the Telecommunications Act passed in America in 1996, or Section 230 (Communication Decency Act), which grants immunity from liability to providers and users of “interactive computer services” who publish information from third parties.
Also, according to Stengel, companies should say whether someone is a “bot” or a human, who is buying information from them and for what purposes, and all political ads should be completely transparent. In his book, he distinguishes between “disinformation” and “misinformation” and “fake news”.
He considers disinformation to be intentional fraudulent content used to deceive someone. He considers misinformation an inadvertent mistake, while fake news is somewhere between the two terms. What is really worrying is misinformation.
Stengel links the emergence of authoritarian leaders to the development of the internet, but also to the sophisticated use of media and information. Leaders in these situations limit the dissemination of information they do not want, while promoting the information they want. It is, according to him, a very dangerous combination. This has not been done before and it is very scary. Every society must deal with it and combat these phenomena.
Countries in the world are currently the most serious creators of fake news and propaganda content.
There are laws and codes in European countries that regulate the media and therefore the boundaries within which all those who cooperate within them move. This includes political parties and politicians, companies, civil society organizations, including individuals engaged in PR, agencies and PR services.
All the postulates that are valid in the world, especially in Europe, apply very little here in Serbia, probably until the European Union forces us.
Working in the communications sector in Serbia relies on good contacts with the media, placing marketing news for clients with advertising, and avoiding confrontation with the political actors currently in power. This is crucial in order to obtain jobs and to achieve permitted, or illicit, goals for bosses, clients, and to sell services (ads) at any cost. This model has worked in Serbia for decades, with an increasingly brutal character. The basic postulates of the PR profession, as well as the codes, do not exist at all, even though we have a formally domestic code of profession, with the ICCO (International Communication Consultancy Organization) Helsinki Declaration of more than 3,000 PR agencies from 66 countries.
According to the Sector-wide Declaration, all professionals are required, among other things, to adhere to the highest professional standards in public relations and communications practices and to never engage in the creation and dissemination of fake news. Also, professionals are obliged to respect the truth, to treat employees, colleagues, clients, media, government and the public in a fair and transparent manner and to always show who are the true sponsors and advocates of particular interests. They should never engage in troubling activities such as bot-ing, and should use social media responsibly.
Although it is not obvious to us that there are sanctions for non-compliance with these standards, around the world there is an increase in sanctioning for violating the basic postulates of the profession. Thus, due to unethical behavior and the so-called “black PR”, ICCO has expelled from its membership one of the most influential and powerful PR agencies in the world, the British multinational PR firm Bell Pottinger, which went bankrupt in 2017. The company, according to BBC and Guardian reports, has been accused of spreading racial hatred in South Africa and producing fake news, including running false Twitter accounts, when working for a client (a private company).
It is the duty of the PR to point out to clients where the boundaries of media collaboration are and to always reject clients who demand unethical behavior. Both local and international codes of conduct are bound by this premise. In Serbia, we also have Article 51 of the Constitution which states:
Everyone has the right to be truthfully, fully and timely informed about matters of public importance and the media are required to respect that right.
The fact is that the media should work in the public interest, and that PR should work in the interest of its clients. Where these interests overlap, cooperation is both necessary and possible. However, it is often the case that our profession is only an instrument in the hands of those who have certain goals and do choose any means to achieve them. As a rule, those who knowingly agree to be an instrument, without following the code, are abused and eventually victimized by their clients.
The PR sector, if it does its job properly, is an ally of the media, contributing to the safeguarding of the public interest and the development of society as a whole.
The text is part of the “Propaganda as Enemy, Communication as Media Ally” Project, where the New Magazine seeks to promote the importance of implementing media laws and codes, as well as the need to apply international standards in media-PR relations, whether from political parties or from businesses. The project is funded by the US Embassy in Belgrade.

