Shut up and abide: Bandage on the mouth for those with different opinion

SARAJEVO, 03.12.2018.-Freedom of speech and its limitations in BiH are impossible to observe other than from outside the prism of journalists’ economical and existential living conditions; including journalists’ chronic lack of knowledge and information regarding their own rights, and even rights that concern free access to information, but also impossible to observe without having considered the “slavery” that their media houses guide and entail towards the ruling and governing structures and powerful centers.

As a result of the above listed factors, journalists have been facing and encountering various obstacles (on a daily basis), that produce direct or indirect impact on the freedom of expression, starting with depriving of statements and announcements and banning of particular issues and topics through direct threats, until getting sacked and losing a job due to disobedience. After being asked to outline the greatest limitations that journalists face at present and which is more frequent: censorship or auto-censorship; journalists, professors, and analysts listed many different factors, but they all agreed that most jeopardizing limitations were those we set up to ourselves in relation with bans imposed by media houses.

They all agree that limitations of freedom of speech have become so deep, that journalists deliberately decided to avoid certain and (to some extent) even less important topics or issues that are criticizing and resenting, or even taking a risk with their employer who may decide to reject their story and find them due to their displayed level of enthusiasm. On the other hand, sometimes according to dictates imposed by higher powers, the entire reality is ignored with the purpose of displaying banality and to be taken away from headlines.

This is exactly what has been happening in case of mysterious death of David Dragicevic, where RTRS has openly been reporting and mainly biased towards the defense of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (the Police), thus ignoring the protests and rallies held at Krajina Square in Banja Luka, including SRNA news agency whose headline was: “Dragicevic had a fight, robbed the house and dived into the river”. Tanja Topic, a political analyst, claims that freedom of speech is (in our cases) limited in terms of disallowing and disabling certain media house representatives to have free access to particular public institutions venue or event, including the limitations in creating and making reports from these facilities, as far as certain case is concerned.

Another type of limitations is the lack of law implementation in regard to free access to information and depriving certain media houses with announcements or statements.

– The problem is best demonstrated through the division between “ours and theirs” (including their media houses), that is, “suitable” or “not – suitable”. Suitable are privileged and unsuitable are those that direct critics towards holders of certain political and governing or public function holders. I shall illustrate this through the simple case of World Press Freedom Day reception at the facilities of Mrs. Zeljka Cvijanovic (prime minister of the Republic of Srpska). Not all media houses and their representatives were invited there on this special day. At a certain point of time, certain warning letters circulated throughout the RS public institutions, with clear orders given to governing officials, regarding whether they can speak with particular media representatives and with whom they would not be allowed to speak at all, or give any statements or announcements. This kind of limitations in media freedoms and disabling certain journalists to perform their work duties and complete their tasks is very close to typical discrimination – says Mrs. Topic.

She said that it would be difficult to balance which is more present, censorship or auto-censorship and whether we are more keen to react to the latter (auto-censorship). The problem is that all of this has become normal and commonly accepted. Censorship has become more visible in public space. Certain centers and cabinets have been turned into editing offices and dictate and determine editing policies of particular media houses and this is not a secret either. We have had black, that is, the list of banned guests and collocutors on public broadcaster and this was openly admitted by Rajko Radovanovic, the RTRS General Manager.

– This is the modern way of patching the bandages on the mouth of individuals with a different opinion. We have seen some sort of rebellion in public, due to this. Worst of all is the fact that we have begun to treat this as regular and normal occurrences and accordingly accepted it – said Mrs. Topic.

As far as certain media houses and their silence is concerned, in regard with Dragojevic case, she claimed that eliding represents a great omission and failure, including public deceiving.

