Local media financing in Republic of Srpska

Source/Author: Milan Kovač, BHN Bulletin E-journalist

 SARAJEVO, 27.02.2018.-The answer to this question seems rather simple since it contains 64 sub-contracts, which is exactly the number of municipalities and towns in the Republic of Srpska. There is no law, at the level of Republic of Srpska, which precisely defines how local media financing should be tailored; instead, financing of media houses is the responsibility of local communities because they are entitled to handle this issue on their own. Additionally, local media houses, (mainly local radio stations) are financed directly from municipal and city/town budgets or they (local radio stations) are simply granted with certain financial means from same budgets.

Local Communities Conveyance

The Law on determining and transferring of property rights to the capital of Republic of Srpska (in local radio and television stations) to local self – governments, passed in 2010 and amended in 2012 (Official Gazette No. 73, published on 30 July 2010. 70/12), defines that the capital of all local radio stations shall be transferred to founders of these media houses and, in most cases, the establishers/founders include municipal or city/town assemblies, said the officials from the Ministry of Traffic and Communications of Republic of Srpska. Pursuant to this, this legal regulation is transferred to local self – governing levels. Local radio stations submit their reports on work and operations conducted and financial reports to city/town and municipal assemblies for passing. Ministry of Traffic and Communications of Republic of Srpska officials say that labor/work permits and frequency licenses are legally issued by the Communication Regulatory Agency (RAK) which, at the same time, controls the process of requested work requirements that must be met in order to obtain work license and permit. There are 5 locally – orientated television stations in the Republic of Srpska and around 40 radio stations. Local communities issue over 50 printed weekly, monthly and annual reports and there are over hundred local websites.

Public Local Media

Public local media include radio, TV and online or printed issues established by city/town or municipal authorities. In most cases, these are radio stations and this is why the existence and work operations, including the financing, mainly vary from municipality to municipality. In Gacko municipality (Herzegovina region), radio Gacko operates as a public local radio station as part of the local Information and Cultural Centre Public Establishment. This radio station has 8 employees working on a full time basis. Gacko Radio station disposes of BAM 183.480.00 on an annual level. Still, due to reducing the process of public incomes and very difficult situation for all local communities in the Republic of Srpska, it has been noted that decreasing and insufficient amounts of money were planned and dispersed to local media houses.

Gacko Municipality is no exception here. Financial means from the municipal budget sources that Gacko radio station received this year were reduced by 12% in comparison with the amount they had received last year from the same financing source. Bosiljka Glusac, Gacko radio general manager, confirmed that as far as the total income this radio station has at the disposal, 80% of the money comes from the municipal budget sources, while Gacko radio receives 20% from their own commercial marketing and advertising sources. Mrs. Glusac, however, warned that the decline of marketing money had been noted for the period of last ten years because local legal entities/companies have been their main advertising and marketing clients on local Gacko radio station. She outlined that most of them have been facing very difficult financial situations, while many of them went bankrupt or very simply forced to close down their business. “Program scheme of Gacko radio includes the municipal affairs, events, covering the situation in the fields of economy, agriculture, politics, sport, culture, and education. Radio has been particularly focused on the work and affairs at Gacko Thermal Power Plant, which is considered as an economic giant in this municipality because the majority of local people are employed and work there”, said the manager of this radio station.

Radio Gradiska operates in Gradiska municipality and its sole founder was Gradiska Municipality. Some BAM 200.000,00 is the amount allocated on an annual basis from the local municipal budget source and this amount is according to legal proceedings, deposited to the account of Public Establishment Radio Gradiska. Last year, the Municipality of Gradiska funded Gradiska radio with BAM 206.400, 00, said the officials from the Gradiska Municipality Financial Department. Just as radio Gacko (and many other radio stations in BiH), this radio station’s news and information program also mostly covers the information about local affairs from the fields of politics, economy, sport, and culture. Gradiska radio station issues Gradiska news bulletin (magazine) twice a year and the printing costs for this newspaper is also covered by the municipal budget money source with some BAM 6.500,00.

The municipality of Sokolac Assembly founded Sokolac Public Enterprise named “Info Centre” including the Sokolac Info Radio, which is a constituent part of this Info Centre and also the only public electronic media house in this particular municipality in the Republic of Srpska. The radio has been broadcasting its radio program (on daily basis) from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. It does not operate on its own frequency; instead, it uses waves which are the property of Radio and Television of the Republic of Srpska. Sokolac Info Radio, in its news and information program, follows all current affairs in Sokolac and the City of Istocno Sarajevo, especially in the following programs: “Novosti”, “Sokolacka hronika”, “Hronika grada Istocno Sarajevo” etc. Sokolac municipality officials outlined that Info Radio has been broadcasting economy based programs, including educational, cultural, sport, entertaining, youth, children and religious programs as well. Sokolac newspapers are printed and issued monthly in Sokolac municipality. This printed edition mostly covers local affairs including the following: political affairs in Sokolac municipality, the general situation in the Republic of Srpska Forestry, because this particular company makes a significant financial contribution, as far as the budget income is concerned, because they pay a significant amount of tax money. Sokolac monthly newspaper also covers the subjects of education and culture. Sokolac Info Centre Public Enterprise has 13 employees working on a full time basis. Apart from the above-mentioned papers, these employees also edit and administrate the official website of Sokolac municipality, namely www.opstinasokolac.net. Sokolac Municipality funds Info center with some BAM 150.000,00 from local municipal budget money.