Propaganda as the enemy, communication as the ally of the media

Posted by Aleksandra Hristov on September 21st, 2019 under Articles | 1 Comment »

This article was published on September 19, 2019, in Novi Magazin, Serbian weekly. Ms. Aleksandra Hristov, the director of Hristov Consulting, a certified consulting firm for communication strategy and education in that area has spoken about the illicit connection between various actors in the society and the media that exists for years and makes it difficult to be independent and work in the public interest. This same matter was also commented by Mr. Dragan Janjic, the chief editor of Beta media agency-

Following is the article in its integral version:

“Propaganda as the enemy, communication as the ally of the media”

The cooperation of the media and the public relations sector naturally influences the newspaper texts that are reaching the public on a daily basis. However, the ethical and the judicial boundaries that are meant to protect the public interest during that cooperation are overlooked all too often. The companies, organizations, institutions, political parties, and individuals that appear in public and are influencing truthful and objective informing instead of protecting the public, and they become themselves the tools of disseminating untrue data in creation of the distorted picture of the reality.

“The media and the Public Relations (PR) are two different jobs, with different priorities. The media, journalists and the chief editors, should emphasize their task of protecting the public interest, whereas PR offices want to promote the corporate or organization’s interests for which they are working. In any case, the public interest should be cared for, with the awareness that with some professions such as journalists and public agencies such interest should be the first priority. That is nothing unusual as this is done this way throughout the world. The problems arise when different roles, and the priority goals get mingled, and when the media agrees to put, instead of the public interest, the interest of the company or organization served by its PR, on the first place. That happens either by mistake, when the journalists and the chief editors do not recognize that the public and corporate, organizational interests diverge, or when they do it deliberately”, says Mr. Dragan Janjic, the chief editor of the media agency Beta.

According to his assessment, in the first case, when the mistake was accidental, things can be fixed relatively easily, however, in the second case we are witnessing a potentially dangerous collusion that can be detrimental to the society and damage the public interest. “The drastic example with the tragic consequences occurred recently, during the 1990-ies, when the propaganda machineries of the sides in the war conflict in the former Yugoslavia acted as the deliberate war mongering vehicles, and the majority of the media was transmitting whatever was served to them”, Mr. Janjic reminded us.

The task of the PR sector that is representing the companies, organizations, institutions, political parties, and individuals should be, above all, to communicate with the media that are free from the pressure related to their media business. In practice that means that the task of the PR is to enable the free communication between the media and PR clients, to provide them with the truthful information, while media has the obligation to check all the facts, ant to release to the public the information that is important to the public interest.

Ms. Aleksandra Hristov, CMC, internationally certified business consultant in the area of the public communication, believes that the practice of the illicit collusion between various actors in society and media exists for years, and must be stopped immediately. “It is truly important that the media and PR sector become aware that at any moment they have the obligation to work in accordance to law, ethical codes, and international standards. This is the only way to avoid the errors that can be dangerous to the public interest”, says Ms. Hristov.

According to her words, the PR sector has an obligation, moral and judicial, regardless of what it does for the client or the boss, to respect the facts, truthful data, therefore the public interest, as it is always meant to be the case with the media in general. “In that business, the media and the PR should be allies”, added Ms. Hristov.

The mainstream media domestically (in Serbia and the region) and in the world are going through the crisis, trying to adjust to the digital age and endless competition brought by the internet. That competition, no doubt, has not brought the quality yet. However, it brought the high dependence of the media on advertisers, and those want to send their propaganda messages not only through the classical advertisements but also through the informative content, albeit without the professional journalistic handling of the matter.

Answering the question whether the propaganda is the enemy of the enemy of the public interest, Mr. Dragan Janjic believes that it is not always the case, because the propaganda is the tool for dissemination of any particular ideas or messages . “When the ideas or the messages are those that are indeed in the public interest, propaganda is allowed even in the media. Therefore, PR can help the media and the public reach various information content with the positive effect to individuals and society, however, the contrary is also possible. The main transmitter of the information is the media, and they should be the filter and the guarantor that everything stays within the perimeter of public interest”, says Mr. Janjic.

