Investigative reporting, a luxury for BiH media houses dependant to advertising

Source/Author: Belma Buljubašić

Sarajevo, 04.10.2017.-In theory, we learn that information – communication system should be liberated from any political and economic impacts and pressures, which should consequently represent the guarantee for media independence. However, what does reality prove? 

Media are somehow laden with various ways as journalism itself is seriously jeopardized. Besides expressed and obvious political pressures imposed on media houses, Bosnian media houses have for some time been put upon pressure by advertisers as well, due to (not) posting and (not) broadcasting media contents as instructed. Media houses have been forced to accept unfavorable compromises with the purpose of acquiring financial benefits because employees must receive their monthly salaries/ wages and make a living out of their work.

This negative trend is no exception in Bosnia and Herzegovina media market and we could easily refer to it as a global trend since many leading world authorities in the communication field (both local and regional authors) confirmed this occurrence.

Most media houses depend on advertisers, not including international TV stations having their offices in our country (such as Al Jazeera Balkans, N1 TV) or if they are directly financed from political centers, which is, again, very difficult to prove, or, on the other hand, if they receive grants allocated by international organizations. Advertising is required for all media types, including both traditional and online media. Rare printed media in Bosnia and Herzegovina can rely on and count of their publishing issues as their main source of financing, because the number of viewers and readers of printed media in Bosnia and Herzegovina have rapidly decreased. Media dependability from advertisers surely represents one of the most important reasons for a reduced number of investigative articles and texts, including the decrease in professional journalism as well. The impact advertisers make on media houses also results in the loss of media credibility, because in this case, media houses usually terminate working for general public interest and refuse to publish or post contents that in any way may indicate negative occurrences of companies, firms, and institutions that advertise in these media houses. Existential problems in media houses in BiH make them appear as servants to mighty financial centers.

However, in the advertising process itself, marketing agencies become key figures defining the rules of the game. If some media houses still decide to post negative articles/texts about business operations of marketing agencies, the marketing agencies consequently cancel the business contracts.

Slobodna Bosna printed weekly magazine, popular in both BiH Entities ceased printing editions and as from 1 Jan 2016, they became an online magazine.

Suzana Mijatovic, Slobodna Bosna female journalist outlined that the problem with the limited number of advertisers resulted in a termination of printed issues of this rather popular weekly magazine.

“Advertisers were the key financial source of this magazine”, stated Mijatovic and quoted one of many examples outlining how marketing agencies reacted to posting/publishing contents they disagreed with. “After posting several texts about the “Gibraltar” affair, where I highlighted suspicious actions taken by Neven Kulenovic, the owner of that marketing agency S.V – RSA, Neven Kulenovic with JP HT Mostar, the agreed advertisement advertising Chevrolet car brand, was suddenly withdrawn by them. Everything had already been arranged, however, after posting the above-mentioned text, we were informed that there would be no advertising and that was it”.

Ties between political power centers and agencies attempting to control media field often appear hidden. “It is difficult to prove and ascertain who has ties and bound with whom”, emphasized Suzana Mijatovic, outlining the example when certain marketing agency, (while stating why they had decided not to advertise the hygienic product with Slobodna Bosna magazine), pointed out that this particular magazine was aimed mainly at male population.

“This, rather senseless reason was apparently supposed to highlight that woman read fashion magazines only, including magazines about beauty and health and that they do not read political magazines, such as ours”, cleared Mijatovic.

Investigative reporting has been depending on international grants as well. These grants, apart from providing existence for journalists, also allowed journalists to investigate about serious social problems, corruption, illegal deeds, and operations etc.

Zurnal, ( an online magazine, is one of the very few media houses dealing with investigative reporting. Semir Mujkic, a Zurnal journalist, stated that investigative reporting was the main reason why many companies decided not to advertise with this particular magazine.

“Largest advertisers in our country are public companies and we publish articles about management board members of public companies so, therefore, we almost always end up with no advertisements”, said Mujkic.

Mujkic outlined that he as journalists have never thought about advertisers because the editing office he has been working in, hasn’t got a single paid advertisement. “Ever since Zurnal was established in 2009, we had two to three paid advertisements per single page. At present we have Google advertisements on our front page and profit out of three advertisements is negligible, therefore this kind of advertising cannot even be considered as serious business advertising, that is cannot be considered as the financial source of income. I personally have never really thought about advertising since I have never worked in printed fortnight based magazine, neither has this affected my work, but on the other hand, I do believe that all journalists in BiH do think about advertisers in media houses they work for.

Frankly speaking, I would believe about advertisers if I had been working in a company that depends on “live” advertisements and commercials, rather than working in a company financed by outer donations”, Mujkic recalls his journalist career focusing on media he has been working for.

This kind of relationship by advertisers towards media houses may reinforce and strengthen both censorship and auto-censorship; simply because journalists (both male and female) are aware that their existence may be jeopardized should they “instigate” unwanted issues regarding advertisers and their business.

Semir Mujkic also agrees with claims that the relationship towards media strongly reinforces censorship claiming the following:” I do not claim that journalists think about advertisers in such way and complete their articles at the same time, but we are still aware that today, economic impact by advertisers on media is most efficient way of censorship, that is, most efficient blackmailing way imposed against any media house. I do appreciate the work of my colleagues and media staff in BiH that try hard to survive in the market and do their work professionally, since biggest advertisers in our country are indeed public companies being under direct control of political parties and managers and managing board members of those companies represent largest source of inspiration for investigative reports and journalist texts and articles”

This kind of advertising business can also be considered as blackmailing. It works something like the following:”If you play our rules, we shall advertise with your house. A sample outlined by Mujkic does indeed portrait this kind of relationship: “We never had the advertisement about any public company and we are most likely not to have any in the near future because we have been writing and publishing texts and articles about them, that is, about their management”.

Federal Government was still a major shareholder of one of those companies while we were conducting such investigative affairs and this company was interested in Zurnal journalists and people from the marketing department, whose names are not so important at the moment, but the practice is important, so they consequently offered to advertise through Zurnal.

We should have, I suppose, read between the lines and accept the fact that we would eventually get advertisement contract if we stop with the above-mentioned investigation.

We refused to reject advertisement offer, but we also refused to stop the investigation. We have been writing about this company and yet we never received the official advertisement offer”.

The existence of websites dealing with investigative reporting is important for the community in this region. However, according to Mujkic, this seems to be a luxury that Zurnal can afford, considering that they do not depend on advertisers; instead, their finances derive from foreign donations. The question remains: What will happen with investigative reporting and editing offices of media houses truly willing to do professional journalism on one hand, but refusing to accept new forms jeopardizing public opinion on the other hand, making them additionally and at the same time, non – political and incapable of any active political engagement or reasoning.

Although we all often hear stories about media houses serving their audience which usually results in tabloid contents and sensationalism, rather than investigative reporting, such generalizing is rather foolish, because part of our community still wants to read and view serious contents. Besides, media assignments include raising public awareness about political issues and posting serious informative and educational topics. This major attitude by media representatives appears as having grade 1 teachers, whose pupils prefer playing games, rather than studying and allowing them to stay outside the playground because they like playing and teachers thus must fulfill their wishes.

This text is a part of E-Bulletin– first 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.