– Silence is sometimes louder and stentorian than great noise and sometimes it outlines and highlights important processes and venues. It would be wrong to believe that, if you remain silent and ignore something, to convince yourself as if that had never happened. Journalists sometimes appear as split- up personalities in this sense, placed between the hammer and the anvil. On one hand, they are imposed with pressures by editing policies, that is, pressured by the entrepreneurs (owners) with certain powerful centers backing them up and, on the other hand, pressured by their own, personal, individual and professional integrity. Everyone is entitled to have a choice, but the question is what each and every one of us decides to choose; comfort, safe and stable existence, and silence, that is, a choice of remaining solid and to live stable life with clear professional dignity with head up, which is asset that money cannot buy. Social media provide you with this kind of freedom; if you have no choice or, if you cannot work for other media houses, although this has certain limits as well. Limits can last until the moment, where it begins to disturb and bothers media houses, editors and entrepreneurs that journalists work for, and then this space shall be taken away from them for sure – she said.

Sinisa Vukelic, president of Banjaluka Journalists’ Club says that freedom of speech in this particular region suffers from identical diseases, including messy state administration and non – functional democracy.

– First of all, historically – colonized – dictatorship and criminal based power left consequences as far as public consciousness is concerned. Secondly, limiting the freedom of expression is directly related to the economic decline of both, readers and viewers on one hand, and decline of editing office on the other hand. When combined altogether, they compose a conglomerate of what we have today in the media market. Pressures, realistic and imaginary fear produced a censorship and strengthen auto-censorship even further. The boundary between censorship and auto-censorship is almost invisible; therefore it is very difficult to tell the difference between the two of them. Auto censorships operate in order to eliminate the censorship, so colleagues (workmates) believe that by this they might keep their dignity intact because no other party would erase and delete their work, shorten or shut off their TV programs, reports, articles or texts. Of course, they are mistaken and lose respect amongst professional journalists and these things are not easy to forget. Auto-censorship, on the other hand, is more dangerous. Open censorship evokes a resistance, produce creativity that helps journalists in discovering the way that would help the general public in receiving news regarding current affairs in their communities or their society. Auto-censorship is different in this sense because rules of professional conduct are obeyed and this creates the emerging of slight censorship as a result, censoring thus themselves – Vukelic claimed.

Borislav Vukojevic from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Banja Luka reckons that freedom of speech with us is mostly limited by narrowing the public space for different opinions.

– “For instance, what media houses fail to follow, it seems as it had never happened. Also, there are open and latent threats directed to journalists and citizens as well. Auto-censorship is increasing, although it is the product of “censorship organizational culture”’ in most media houses. Therefore auto-censorship would have never come to existence if it were not for censorship that had served as the “teacher” to auto-censorship and additionally transmitted and transferred to employees. This is best illustrated through the “Dragicevic case” that has best displayed a true and genuine picture of media houses and this should be stated and released openly. RTRS, as the public broadcaster, began to cover this case while making reports as part of “political biasing” on the Krajina square, desperately trying to put all rallies, gatherings and public protests in the context of “destabilizing and ravaging. I found that there was plenty hypocrisy in this case because they should not have defended themselves by stating that Police Ministry cannot be blamed because there was no evidence against them, while, at the same time, they provide no arguments and evidence either for attacks on RS. Still, on the other hand, I do not support bloggers releasing and posting unchecked and untrue information, because this may revitalize the truth as well – claimed Vukojevic.

Sinisa Vukelic claims that everyone is entitled to personal opinion and attitude, but certain media are silent and remain passive as far as this big social tragedy and public interest are concerned, including the case of David Dragicevic death, actually displays the clients that news and TV shows are broadcasted for.

– Ignoring is even more effective than biased reporting that many are tempt- ing to lately, in order to justify their previous actions. This is how they openly support certain political party despite the fact that the minority of their subscribers actually supports this party. The fact that particular journalists of the above-mentioned media houses express their opinion openly and when they are in contrast in conflict with editing policy, is definitely something that should encourage us all – says Vukelic.

This text is a part of E-Bulletin–the third edition of the special serial of BHJ online bulletin implemented as part of the following project: Reinforcing Judicial Expertise on Freedom of Expression and the Media in South-East Europe (JUFREX). 

Andrijana Pisarević, BHN Bulletin E-journalist, Sarajevo, 03/12/2018