Workshop with journalists – Disability and Media

On the eve of December 3 – International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and is part of the efforts of the project “Supporting modernization and deinstitutionalization of social services” to improve the public narrative deeply rooted in our culture and reflected in media coverage, we organized the workshop “Disability and Media” for journalists and PR officers.

People with disabilities are rarely seen as individuals outside the scope of their disability. The long-standing isolation and institutionalization of people with disabilities has left negative and inaccurate beliefs and attitudes about what it means to live with a disability. These views are accepted and reflected by media coverage, much of which relies on old stereotypes and misinformation. People with disabilities are rarely present in the media, and when portrayed, they are often misrepresented as the object of pity, charity or medical treatment to overcome a tragic and disabling condition, or vice versa, portrayed as superheroes who have achieved great feats, for to inspire people without disabilities.

The media is a vital tool for raising awareness, countering stigma and misinformation. They have the power to change social misconceptions and present people with disabilities as individuals who are part of human diversity. By increasing awareness and understanding of disability issues and the diversity of people with disabilities and their situations, the media can actively contribute to their successful integration in all aspects of social life.

The event was held on 2 December 2021 at the Europe House in Skopje, with participation of Vasko Popetrevski, journalist/moderator, EU Ambassador, David Geer, TL Maria Marinakou as motivational speaker and two guest speakers: Simona Jovevska from Municipality of Bitola and Marija Apcevska, director.

In his opening note, the moderator Vasko Popetrevski noted that the seminar will be an informal gathering, that will hopefully initiate some relevant discussion and answer some delicate questions regarding representation and reporting, or lack thereof, in the media on issues related to disabilities. He pointed out that this journalist workshop is organized within the campaign for awareness raising related to the international day for person with disabilities (3 December).

The Ambassador in his opening speech spoke regarding the position of persons with disabilities (PwD) in the Beneficiary Country, as well as in Europe, underlining that disability issues are high on the European agenda. He also noted that the EU is engaged at many levels in dealing with disability issues and improving the conditions of PwD in the country

After the Ambassador’s address Mr. Vasko Popetrevski gave an address and also showed a short film about a family from Tetovo (Mane, with cerebral palsy) and the Day-care centre “Prolet”. Amongst other things Mr. Popetrevski pointed out that media are relevant actors in destigmatizing the issue of disability, and improving/increasing the reporting and representation of the needs of the PwD. He noted that the expression “disability” is not presented and discussed in the media consistently and uniformly. There are different use of terminology/expressions and use of words related to PwD: “posebni potrebi” = special needs; “prechki vo razvoj” = development difficulties; person with disabilities “equal” family with disabilities.

Simona Joveska, advocate for improvement of community based services employed in the municipality of Bitola was the next speaker and in her address she noted that even herself, as a PwD, she does not have a complete insight into / “expertise” on how PwD should be represented in the media, but she is of the opinion that PwD are either not represented at all, or represented only on a minimum level: such as when a PwD has graduated from school or gotten married/established a family, whereas media should also address/represent the everyday difficulties and challenges of PwD.

The next speaker was well-known film director Ms. Marija Apchevska who had prepared a video message for the event. In her video address she pointed out that representation of disability is in general done via two “archetypes”:  as “caricatures” – comedic/self-depreciating humor and as “victimisation” – persons who experience great difficulties in life and every moment is immense struggle and they don’t have any chance to enjoy life. With the ongoing production of the documentary, which will be directed by her, the intention is to show that PwD experience similar life as the others, with the exception that there are many challenges that affect their everyday life.

Following these addresses the project Team Leader Ms. Maria Marinakou gave a presetation on Disability in the Media and Popular culture/Movies.