With this theme he is in agreement with Ms. Aleksandra Hristov who points out that we are often confronted with the public campaigns that are surely in public interest. “There is no problem when the organizations and businesses want to promote their results and community service based on facts. Serbia has PR outlets that are perfectly equipped and creative to handle such campaigns. The media, very often has ear for such campaigns. The problem arises when the client does not realize that his particular narrow interest is not in public interest, and as a consequence, some PR sectors start propagating the falsehood. That is not an allowed behavior by the PR, and the media itself before anyone, must react and deny such propaganda the media space without fear such action can produce the financial harm on them”, adds Ms. Hristov.

In any case, much work remains to be done in defining both better and clearer rules for the PR and media relationship. Implementing the laws and professional codes of conduct pertaining to media and PR is the key that should bring the quality to this area. Mr. Janjic emphasizes it would be ideal to somehow separate these things, if PR activities could be centered on drawing the attention to the importance of some product, idea or decision, without the indirect or direct influence of the companies or organizations on media business policy.

One thing that should be excluded from this two way communication between the media and PR is the blackmail, that if the media filters the PR content, it loses the client who pays the advertizing space. Furthermore, it should become unacceptable that the media without any checking or sanctions releases the false information whereby misleading the public and hurting the wider interest. The step toward respecting the clear professional rules is needed on both sides. This is in every citizen’s and wider public interest.

The article is part of the project “Propaganda as the enemy, communication as the ally of the media”, that is going to include the analysis of the conditions in this area through the opinion articles from the PR experts, and journalists contributing their views and own case studies. Through this project weekly Novi Magazin wants to promote the awareness about the importance of the media laws and professional codes of conduct implementation, including the imperative of applying the international standards in the media and PR interactions regardless of their own relationships with the political parties and businesses. Novi Magazin project is financed by the Embassy of the United States of America in Belgrade, Serbia.

The media should be the protection against the fake news

Posted by Aleksandra Hristov on February 7th, 2019 under Articles | No Comments »

