Flash report 4: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Flash report 4: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Dealing with user-generated content which includes discriminatory speech and hate speech is a new preoccupation of the Press Council.
Steady but limited progress of BIH journalist self-regulation 
Journalist self-regulation in BiH began developing when the Press Code was adopted in 1999, and took on new dimensions after the establishment of the Press Council in 2001. The Council was modelled after the self-regulatory body in the UK and formed under the technical and expert support of international donors and development agencies. Its mission is to promote journalistic standards and to mediate and resolve disputes between readers and the press.  It has no power to impose fines on media. 
The transfer of the British self-regulatory model into the local context was not at all easy. Media managers and professionals in BIH were not familiar with, and keen on, the self-regulatory principle. Due to the lack of support and strategic planning, the Press Council faced closure in 2005. However, a newly appointed director Ljiljana Zurovac managed to overcome the crisis in 2006, by gaining the support of media managers through intensive negotiations. Today, the Press Council has 16 active members, but monitors breaches of professional norms in all print and online media, regardless of their membership.
Yet, several strategic reasons continue to impede the development of self-regulatory practices. The most important one is the lack of media independence. The media are highly affiliated and financially dependent on few centres of power - advertisers and their political associates. In a situation when the interests of affiliates are pivotal to their survival, the media are likely to taint professional norms if they conflict with those interests. As Start magazine’s editor and journalist Rubina Čengić1 points out: “Professional norms are consciously violated if the aim is to fawn to someone or to degrade someone’s political opponent”. Advertisers are won by larger audiences, which leads to a disregard for decency, given that “the spicier and more piquant the article is, it is less professional but also more read”, as Čengić said. 
Besides the conditions on the media market, the overall socio-political circumstances are not conducive to the strengthening of self-regulation practices. The public in general is short of experience in self-regulation and participation in decision-making processes. Boro Kontić, director of Mediacentar Sarajevo, believes that scepticism about the importance of individual engagement in democratic processes is still dominant: “Our citizens do not want to vote in elections because they believe one voice cannot change anything. Similarly, there is no public trust that the self-regulatory procedure can bring back dignity to people; they feel that it will rather humiliate them further”.2
Strengths and weaknesses 
Several interviewed media experts, however, believe that the dedication to self-regulation is quite widespread among BiH media and journalists. Ljiljana Zurovac, executive director of the Press Council, points out that there is increased media respect for the right to reply and greater awareness about the benefits of self-regulation, in particular the avoidance of court trials and the gaining of citizens’ trust.3 In 2013, around 60 percent of complaints on journalistic content were solved through quick mediation. Citizens are also increasingly aware of advantages of resolving their media-related issues through the self-regulatory body. It is mostly the citizens that submit complaints about media content to the Press Council. The number of submitted complaints increases each year, which is evident by the fact that the Council received three times more complaints in 2012 than it did in 2009.4 Additionally, the Council has received 105 complaints in only the first four months of 2014, compared to a total number of 205 complaints in all of 2013. 
A great number of media organizations strongly support mediation as a way of solving problems concerning journalist behaviour. The Libel Law, in fact, stipulates that mediation should be exploited before court proceedings in cases of libel. The judiciary is increasingly referring to mediation before statutory measures, but the exploitation of the possibility of mediation is still not perceived to be the regular practice. Zurovac reports that the Press Council has been engaged in educating hundreds of judges on the mediation process for several years now, yet the dynamics of positive change has still not reached the desirable level. 
The commitment to self-regulation is still overly reactive and most often dependent on incentives not coming from media organizations. The media are lacking the will, power and capacities for self-regulation. Internal professional codes of conduct are rare but they do exist in the three public service broadcasters. Yet, mechanisms for the implementation of professional standards and communication with citizens in public service broadcasters are underdeveloped. Media researcher Davor Marko5 believes that, apart from depolitization of the Board of Governors and increasing the role of the Program Council in public service broadcasters, much more should be done to assure “an effective system of checks and balances for the protection of the public interest by the public service media”. 
