Return investigative journalism to the mainstream media

Return investigative journalism to the mainstream media
Contribution at the Regional conference on anti-corruption in the media systems in the countries of South East Europe »Media integrity matters«, Ljubljana, 1 December 2014
Politicians have created a latent conflict between the media and the non-governmental sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 
"Who should act to combat corruption in the media systems?  Is it possible to develop an anti-corruption framework to systematically address corruption and clientelism in the media systems? How the work of independent state bodies on anti-corruption can be used here, and how anti-corruption actions of civil society organisations, researchers, and journalists can be integrated in a joint anti-corruption framework in this field?" 

Today, the Bosnia and Herzegovina media are controlled by politicians, either directly or indirectly. Once the media were done with, the politicians turned to civil society organizations. 

These are million-dollar questions that are not easy to answer. I will try to elucidate them by looking into the challenges confronted by investigative journalism in the context of civil society’s activities, particularly within the anti-corruption combat area.
INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM ON THE MARGINS: A few days before this meeting in Ljubljana, I attended a workshop in Belgrade that was supposed to answer the question of whether it is possible to link the activities of NGOs and investigative journalism. What especially surprised me at this session was the conclusion that “investigative journalism has been moving out of the mainstream media,” which is not far from the truth. In fact, the participants at the workshop believed that investigative journalism had been expelled to the margins.
The danger of this situation need not be stressed, since what the purpose of investigative journalism is if the findings cannot reach and stir the public? The main problem is that in such a case the goal of investigation is not achieved, or put differently, the public does not have a chance to become acquainted with the topic that was researched. On the other hand, the impression that is created by the media is that investigative journalism does exist and that “media freedom is not suppressed but, regretfully, the broader public is not interested in these topics.” This, in turn, leads the public to believe that the problems confronting society are not so serious but they are overstated in order to justify donations. All in all, investigative journalism is in crisis.
INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM IS EXPENSIVE: The cause of the crisis is money or rather the lack of money, particularly within the media sector. The media market is impoverished, while the media have become a cheap platform for entertainment. They abandoned their basic mission – to inform the public, so the public opinion is being bombarded by light or entertaining content. The goal is to fill the media space with cheap content at the expense of serious and studious topics. The importance of investigative journalism need not be stressed, but one should keep in mind that quality investigative journalism demands substantial financial investment. Given that those who manage the corrupt system have no interest in developing investigative journalism, it is necessary to provide funds to support investigative journalism, particularly in the mainstream media.
I would like to tag several concepts that should receive attention and adequate analysis in the future. These are: the advertising market and corruption, public funds, public service media, institutional control over the media space, and the difference between investigative journalism and investigatory journalism.
THE LACK OF QUALITY INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTS: The lack of resources and the expulsion of investigative journalism from the mainstream media led to the destruction of the journalistic profession. One can increasingly often hear the conclusion that journalists have become merely microphone holders. Although the journalists are the least to blame for this, the consequences are unimaginable. Let’s suppose that one comes by the funds for an investigative journalism project right now. Such a person would have many difficulties finding a sufficient number of investigative journalists, not to mention the development of investigative journalism and use of modern technologies. In addition, many high education institutions have decided to wind up the investigative journalism courses, meaning that the journalists have been increasingly turned into impassive presenters of ready-made information. Without practice and education, investigative journalism is doomed to die out.
THE OCCUPATION OF PUBLIC SERVICES: Investigative journalism is not a permanent task of public service media, but in societies in transition it is potentially the only free space for the publishing of public interest information. Unfortunately, in Bosnia and Herzegovina public service media are under the control of political parties. Perhaps not all of them to the same degree, but the influence of the government and political parties on their editorial policies is indisputable. The political parties control everything, from the appointment of advisory board members to the financing of public services. One phenomenon which should be particularly mentioned is a low rate of the license fee collection in Bosnia and Herzegovina – lower than 30 percent according to the publicly available information. Since license fee is a kind of tax, it is the state’s duty to ensure that the fee is paid. A reluctance to enforce the payment of license fee is a political decision which indirectly puts the public service into a subordinate position in relation to the political decision-makers, since a financially dependent public service can be more easily manipulated. To put it simply, if public service media had guaranteed funds, the politicians would not be able to blackmail them.
THE MEDIA-NGO CONFLICT: The independent and critical media in Bosnia and Herzegovina that flourished during the late 1990s have recently turned into their antithesis. Today, the Bosnia and Herzegovina media are controlled by politicians, either directly or indirectly, through business conglomerates or persons closely affiliated with the politicians. The reason for this turnabout is a topic in its own right. The fact is that the media were largely independent and critical of the government as long as they received financial support from the international organizations active in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the time. Once the donors withdrew, the space was quickly filled by politicians who subordinated the media to their interests. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, this is especially obvious because the economic arena is under the control of politics. In such an environment, finding an alternative source of funding was a difficult task for the media. Once the media were done with, the politicians turned to civil society organizations. They first undermined the integrity of NGOs and individuals who represent civil society in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The NGOs were portrayed as profitable businesses managed by parasites, or “foreign mercenaries” as they are often called, and their goals as malicious attempts to depict the reality worse than it really was, with the alleged goal behind it all being lucrative donations and projects from which no one benefited except the employees within the non-governmental sector. In this way they created a latent conflict between the media and the non-governmental sector. The intention of the politicians is obvious – first discredit civil society organizations and underrate the value of their analyses and recommendations while painting the picture of the non-governmental sector as an irrelevant and unessential element of society, or as a parasite that wastes the donors’ money. What they expect is that the donors will withdraw their support for civil society organizations as they did in the past with the media. Said figuratively, the political elites would then close all the doors and windows and turn off the light.
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE? My proposals would be as follows:
1. Return the investigative journalism to the media, particularly the “mainstream media;”
2. Encourage donor projects for the development of investigative journalism; 
3. Use investigative journalism to focus attention of the public to corrupt practices (for example, corruption in public tenders, employment, collection and distribution of help for flood victims…) in order to increase the efficiency of the civil society organizations’ activities.