FROM BIH: TEACHERS AND A GROWING CHILD
OBSERVATIONS ON BIH MEDIA SPHERE AND INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY 
27-09-2001, Tarik Jusić & Svjetlana Nedimović, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Media Online has so far run a few texts on the problems and specifics of media reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina. If one was to analyse this whirlpool of problems that seems so chaotic, one would surely find that there was some order in that chaos - and one could identify two big clusters of problems: the interior ones, related to media themselves, and those exterior, generated by the complex socioeconomic and political environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina of the day.
Media in Bosnia and Herzegovina do not benefit from market competition as the media market is underdeveloped, and existing tax and employment regulation disfavor creation of self-sustainable and competitive media environment. This is additionally aggravated by poor management in many of the media outlets, and appalling education of journalists. Journalism as profession is still an embryo and moreover - one that may not live or may easily degenerate, especially as society is so radically fragmented and polarized that it can hardly produce any coherent and effective public action, which would help control media and make them responsible to their public.
On the other hand, one could be more merciful in passing a judgment on journalism and media since Bosnia and Herzegovina is not the most fertile soil for freedom of speech and press in general. Not only does the state have one of the most complex institutional compositions, having come out of the war only to enter political and economic transition, and not only is political culture in Bosnia and Herzegovina developing extremely slowly and painfully, but media sphere is also somewhat of an open space, exposed to volatile winds from all sides of the world: local media experts, local politicians, media professionals, media managers, public(s), international politicians, international media experts, international media trainers, all of them with their own vision of what the media should be and do.
All these voices have been heard, loud and clear, in this journal before you. And we would not even attempt to wave a magic stick at all of them, to make them concert their tones, especially as this is a rather tentative conclusion to an ongoing saga of transition in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But we do not hesitate to warn all of them, without a single exception, that neither criticising endlessly what has been done so far nor defending hopelessly more or less grave mistakes is going to take us anywhere.
Repeating attempts at reversing the clock and starting from scratch in reforming the media only make it worse, because Bosnian ‘scratch’ rests on thick layers of previous attempts, and those cannot be erased. The solution is to acknowledge them, failures as well as successes, and to work with them. BiH is already on the way to some destination point, it is not a tabula rasa. Nor are its media free of history. For this reason we shall eschew any re-definition of objectives, any new, radical cuts in media policy and choose to advise continuity and diachronic approach to the overall transition, media included. The answer is to polish the working understanding of transition, to define it in finer detail, not to keep changing its course.
We in BiH talk of media transition without sometimes understanding the whole complexity of the term. Media transition is a multileveled, multidimensional process, or a set of processes that imply continuous change. We would therefore argue that the right approach is to bear the overall, big picture of ‘transition’ in mind when designing more specific media policies, but also to look at each level and dimension of transition through microscopic lenses. By this we mean, above all, moving on once and for all from those very general principles and goals such as ‘democracy’ or ‘free media’ as they are so meaning-laden that they are close to be meaningless.
We should therefore contemplate how to understand, and how to navigate: (1) legal transition of media system, (2) political transition within and around media arena, (3) structural transition of media scene, (4) economic transition toward market oriented media, (5) cultural transition of media organizations, media professionals and audiences within wider cultural changes in society that is abandoning authoritarian modes of conduct and thinking, (6) symbolic transition of codes and contents used in societal communication, (7) transition within professional standards and ethics of journalists, (8) transition of educational system that is key determinant for the creation of media competence in society, and (9) technological transition as additional determinant of restructuring of media system in general.
At this point, our reader may expect from us to hint at a prescription by answering the questions where we are going, and how to get there. That is precisely the problem of BiH transition: for we should not keep inventing answers to these questions, but start finding them. Due to the complexity of all these transitional processes one should not expect all of them to start at the same time, to develop along the same path, and certainly not to be finished at the same time. Nor shall all of them necessarily enjoy the fruits of success. These processes are not simultaneous, nor parallel. This means that the media transition(s) is/are never to be actually finished – borders and objectives of change are constantly reconstituted as the change gains its momentum. Technology influences legislation, which influences politics, which influences practice, which influences culture, and so on. What we try to do is to match these various levels while trying to understand and perhaps guide those processes.
The attempt to harmonise various aspects of media transition inevitably faces us with questions, which lie at the very core of permanent friction within media system and society in general, and which are thus engine for the actual change that unfolds. For example, what is the level of compatibility between media and the audience? Are media professionals capable of meeting the demands of media market? Can media market as is it cope with ever faster technological development? Even more importantly, can media legislation and the government keep up with the pace of technological progress? Finally, can education respond to the growing complexity of media environment?