The reach of the self-regulatory body is still quite limited. The Press Code provides guidelines for credible journalism for those willing and empowered to pursue them. Additionally, the capacities of the Press Council and its sustainability remain underdeveloped and uncertain. Finally, although the activities of the Press Council – publishing retractions, denials, corrections, and removal of contested content - are on the rise, its influence on the overall quality of BiH journalism remains confined. In circumstances which hardly allow financial and political independence and pluralism of media, the key potentials of self-regulation cannot be fully realized. Until the media and journalists are unchained of excessive financial and political pressures, one cannot expect more generous commitment to self-regulatory practices. At the time being, media have higher priorities than developing inner mechanisms to assure responsiveness and commitment to ethical standards. This is equally valid for public service broadcasters as well, since there is a clear lack of effort to revitalize the role of program councils and to develop complaint procedures.  
New challenges
Structural changes caused by new communication technologies bring new challenges to self-regulatory practices. Online communication platforms have been mushrooming. As a response to the growing need for asserting ethical standards in online media, the Press Council extended its authority to the online sphere in 2011. The exercising of that authority is intricate because some online media are not registered as businesses, do not publish contact information, and are not easily reachable by the Council. 
Dealing with user-generated content which includes discriminatory speech and hate speech is a new preoccupation of the Press Council. A majority of online media do not have the capacities to monitor and deal with it on a regular basis. According to Liljana Zurovac, in cases where the Press Council finds user-generated content inappropriate to the socially desirable roles of media, online media overwhelmingly accept to remove the contested content upon the Council’s suggestion (in more than 90 percent of times). 
In 2012, the Press Council and judiciary institutions engaged together on the project “You are not invisible”, which was aimed at identifying and penalizing users disseminating contested content. Zurovac points out that the police and judiciary are still inexperienced in regards to disseminators of hate and discriminatory speech. Although the development of judiciary mechanisms for preventing inadmissible speech in a post-conflict society remains important, it also requires the development of capacities of the civil sector to monitor and assure the legitimacy of procedures for dealing with disseminators of hate speech and to prevent limitation of freedom of expression to the convenience of those in power.
Another problematic issue is the funding of the Press Council. It remains financially dependent on donor support, from which it makes 95 percent of its revenues (5 percent comes from membership fees). The Council received about €1.3 million in grants between 2000 and 2013. The annual budget of the Press Council of approximately EUR 160,000 does not allow proper development of its resources and extensive strategic planning.6 Future substantial contribution to financial sustainability of the Press Council can hardly be expected from the media outlets, which are fighting for their own survival. Thus, the future of the Council is uncertain.
Potentials for synergetic acting
An important institution influencing media freedoms, and to some extent media accountability, is the institution of Ombudsman for Human Rights of BiH, an independent state body. In the period between 2001 and 2010, the equivalent institution that existed on the level of the Federation of BiH (but not in the other entity, Republika Srpska) involved a position of deputy ombudsman for media. The former deputy ombudsman for FBiH, Mehmed Halilović, advocated for media freedoms in several major occasions: he helped change laws which could impose control over media in three cantons, stopped political interference in the editorial policy of public service broadcaster RTVFBiH on three occasions (2003, 2005 and 2008), prevented restraining provisions in the draft Libel Law, etc. In addition, he was issuing recommendations to public authorities and the judiciary for implementation of FOIA, and advocated for development and better implementation of media-related laws.7 Although the deputy ombudsman did not deal directly with the promotion of ethical and responsible journalism, he did have the authority to mediate towards public media outlets and thus promoted their accountability. The equivalent position within the Institution of Ombudsman of BiH does not exist, which means that the media sector is lacking institutional safeguards against political interference, as well as resources for the promotion of accountability of public media. This position could be re-opened within the institution of Ombudsman or within the regulatory body CRA or the Press Council, although it is missing political will to support it. Media professionals believe that establishing this position would have positive effects for the media sector8 and, coupled with existing forms of self-regulation, would produce synergetic effects on the quality of journalism.
1 E-mail interview with Rubina Čengić on 24 April 2014.
2 E-mail interview with Boro Kontić on 22 April 2014.
3 Interview with Ljiljana Zurovac on 28 April 2014.
4 Jusić, T., Ahmetašević, N, Media Reforms through Intervention: International Media Assistance in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Analitika, Sarajevo, 2013, pp. 47-52.
5 E-mail interview with Davor Marko on 1 May 2014.
6 Ibid.
7 The information on the activities of the deputy ombudsman for media was taken from the analysis Mehmed Halilović made at the end of 2011, provided to the author on 23 April 2014; in the project archive.
8 See for example the article by Faruk Borić, available at: http://www.cpu.org.ba/blog-bih/post/2013/zasto-nam-treba-ombudsman-za-me....
Media Policy and Reforms