RFE/RL MEDIA MATTERS, Vol. 4, No. 4, 3 March 2004
2003 MEDIA OVERVIEW: JOURNALISM STILL DIVIDED ALONG
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
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
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
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
source: Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
published by: Daniela Mathis email@example.com
date of release on this site 03/03/04