From RTV center to municipality without public media house

Development and scope of local media in the Republic of Srpska mostly depend on finances deriving from municipal budget sources. According to this, we have the illustrated case in the city of Prijedor, where on one hand; Prijedor radio station; Prijedor Television and Kozarski vijesnik (weekly printed magazine) operate as part of Public Establishment Kozarski vijesnik. On the other hand, smaller and poorer municipality find very difficult to finance and fund local media houses. For instance, there is not a single electronic media house in the municipality of Ljubinje in Herzegovina region. Ljubinje Glasnik, as the only printed magazine in this municipality, is issued once a year and local municipality funds this project with some BAM 2.000,00 to BAM 3.000,00. There are however more developed communities that have been functioning, operating and working for years without local public electronic media houses. Derventa is one of those places where the local Derventa based Association of Journalists and Reporters have been appealing for years and demanding from local governing official authorities to re-establish their local radio station which ceased working many years ago.

Local media houses, CRA (RAK) and sanctions

Local media houses are obliged to submit their work reports to local assemblies, since local assemblies are, in most cases, their founders. Still, electronic local media houses are directly responsible to Communication Regulatory Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CRA) as far as their work is concerned, because of the fact that it is the CRA that issues permits for program broadcasting, licenses for the use of frequency required etc. CRA is, on the other hand, entitled to impose sanctions and fines in case of violations of provisions deriving from the legal Code, including the rules of applicable broadcasting. What represents a clear problem here is the number of prescribed fines and sanctions and the maladjustment of rules imposed against small local media houses. A number of managers and directors of many local radio and TV stations that we spoke with, warned that certain rules, imposed by the CRA BiH, are almost impossible to follow and implement, because these are indeed too strict to follow, as far as small media houses are concerned. It was also pointed out and indicated, that the amount of imposed fines for certain rules violations are incredibly high since many local media houses find these fines unbearably inconvenient.

Local governing authorities and their impact on program editing policies

Financing the work of local media houses form city/towns and municipal budget funds may have negative and undesired consequences as well: local governing official authorities often misuse the fact that local media houses are directly financed from the budget funds and this does make an impact on program editing policies. Employees/staff are in broadcasted programs, often forced to promote the work of local official authorities, while on the other hand, media staff is banned from making reports based on critics addressed to local administration institutions. Milkica Milojevic, a female journalists with years of experience and also members of the Steering Committee of BHJA, warned that it was the financing of local public media directly from city, town or municipal budget funds that created the situation where media freedoms and liberties, at local levels, were in very difficult situation and are accordingly jeopardized, comparing to the situation in the Entity and state public media services (houses), where the situation is quite different, in regard with this particular issue. “The situation is even worse at local levels. The question is whether we can even talk about media in its origin and genuine meaning of the word. They (local media houses) are either on the edge of their persistence and survival, or they have to conduct the politics – based program influenced by certain governing political parties at local levels”, claimed Mrs. Milojevic.

How much freedom and liberty do journalists working for local media houses have?

As part of this story framework, many journalists working for local media houses have been contacted. They were expected to talk and express their opinions about work conditions they experience and eventual pressures they have been imposed with. Most of them refused to talk about this issue publically. A female journalist, working for local radio station in the southern part of Republic of Srpska, justified her refusal to publically speak about the situation in this particular media house, by stating that she was afraid that she may get sacked and lose her job, as this whole matter is tied and linked with local political affairs in this specific local community. “Last year, the new political party won the elections in our town. Consequently, new governing official authorities dismissed many former public company managers and appointed new managers closed to them instead. All journalists that had already been working in this media house were ever since looked at in a different way. I somehow have a feeling that we can no longer be trusted by our new management”, claimed this lady. “We had been put under a lot of pressure, mostly by the local governing officials, even before the political party took over, however during the most recent period, the situation went from bad to worse and I assume that the reason for this is the fact that the budget money planned for financing local community media house was rapidly reduced and this decrease in financing continued year by year”, she concluded.

Local communities and private media

Marketing represents the main source of income for private local media houses. Still, financial ties and connections between local communities and private media houses often occur through this kind of marketing. The city of Banjaluka officials had, for instance, in 2014 and 2015 dispersed over BAM 100.000.00 and this amount had been distributed to both public and private media houses for announcing public invitations to bids (tenders), including commercial advertisements, news, information etc. The city if Bijeljina also financed public and private media houses for information and advertising services with BAM 230.000, 00 in 2014 and BAM 338.000,00 in 2015. Interestingly enough, but also expected by many, during the distribution of these amounts, most of the allocated money went into the accounts of media houses whose program editing policies were closest to local governing political parties and accordingly biased.

The future of local media houses in RS

It is the inevitable fact that local communities in the Republic of Srpska tend to reduce the money distribution planned and scheduled for local media houses and their work, which consequently caused the cessation of work and closing down of tens of local media houses since the end of the war in BiH until present. Private local media houses are also experiencing difficult period because the incomes they acquire and earn from commercial marketing advertising is also reduced and decreasing, which again comes as a result of the economic decline at local levels. Common sense question accordingly follows: Will local media houses be able to sustain? One of their surviving opportunities may be seen in using new technologies that enable more affordable program production and broadcasting, but on the other hand, they should try to adapt to new formats required by their recipients. Nevertheless, the adoption process of local media houses, in order to fulfill the requirements of their viewers and listeners, should not be limitless to that extent, because the entertaining program scheme should as a result, not jeopardize their informative and educational primary functions. Therefore, local media houses, in order to sustain and survive, do require further support by municipalities and cities / towns in their communities, because regional or republic orientated media house shall never be able to approach and analyse the problem in some local community, as opposed to local media house, able to do this.

This text is a part of E-Bulletin– fourth edition of special serial of BHN online bulletin implemented through the “Media and Public Reputation” (origin. “Mediji i javni ugled”) project, also representing a contribution to public debate regarding the transparency of media ownership and upholding and encouraging the passing of set of laws aimed to advance media field and information market in BiH.