Other side of the media

Source/Author: Radenko Udovičić, BHN Bulletin E-journalist

Sarajevo, 09.10.2017.- Bosnia and Herzegovina is in the first place, entity, ethnically and then politically deeply divided the country. This also applies to media field in BiH. As a result of such social background, political clientelism has become dominant in the media field in BiH. It is somehow based on some kind of auto-censorship by the owners/entre- preneurs, editors, and journalists.

Auto censorship significantly derives from individual views and opinions claiming that the general public attitude of one’s people is correct, which is often untrue. Such opinion in journalism could be reflected (through unprofessional work) through media production processes, including information selection, highlighting certain issues confirming the opinions of these groups, negative and denying comments towards those that are, according to the conviction of dominant ethnic policy, being considered as opponents. These methods have been easy to identify and, (as opposed to another manipulative dismembering defined as defamation, particularly incorrect information) they can hardly be processed pursuant to regulations or media self- regulation. This is exactly why many media houses in BiH claim to be objective because of they, for instance, allow every- one to have their own opinion. Of course, they do, but allow everyone to have their opinion in what way and what kind of context? Another reason for political clientelism occurrence is interest based on pure materialism.

If one conforms to majority public opinion, that is, influential political and economic factors, the media itself or their owners (or if there is public media house, their manager, and indirectly the editors as well) may find this beneficiary. This has been noted for the period of last few years concerning three services as part of the Public RTV Broadcasting System in BiH. According to monitoring implemented by Media Plan Institute, RTRS as a public broadcaster of the Republic of Srpska, produced the program which has been openly biased and aimed to the benefit of ruling governing political coalition, or to be more precise, biased towards the strongest political party. That is, to some extent, common sense, because the ruling elite consider RTRS as a state-building element and they should operate accordingly. Ruling and opposition political parties in the Federation of BiH have never treated public services as their own heir; instead, public services have been considered as the danger jeopardizing their positions as a result of reports based on critical views. Negative audit reports followed consequently, rejection of project technical assistance targeted for new facilities and centers, hidden pressures imposed against members of executive and board of directors (especially those, whose appointing had been politically based). During these games, neither directors nor chief editors could complete their mandates at the end as innocent and objective people. When certain political party expresses its dissatisfaction with public service reporting, it becomes ready to destroy it completely and this later becomes absolute destructive operation with no political common sense and logic present. If something fails, no governing official can restore it and the price is usually paid by the two public services with head offices in Sarajevo. Due to political discrepancies between ethnically segregated political parties, there is no legal way to collecting the RTV Tax Fees, and the solution to this problem is far away, which may eventually cause complete cessation of public broadcasting based on principles during the period of last 15 years.

Private media houses have been significantly exposed to political clientelism during the selection of the advertisement by public institutions, public companies, and political parties. It’s obvious that benefits are usually allocated to those belonging to “their own ethnic community”, and further, the “suitable” person is sought. “Dnevni avaz”, the daily newspaper has for years been receiving enormous financial means funds from public advertisers. After Fahru- din Radoncic had formed his political party, a significant amount of these means simply disappeared and somehow vanished. While I was a member of RTV FBiH Board of Directors, this media house was constantly forced to make the balance between the “SDA” and “SDP” biased companies in order to keep marketing contracts, essential to their business sustainability. There were cases when BH Telecom refused to continue and extend their cooperation, refusing to sign the contract, because of critically based reports broadcasted in “60 Minutes” TV program. Or, otherwise, the TV editor once hesitated to announce report before the contract had been signed. Basically, these kinds of economic pressures on media houses in BiH are often politically motivated. Still, there are, more or less, clear economic pressures imposed, in terms of insisting of support or at least insisting on critics’ absence. Commercial companies do not only conduct this through so-called “advertisement blackmailing”, but they also often target journalists that are, due to very low monthly earnings they make, accept to (for insignificant money amounts on honorary basis) write articles/texts or simply make reports based on promotional elements. This can hardly be identified and also difficult to prove.

How can we fight against these things or in other terms how to overcome them?

The answer to this question is: Very, very hard! Self-censorship is bound with deep existing ethnic and political preferences. Specific favoritism is not characteristic for three constitutional ethnic groups, but also for the idea of so-called Bosnianism, which is particularly advocated by the civil society. Intolerance towards differences and diversities, specific approaches towards the state of BiH, which at first seems more acceptable than ethnic options (including self – censorship) is present in such profiled media houses. The solution to this problem may be feasible by warming total ethnic and national and political confrontations in BiH which is not the case at the moment.

One of the Western-based solutions in the fight against clientelism is seen through productive educational programs for journalism students, where they would be expected to show the greater amount of consciousness and responsibilities, after graduating and commencing with their professional careers. However, here are some elements of such quantitative situation with this kind of education that had been posted at the Media Initiative Analysis program concerning the educational system of journalists in BiH.

As far as the number of students attending journalism studies is concerned, this department has generally flourished. Journalism department as constituent part of the Faculty of Political Studies in Sarajevo, admits over 120 students every year, with 40 of them attending lectures along with having part-time jobs. Department of Journalism with the Faculty of Philosophy in East Sarajevo admits 30 students; Journalism Department and Communication Studies with the Faculty of Political Studies in Banjaluka admits 50 students, Department of Journalism with the Faculty of Philosophy in Tuzla admits 45 students. Mostar is the only city in BiH with two public university centers reflecting deep diversity in this city between ethnic Croats and Bosniaks as largest and major ethnic groups there. Therefore, the Department of Journalism of Mostar Faculty of Philosophy admits 40 students, while the Department of Communications with the Faculty of Human Studies in West Mostar admits 70 students.

Furthermore, the analysis outlines that there are two private faculties – Faculty of Communication Studies in Banjaluka, admitting 100 students at the Communication Department and Department of Information and Communication with the Faculty of Social Studies in Medjugorje having a small group of 10 students. The above-mentioned number of journalism faculties, that is, journalism departments, does not reflect real market demands of media and communication institutions; instead, it comes as a result of atomization of the state over entities and cantons. Additionally, it is considered as a consequence of ethnical segregation of the state. One could say that every government or every ethnic political structure actually “educate their own journalists” for their own purposes.

Therefore, every year in BiH, over 465 upcoming journalists that are, those who should become professional communicators, enroll to various faculties. 30% to 70% of them graduate on an annual level (undergraduate students) which altogether sums up to around 200 graduate students per year. According to evaluations and estimate conducted by Media Plan Institute, another 200 students from other faculties decide to have a go with journalism and PR studies, so there are over 400 those looking for the job or those that may work as professional communicators. Such enormous market competition does not allow many graduates to find an appropriate job. These young people, assuming they managed to find a job, usually accept jobs, regardless of their formal education, including compromises in editing offices they are eventually engaged with, or they simply serve political aims through media houses they work for. Taking into consideration that their salaries (monthly wages/earnings) would be insufficient (bear in mind that only three media houses pay their employees’ wages that are considered above average, that is over BAM 827, 00 per month), Many of them shall be ready to “bias” articles and texts they post and publish, for merely BAM 100.00 for the purpose of promoting certain company that is, their PR activity.

Conclusion outlines that he progress in this field may be accomplished with great- er level of tolerance and more money invested (one often causes or generates the other).

Currently, we are not in the increasing line of either. But at the end, stopping this fight could be worst of all.

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.