Ties and connections between the politicians and media owners: legal boundaries and progress recommendations

Source/Author: Nermina Mujagić, BHN Bulletin E-journalist

SARAJEVO, 19.12.2017.-The question of transparency ownership over media houses is always somehow tied to freedom of speech and media pluralism. Today, this question represents a priority in BiH and its path to European integration process. Digital era requires information and availability, so citizens, as end users of services and contents, would be entitled to know who shall be held responsible for information providing.

There is no special Registry in BiH through which the public could be provided with information regarding the ownership structure in media houses and how they shall operate, particularly in terms of financing by third parties. Public Services through the institutions of managing boards are governed and managed by the people who consider ethnic or political background (or even personal interest) more important than common and general public interests. Normative regulation of transparency of media ownership would allow public to become more familiar in terms of media and political issues, in order to be able to identify and outline hidden ties and connections between media and particular political centers, also including the manner of its expression and consequences of broadcasted program contents, provided information, selection of editing and journalism personnel/staff, TV and radio show timing announcements etc.

In his book “Media and Democracy”’, John Kean claims that we shall enter the era of political censorship, a period of democratic Leviathan, where key segments of a life are lead and guided by irresponsible political institutions. Political repression shall thus take two ways: limitations and censorship upon the publishing/posting. limitations include formal and informal procedures (chatting with government press officials, various inquiries, requests or warnings issued, discrete decrees or warrants etc). On the other hand, censorship procedure after the publishing / posting, comprise of court proceedings and charges pressed against journalists, closing down of media houses etc. If we additionally add the postmodern methods of PR democracy to this, including the “art of political lies” and a decreasing number of critically biased journalists, the need for free communication without censorship thus consequently gains more significance.

Media houses in Bosnia and Herzegovina experience less media freedoms and liberties, that is, they do not correspond with the right of a single voice. Namely, according to the last report issued by Freedom House, all regional countries, apart from Macedonia, have been considered and marked as partially free as far as media freedoms and liberties are concerned. In 2015, Macedonia experienced a significant decline in terms of media freedoms and liberties and was consequently considered as unsafe country. Bosnia and Herzegovina was along with Macedonia on the bottom of this list. There are no information regarding the number of online media houses in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia. The competition on media market should serve as warrant to control and supervision of democratic institutions, however, corporative media system is rather providing business empires with what they need. Let us remind ourselves that Churchill was once disallowed from holding a speech at the beginning of World War II on British radio that was, at the time, monopoly-based supervised by the state and controlled by the British Radio Corporation as well (Friedman, 1992: 30).

His attempts to counteract and parry Hitler’s threats had been considered as too conservative. There are too many reasons why there should be more restrictions as far as the regulation of media ownership is concerned. Regardless of whether owners/entrepreneurs motifs were politically or economically based, the media owner/entrepreneur would still dictate and guide these contents. This is crucial for the survival of journalism as professional occupation. Today, we live under inconvenient and inappropriate conditions required for the existence of professional journalism.

Moreover, these conditions are indeed worrying. Recently, the Survey on Media Freedoms and Liberties for 2017 was conducted and its results showed that over 12% of citizens of BiH in fact justified this and even encouraged violence imposed against journalists. General public trust that media houses relished, has significantly decreased because the public was convinced that journalists had been influenced by local politicians. There have been a significant number of obvious obstacles crucial for the development of BH media, including journalists’ freedoms and liberties, taking into consideration the amount of foreign money invested in BiH as part of media reform process.

During another survey the Indicators of media freedom and liberty stages and journalists safety (2016),the surveyors concluded that there had been over 300 charges pressed against journalists (on an annual level) and these were mostly based on defamation charges. For the period of 3 (three) years only (from 2013 to 2016) there were 67 threats and 16 physical assaults / attacks against journalists. Legally, these assaults / attacks were no different to assaults / attacks against any other civilians. Therefore, censorship, physical violence and journalists threats, putting journalists names on “blacklists” were easy to identify and recognize and it was important to introduce and impose guidelines and recommendations in order to eliminate the prior. However, there were unobvious (hidden) regarding the development of media freedoms and liberties.

These included: social limitations such as diversity and division in a society based on ethnic background, pressures based on economic issues (lack of syndicate / union on state level and in private media houses, lack of infrastructure, lack of skills, knowledge etc). It was actually about refined and rather complex mechanisms that would deny journalism with its essence to be free and to be liberated from all outer factors, and to be dependent on professional and ethical principles of journalism. Auto-censorship took place in this field of nondescriptive obstacles which derived out of fear but also including apparent vampirism in media vs. politics relationship. Namely, certain media houses have been financed by state institutions, cantons, municipality funds, but there was not enough information about what contents have been particularly financed. These would certainly not include programs broadcasted in languages of ethnic communities, but instead they would include programs that would glorify and publicize local powerful entities.

Due to several emerging crisis, not only in BiH, but also throughout the world, media responsibility had been increasing, particularity in terms of creating media future period. Media market has been flooded with so-called “servile journalism and journalism managed by the market demands”, where individual interests of owners and entrepreneurs, including advertisers would represent a priority comparing to general public interests. Investigative journalism and investigative and survey-based articles seem very rare at present. Media owners and entrepreneurs would consequently treat journalists as noncrucial items in their expenses and costs business evaluation, and therefore modern technology in media business would often be followed by sacking many journalists, reducing wages/salaries, disrespecting and ignoring collective labor contract rights etc.

In today’s conditions, media and journalism independence has been clearly in hands of media owners and entrepreneurs and accordingly the same case may apply to free expression of every single individual person. Along with the ability to think, the ability to express our thoughts and pass them to others is one of the most beautiful characteristic that separates men from animals. Media freedom cannot be treated separately from freedom of speech and expression and this why society must be more determined in preventing Nazi despots in their will to chase and prosecute those with different and diverse opinion and attitude to prosecute freedom and liberty on behalf of heavenly people or certain ruling and governing political party.

Freedom does not belong to anyone and must not be considered as personal property, especially must not be considered and treated as personal property of any political party. Therefore media and journalists have been assigned with rather difficult but strategic assignment and task which they should strike the process of depolarization aimed to develop democratic and pluralistic society, including the strengthening and reinforcing the development of journalism as an autonomous profession. Without untrammeled and chainless media freedom and liberty, without free conflict of opinions, the life in a public institution would eventually vanish. If we allow few political party leaders, charged with energy and limitless necessity to conduct and govern, we then conclude wand end up with society where ties and link between media and political groups is not an issue, as a result. Their relationship often resembles some kind of official system of social relationships where things like media and politics are generally approved through certain symbiotic relationship.

Let’s wake up. Robespierre, a controversial historic person stated long ago: “Media do not need benevolent guarding of government. Press represents rather strange fruit. It brings golden fruits only when it is wild that is if it is considered completely liberated: when the state gardener begins engrafting it with the police and judge scissors, it becomes rudimentary plant and produces bitter and even poisonous fruit” (Robespierre, 1909)

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