Flash report 3: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Flash report 3: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local media reporting on Bosnian protests reflects journalism cramped between political pressures and self-preservation*
In journalism of Bosnia and Herzegovina playing “by the rule” is not a rule. As Željka Mihaljević of Radio Studio N remarked, “if you dare to do what profession tells you... you are in trouble“. Threats to integrity of journalist profession come from political and business strongholds, which are interconnected, if not the same.
The majority of media outlets are considered to be closely connected with centres of political and economic power, and to some extent acting as the advocates for their interests. Public media, including Public Service Broadcasters, as well as the local public media, are under the most direct political influence, since the appointment procedures are believed to be a matter of political agreement instead of candidates’ credentials. The politically determined appointments seem to be the rule in electing editorship, as Radmila Žigić of PAN radio, Bijeljina, stated: “politically undesirable ones cannot become editors” in public media. In private media outlets the appointment of editor is matter of personal decision of the owner, often based on political affiliations rather than professional criteria.
Financial dependence of media on government funding is also believed to be frequently used by the centres of political power to assure the media support, especially during election campaigns. The cantonal and municipal public media, which are particularly dependent on the government funding, are especially susceptible to political interference. The pressures sometimes take form of violation of journalists’ labour rights or unwarranted changes in editorial structures. 
Means of compliance with interests of major power centres
In order to assure the compliance of the journalists with the business and political interests of the owners and affiliated political and economic elites, some practices of censorship occur, but are rare. More often, rather sophisticated methods limit the autonomy of journalists. As our respondents indicated the quality of journalism is hindered and the compliance with centres of power is assured through different practices:
journalists are (sometimes possibly intentionally) overburdened so that they do not have time to investigate certain stories; 
those journalists that fail to comply face risk of getting marginalised or degraded in the newsroom; 
self-censorship, as generally the most prevalent practice; 
journalists who criticise public institutions and powerful social actors, such as criminal circles, tycoons and religious communities are exposed to pressures. The pressures involve threats, verbal and physical assaults on journalists, pressures on the media by advertisers and political actors, as well as lawsuits against media and journalists. Free Media Help Line records around 40 different kinds of threats and pressures per year;
and finally, some corruptive practices involve journalists as well. For instance Emir Musli, reporter of DW and Dnevni avaz, believes that some actors are promoted by the media based on the fact that journalists or the editors are on their payrolls. Other journalists suggest that corruptive relations also take forms of “favours”, such as enabling bank loans for journalists or using private relations and friendships in order to “pull strings” where needed. That these practices exist beyond speculations is confirmed by Željko Raljić, editor-in-chief of the magazine Respekt, who reported getting an offer to be remunerated so he would not publish the issue of the magazine focused on the dubious property of the current Minister of industry of the RS.
As the result, critical writing about the financer is almost impossible, both in the case of a public donor (some level of government) or private company with big advertising contract with the media outlet. 
Under-protected labour rights and unflattering position of journalists
Journalists’ are more susceptible to the pressures under the socio-economic position they are working in. Labour rights are generally under-protected. The most often violated labour rights of the journalists are related to salary payments. The average journalist salary (around 407€) is just below the country average, but they significantly differ between large urban media and small local ones. The journalists complain of low wages, irregular payments, reduced social benefits and unpaid overtime work. Elma Geca, president of the Trade union in Radio Television Goražde, for example reported (interview, October 2013) that she had just received the first half of the June salary.
The procedures that should safeguard journalists within the employing companies, in courts or at administrative bodies (such as labour inspectorate) are overly slow and inefficient. In addition, nepotism, party affiliations and corruption as a part of employment practices is considered to be extremely high.
Since employees could be easily dismissed under the pretext of economic or administrative reasons, and since the labour market does not provide opportunities for easy alternative employment, the position of journalist is highly vulnerable and their autonomy is far from being protected. Journalists argue not only that “working professionally as a rule does not pay off” (Radmila Žigić, PAN radio), but actually working against the professional standards sometimes becomes the only way to assure the existential minimum for journalists and their families (Milkica Milojević, president of the association BH Journalists).
Collective organising
In spite of well-developed legal framework and large membership in the trade unions, journalists do not feel protected. Whereas trade union organising is not practiced in private media houses, trade unions in public media are inefficient, journalists note.
Most (out of six) journalist associations existing in the country fail to serve their purpose. Among these associations, “BH Journalists” is most positively evaluated by the journalists, especially due to the Free Media Help Line, which enables journalists to report any kind of bad treatment and to obtain legal and other support. Despite the high number of journalists taking membership in professional organisations (over 1900) the political and ethnic fragmentation and lack of common collective actions limits their reach and possible results.
Public officials producing instead of condemning, pressures on journalists
Verbal attacks on journalists by the political actors and public officials are not uncommon. Such was a public statement of the Republika Srpska President to the journalists of BNTV accusing them of "taking the money from the Americans in order to destroy him". Another example is the editor of the magazine Slobodna Bosna who reported numerous threats and insults addressed to him by the Chief of the Intelligence Sector of the Police of the Federation BiH in May 2013. A representative in the Assembly of Una-Sana Canton even physically attacked a journalist of online media INmedia.ba in January 2013, while a journalist of VIK TV was attacked due to his critique of the work of the Major of Vlasenica Municipality, by a person affiliated with the Major.
An additional way in which public officials pressurise the journalists is to deny them any kind of contact or a statement as retaliation for critical reporting – in this way the Government of the RS boycotted BHRT and BN television, and the mayor of Bihać did the same to RTV of Una-Sana Canton. Public officials are also raising the majority of the lawsuits for libel against journalists, often ending in rather high fees. The cases involving prominent political actors usually raise doubts in credibility and political bias of the courts. Even more so, the participation of journalist in the court processes is often tedious, time and money consuming and it likely discourages investigative journalism and critique.
Media and February protests in BiH
The protests taking place in BiH since the 6th of February 2014, have involved major controversies about the manner media have been reporting about it. Different commentators observed that media have been playing major role in tendentious speculations regarding the protests’ motives and aims.
The major flaws media outlets made resulted from uncritical transmission of the public officials’ statements. As a result, the nature of the protests was politicised and presented primarily as a chaotic outburst of “hooliganism” and violence (see for example analytical article by Paulina Janusz, “Spin of a spin” published by MC Online), or in the light of ethno-national divisions and animosities (for example article published in Press RS: “Protestants were promised the weapons for attacks on Republika Srpska”) 
These spins blurred the actual motives of the protests, which are dire socio-economic position of citizens, dissatisfaction with the performance of current cantonal and other governments, and high level of corruption. Media outlets seem to have been largely unprepared for these developments and notably abided with the interests of the political elites. Future analyses will hopefully give more substantial insights into the performance of the media and the circumstances that hindered the relevance and quality of media reports.
*This flash report is for most part based on excerpts from a longer research article.
Summarised by Jovana Mihajlović Trbovc 
Media Integrity