I spoke to FoNet  media agency from Serbia about  the fake news – its distribution around the world and in Serbia, as well as how to combat it. Within the project “Press extra“. Within the project “Press extra”. I answered FoNet’s seven questions about fake news from the perspective of a Strategic Communications Consultant. Below is the edited text of the conversation:
1.     What is the purpose of the fake news?
The spread of the fake news has always existed. The purpose has always been to somehow manipulate the individuals and groups of people, to scare off the opponents, spread panic among the population, and for general propaganda purposes. These were always in some form used by the individuals, tribal communities, states, services, different ideologies, and so on.
With the development of the Internet this phenomenon grows to unexpected and hard to control proportions.
In the past, the Great Powers, by fabricating an incorrect data, or by using the fake news, have been trying to achieve their strategic goals in the areas of their own interest, and all this still exists today. This is still  part of the strategy of the powerful, and primarily their various interest groups.
In this context, it must be noted that democracy is the greatest achievement of human civilisation, therefore it has to be defended under any circumstances, now based on the freedom of the media and building of the powerful institutions.
As always, the purpose of fake news is to deceive the public, to direct it in a certain way, and in a democracy “by illicit means” to discredit a political opponent, a competitor, or a certain individual.
The use of the acceptable means in this context is handling of the true, but for someone potentially unfavorable information. I would like to point to a situation where there are facts and evidence sufficient to disqualify an opponent, and this is surely a legitimate way of communication in accordance with the ethical principles.
On this subject, the emphasis is on “illicit means,” because in such case the truth is suffering. The important question never to be overlooked is how does an individual get to what is true without breaking the ethical and moral boundaries.
2. Who creates the fake news?
Here the key question is how to prevent those who create the fake news, and how to prevent their major impact on public.
I believe that the answer is in free professional media, in the development of the strong institutions where every citizen, organization, company or institution can exercise their rights to protect themselves from the spread of lies. As a company, we always tell our clients that the denial is very important, contrary to the wide spread belief that it has little influence. The truth is the best policy, so one who has been attacked by fake news is obliged to defend himself. Simply, it is beyond any doubt a civilized way that someone who is attacked by fake news has the undeniable right to fight back.
Fake news creators are actually the interest groups who are trying to deceive the public and to injure the individuals, political organizations, non-government organizations, companies, institutions, states, etc. Often, there are whole teams from the communication field, related to the individual interests, or the state, who abuse their role and discard the ethics of our profession, so instead of respecting their main duty to truthfully iform the public, they are working against the public interest, the state and the citizens.
That is why free media is essential weapon to act in favor of the public interest regardless of the ownership, outside of the influence of the state, political parties, main advertisers, individuals, and, of course, coupled with the strong institutions, including the judiciary are then capable to defend anyones legal and civil rights.
3. How much fake news affect the public?
Like any propaganda, the impact is enormous and always harmful. Here, I must emphasize that, regardless of dissemination of lies, the truth always wins if one is strongly and consciously fighting for it. Sometimes the impression is that in the atmosphere of the spread of fake news anything is permitted, but the impact of such news almost always returns as a boomerang to those for whom the creators of false news are working.
4. How much is the public illiterate in terms of media?
The general public does not have to be media literate, and we can not realistically expect it. The society tends to consume whatever is being consistently marketed. We cannot expect from every citizen to recognize the sources, or check the news. As always, it is the responsibility of the elite to provide the timely, objective, and impartial information to the public.
5. What is currently the degree of fake news spread in Serbia and the world?
News is always around us. Television, newspapers, social networks generate news all the time. Social networks are the places in the virtual world for expressing the serious attitudes, but also to convey the feelings, beautiful or of frustration, dissatisfaction…
The difference between us in Serbia on the one hand, and in America and the European Union countries on the other, is that in the US and in the EU the mainstream media is mostly an obstacle to the fake news, while in our Serbian media even with the more reputable examples, we can find unverified information such as the false data, and many of them often intentionally generate fake news too.
The responsibility of the mainstream media in the selection and transmission of information is enormous. I believe that the key is in the habit of ethical behavior, the daily application of the Law and media standards that already exist in Serbia, but are either often not applied or are applied very sporadically.
I believe that all those who are affected by the fake news should always, invariably and immediately apply all legally allowed and civilized means in order to exercise their right of self defence.
6. How much are journalists responsible for planting the fake news?
Both the editors and journalists, regardless of the ownership in the media, are in any society still the “seventh force”, and are therefore crucial for the selection, placement of fact-based information, obligated to comply with journalistic standards, codes, all in public interest, and must apply in every situation the Law on Information of Serbia that is fairly competent and in line with the global trend. A democratic society needs free media that can not exist without the upright and brave journalists and editors who will not accept the requests to place the fake news just because it comes from some strongman, and that attitude in itself shall strengthen institutions that are tasked to enable everyone to exercise their rights.
7. How to fight the fake news?
With truth, based on facts and evidence. With freedom of the media and the building of the strong institutions. By obliging all professionals to comply with the standards, codes and laws. Last but not least, by education in the field of ethics.
In these times of technological and societal transformation the Ethics has become the key to fighting the fake news and non-democratic political movements and is now again irreplaceable for personal and professional orientation. Since last year, the Harvard University has introduced a study of ethics in computer programming so that the students are equipped to think in situations where a computer program can, but should not be made. Changes to the economy, society and politics, accelerated by the fourth industrial revolution, seek the education system that forms professionals and citizens aware of the importance and purpose of ethically informed decisions.
The alternative is an accelerated social devastation and fall into totalitarian fascist models.

“Key advice for better business” in Econometar

Posted by Aleksandra Hristov on August 15th, 2011 under Articles | No Comments »

In the article published in Econometar magazine ( I told the journalist who interviewed me about the Association of Management Consultants of Serbia (UPKS ), and the CMC certification program in Serbia which goal is to help local consultants become more competitive. CMC (Certified Management Consultant) is the sign of international standard of quality for individual business consultants and is implemented by ICMCI (The International Council of Management Consulting Institutes methodology. CMC is given to these management consultants who satisfy high standards of knowledge, experience, competence and professionalism and is recognized in 50 countries.

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