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Friedensförderung durch Brücken der Verständigung
Peace Building through Bridges of Communication

 

 

 

RFE/RL MEDIA MATTERS, Vol. 4, No. 4, 3 March 2004
 

2003 MEDIA OVERVIEW: JOURNALISM STILL DIVIDED ALONG ETHNIC LINES


By Patrick Moore and Luke Allnutt

Bosnia-Herzegovina remains a society firmly divided along ethnic lines. The general elections held on 5 October 2002 saw the return to power of the three nationalist parties that governed during the 1992-95 conflict. But just as these politicians have generally been sufficiently clever not to try blatantly to turn the clock back, the media have also not returned to the hate speech common during the war.

In the years since the Dayton agreements were concluded at the end of 1995, strict international regulation of broadcasting licenses and frequencies has gotten the hate-mongers off the air and kept them off.

Not so in the print media. Experts say it is not simply that newspapers support particular political parties -- this is common even in established democracies -- but that reporting, for the most part, can be sensational, unbalanced, and irresponsible. According to Freedom House's Annual Press Freedom Survey 2002, Bosnia's media outlets are still "mainly established on the basis of party or ethnic interests." That remains largely true today.

Depressed economic conditions keep newspaper-circulation figures low in Bosnia. Although the figures remain sketchy, most of the larger national and regional papers have circulations of somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 copies.

Pluralism has not led to improved standards. Reporting in newspapers still depends on rumor and anonymous, "well-informed" sources, especially if they can be used to discredit political rivals.

Many observers agree that "Oslobodjenje" is resting on the laurels it received for its dogged determination to continue publishing during the wartime siege of Sarajevo. Its main competition in Muslim areas is "Dnevni avaz," which is widely seen as close to the Office of the High Representative, although its roots are in the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA). "Oslobodjenje" also publishes abroad for the large and important diaspora, which includes refugees and "Gastarbeiter."

In Croatian areas, dailies from Croatia predominate, including ones with special supplements for Herzegovina. The main Croatian dailies have long been available for the diaspora.

In the Republika Srpska, the most serious daily is "Nezavisne novine" from Banja Luka, which many observers consider more balanced and informative than "Oslobodjenje" or "Dnevni avaz," to say nothing of the nationalist Serbian papers. Serbs throughout the former Yugoslavia were traditionally known as avid daily newspaper readers, although tough economic conditions have taken their toll. For the diaspora, the only Serbian daily is the Frankfurt-based "Vesti," which concentrates on Serbian affairs but often runs articles and interviews on the Republika Srpska.

In Bosnia, there is a common perception that journalists are just corruptible players in a dirty political game. High Representative Paddy Ashdown has publicly noted the link between biased journalism and widespread popular cynicism about politics.

The death and funeral of former Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic in October 2003 were reported and commented on by the Serbian and Croatian media, but were often given over to bombastic communist-style treatment by the Muslim media. The Muslim print dailies contained page after page of coverage for several days, including gushing comments from ordinary citizens about what Izetbegovic meant to them. Television coverage was similarly extensive and uncritical -- including reports on traffic conditions for the funeral -- broadcast to the far reaches of the country.

Television remains the most influential and popular media for the majority of Bosnians. Bosnia, a country of 3.5 million people, once had nearly 300 radio and television stations -- a figure that was reputed to be one of the densest rates in the world. Through a licensing process it was whittled down to about 50 television and 150 radio stations.

The dominant players in the electronic broadcasting market are still the public broadcasters in the respective entities: Radio and Television of the Federation of BiH (RTVFBiH) and Radio and Television of the Republika Srpska (RTRS). In addition HRT, the Croatian state television broadcaster from Zagreb, also reaches around 75 percent of the Muslim and Croat federation. NTV Hayat is also influential in Muslim areas.

Growing in popularity is the statewide Public Broadcasting System for Bosnia and Herzegovina, which gained its own frequency in 2003. The system operates a radio station called Radio BH1 and also produces television news broadcasts for transmission by local stations.

In May 2002, outgoing High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch issued a Law on the Public Broadcasting System, which was ratified by the Bosnian Parliament in August 2002. Petritsch's law allows public broadcasters, on both the state and the entity level, several sources of public financing. These include subscription fees, advertising, sponsorship, and direct state funding.

Journalists are still in danger in Bosnia, although probably less so than in recent years. An important means of control is through subtle pressures; most politicians shun journalists known to ask critical questions. The journalists, for their part, are often under the influence of communist-style reporting that simply serves to amplify rather than analyze or criticize the views of officials. Few politicians have grasped the niceties of public relations.

A number of international broadcasters, including RFE/RL, VOA, and Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service are also available throughout Bosnia.

The Internet remains small-scale in Bosnia, and penetration rates are among the lowest in Europe, although Internet cafes are spreading. Computer access is restricted, for the most part, to the wealthier, better-educated segments of the population and to those with computers at their school or office. Young people tend to show a particularly avid interest when they have the opportunity to do so. Most of Bosnia's major media outlets have their own websites, which enable them to keep contact with the diaspora.

 

source: Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 
published by: Daniela Mathis dma@medienhilfe.ch date of release on this site 03/03/04 

 

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