Professional status and position of journalists in BiH under the load of poorly developed media market

Source/Author: Borislav Vukojević, BHN Bulletin E-journalist,

SARAJEVO, 31.01.2018.-Media market in BiH could be looked at and observed in two different ways: on one hand, the content on “on the paper” basis seems satisfactory because the number of media houses is quite large considering that Bosnia and Herzegovina is rather small transitional country.

On the other hand, the same media market (in BiH) is in the chaotic state if we take into consideration all problems that public broadcasting services are facing recently, including the problems with political impact imposed on media houses and economic influences that have become a daily routine as well. A journalist is, in such system, mostly placed in a position where he/she should balance between solid and socially acceptable way existence that may eventually provide him with decent journalists’ salary and earnings on one hand, and on the other hand, journalists’ ethical and professional fundamental principles that he/she should (not) follow. This text is exactly about this sensitive issue where we shall test and examine the position of journalists in terms of applicable financial, professional and ethical standards.

Let us begin with the public service broadcasters whose legal operations are regulated and defined by existing laws. Public broadcasting services in BiH have particular obligations and duties towards general public in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As far as BHT is concerned, we can witness, on daily basis, everyday problems of this particular media house that has been operating as a public broadcasting service provider in entire BiH territory (not just the Entity operator), which is why BHT’s significance is crucial for regional democracy and constitutional system in BiH. No one is certain whether BHT shall manage to sustain their work and for how long will they be able to operate and work properly, which puts all journalists working with this media house in an awkward position as they are indeed worried and concerned about their jobs and don’t know if they would even go to work next day (as a result of this uncertainty regarding the future of BHT). Entity public services are not facing this kind of difficulties and serious problems so far, although there have been some indicators outlining possible and eventual forthcoming and potential problems, regarding the two entity public broadcasting service media houses. For instance, the public had the opportunity to once again see the letter being released publically by the unsatisfied staff / employees of RTRS (Republic of Srpska public media house) (letter of dissatisfied workers) where they outlined serious issues and problems including the following: unpaid tax and contributions, obstruction in acquiring legal rights for having medical insurance and also, information about too many employees being engaged with this particular entity media house.

However, despite these, to some extent, contextual factors, we should still point out and highlight the professional status of journalists in BiH. We witnessed that FTV and RTRS often violate journalists’ rules of being and operating as nonbiased professionals, which is best reflected through reports broadcasted in central news programs. Journalists often appeared as mere microphone holders acting as puppets for ruling governing coalition officials, without balanced and professional analysis that should serve public interests in the first place. Naturally, having in mind complete chain of media production, a journalist is indeed in a position of primary information and data collection, but the complete tone and color of the story are still selected and chosen by editors / general managers. Comparative analysis of News 2 (primary time) broadcasted at RTRS and BN TV station, during the pre-election period in 2014 (A media picture: Studies on responsible journalism) outlined that these two most influential television houses at the territory of Republic of Srpska bespeak significant biasing and misbalance as well. We should bear in mind that journalists are imposed with multiple pressures in the production chain under such circumstances, especially as far as the entity public broadcasting services are concerned.

Does this mean that journalists are not responsible at all? We firmly declare that journalists do bear a certain responsibility for such situation, because so far, there was not a single attempt by any journalist recorded, in order to make some affirmative and positive changes and eventually improve the overall situation. Frankly speaking, we should not generalize and make stereotypes and prejudices about this issue, because public services do broadcast programs that are tailored in accordance with all rules based on the journalism standards, but the problems are most evident during central news and daily news programs. Still, most viewers spent the time in front their TV’s between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. therefore, a complete and correctly defined and conceived program may eventually be ruined by a single inappropriate central news program broadcasted in the above men- tioned period. Additionally, researchers conducted and aimed to discover (un) hidden mechanisms of influences/impacts against journalists have mainly been unsuccessful since it was expected that no person would actually admit that he/she had been subject to auto-censorship or that he/she was not doing his / her work properly. We often hear excuses such as “we may not do our work in the best possible way, but there are others whose work is worse than ours”, but still this is not a solid, persuasive and valid argument. Should journalists express their determination and will to fight for better position and status on public broadcasting services, this change must be mutual and consensual based, rather than being sporadic and spontaneous.

As far as commercial media houses are concerned, their position is to some extent different, considering that media houses (if not referring to public media service broadcasters) are actually companies with profit making as one of their main and crucial motif and aim (goal). Also, we should take into consideration the fact that during the period of last few years in BiH, two crucial media “players” appeared on BiH scene: regional offices of two media conglomerates (N1 and Al Jazeera Balkans). Journalists’ position in these two global media houses is significantly better comparing to local media houses and Al Jazeera Balkans journalists/staff confirmed this fact (testified by journalists at AJB). Regular wages (salaries), freedom in their own work, editing policies delivered in writing, and more security for journalists are just some of many characteristics that are considered more important for journalists that the fact they work for media houses with foreign capital being injected in BiH. Many would say that journalists working for foreign media houses are somehow under foreign influence. However, is there a journalist that isn’t under someone’s influence? If we accept the attitude that most media houses are under certain influence and pressure, in that case, journalists working for N1 and AJB are surely in the better position.

Printed media in BiH are not in an envious position because printed issues as media have weaker influence which often results in low salaries/wages, numerous “casual” staff etc. Journalism professionalism has been regulated by the Code of printed and online media house, but without significant consequences, taking into consideration the self – regulatory body with no possibility to implement highlighted sanctions imposed. Printed media sustained the epithet which is widely considered as most appropriate in order to get some “real” practice in journalism, and therefore is still considered as a best initial point for the beginning of a career in journalism, especially for young and junior journalists. Still, there are still weekly magazines covering social issues and themes in more details and their existence is considered as firm proof of journalistic professionalism.

At the end, we shall mention some characteristic positions of journalists in the chaotic online universe. Legal regulation that would somehow regulate and define necessary requirements in order to declare public advertiser as “news internet website”, still does not exist in our country. Blogs, dairies, websites with false and incorrect news, websites with obvious and clear agitating intentions – these are all shapes and forms of media expressions that can be used but can also be misused. If we talk about “proper and real” media websites (“Klix, Nezavisne, Buka, Avaz etc”) – websites with transparent information regarding their ownership shares or structure – we could conclude that the position of journalists is somewhat more favorable. Regardless to the level of influence and impact, they impose, but at the same regardless to the fact that they could become a target for those requiring such impact on the public, the website (internet) journalism still preserved a certain level of professionalism on websites. This should on the other hand not be confused with web sites whose goal and purpose is unscrupulous propaganda or spreading and sharing the entertainment and false news. These kinds of “media – based” do not deserve to be even mentioned in the context of journalists’ position, because journalists do not work there, but someone else does their work instead (and they surely do not work for general public interest, but for the benefit of their entrepreneurs).

We could say that the position of journalists in BiH is not satisfactory looking from many different perspectives. Firstly, as we have already seen, journalists have been under constant political pressure, economic pressures or some other pressures based on personal interests. Secondly, journalists have quite broad – wide definition of their own occupation, as anyone can do journalists’ work these days and with the development of the internet, any individual is potential “advertiser” in the original and genuine meaning of this word. Thirdly, media market is experiencing its own problems influencing the situation in media market: transparency of necessary information regarding ownership shares and ownership structure, poor and weak economic media capacity, political impact and influence imposed against editors/entrepreneurs, media saturation, and similar occurrences. Still, we should not be pessimistic, because professional journalists should indeed work very hard and remain stubborn in working for public interest which proves that many things depend on their own work as well.

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