But, in all this talk of media, one key-element is easily overlooked, what media are really about: the relationship between journalists and their public. The question is whether Bosnian journalists are sensitive enough to delicate problems of democratic communication within a modern multicultural and multipolitical society that is emerging before them. Many among them are still struggling with the very basics of democracy and democratic deliberation, let alone the subtle issues of symbolic exchange in the triangle of media, civil society and state. Should journalists fail to keep up with the pace of changes, democracy will suffer from the lack of informed public debate, the pre-condition of its sustainability.
One unavoidable aspect of these media reforms is certainly international
involvement. Media in Bosnia and Herzegovina need to be supported and guided
through their transition - and this has certainly proved so for total local
ownership in any aspect of either peace implementation or democratisation has
not taken us very far. International community is aware of this. Bur there has
to be a clear definition where they are heading and how they are to get there.
The ‘big picture’ of Bosnian transition, its objectives and mechanisms, must
be defined and communicated to and within all segments of BiH society, media
included. At the same time, it must be specified till when or up to what point
in transition, which - as we already pointed out - never really ends due to the
inherent characteristics of both media and society, international community
intend to assist the local forces: ultimately, when are we going to be mature
enough to take over the full burden on our shoulders? International community
has so far erred in as much as it adopted a piecemeal approach to promulgation
of its intentions, while setting before itself very general ultimate objectives.
But international community now needs to understand that Bosnia, its political structures and its society as well as its media, are 'growing up', and it is time for international administrators to enjoy the fruits of their labour - to trust local structures with a share of responsibility and to give them credit by talking and advising, rather then simply directing. It is the very international community that has trained and disciplined and looked after this sometimes troublesome and volatile 'child' - but the process started six years ago. The 'teacher' should now see that the 'child' has learnt some of the lessons, and it may no longer need help with homework. More specifically, both Bosnian public and media have learnt one of the most important lessons of democracy - that they have the right to ask, to know and to decide on the basis of their cognition. They do not have to put up with top-down decisions, decrees, resolutions lacking explanation and explanations lacking resolution. The worst thing that the 'teacher' can now do is to break the rules set early on and thus to reverse the education process.
But we do have to be fair here. There is certainly a degree of sensitivity in international community to the issue of local ownership, which has recently become one of the trendy phrases of Bosnian public discourse. But, there needs to be more than just sensitivity - what is required is modification of policies and procedures in relations between BiH and its international administration. To be specific, how about opening up to the home public, not only through web sites and PR campaigns or employment of local consultants, but through inviting independent experts or simply civil society to take part in deliberation when designing future strategy of international involvement in all its details. And when we say, to take part, we are actually referring to proper advisory boards within international institutions - and these boards would have to be given the power not to be ignored, if nothing else. This may mean more work but certainly fewer errors than simply assuming, not to say speculating. Views of the local people may well be awkward, as are many questions that international community is now asked by its 'student', but this is called democracy, where the administration - home or international - does not have the right to remain deaf to warnings and wishes of its citizens, no matter how bad a headache they may cause.
Bearing all this in mind, and relying on what has already been achieved in the media transition in Bosnia-Herzegovina, we dare suggest where to future orchestrated efforts should be directed in order to advance media development in the country.
First of all, there is a need for the development of functional and
self-sustainable dual broadcasting system that features both an editorially
independent public service sector and a commercial broadcasting sector. Prompt
transformation of state broadcasting into editorially independent public
broadcasting system that will operate on both entity and state levels is
absolute priority. This also includes the necessity of providing stable funding
for public broadcasters.
Development of public broadcasting is directly linked to radical cut in the state intervention into media sphere, which must be considered a crucial task of media policy and legislation. This must be accompanied by enhanced effectivness of self-regulation mechanisms, to make up for the gap once the state withdraws. As risky as this may seem, for media are not always most responsible in exercising their precious freedom, only a heavily limited state presence in the media sphere guarantees the editorial independence, and fair, uncensored and independent information.
Editorial independence is of course a very frail and delicate plant, with high maintenance requirements. Those who are asked to put at stake much more than many other professionals - as journalists are - must be aided in their efforts by efficient, skilled and committed legal assistance. But, this is only one side of the story, the legal one. Independence in a capitalist market economy, the stable and emerging ones equally, is much to do with one's daily bread - and how much of that bread one actually gets. If our 'plant' it is to live and grow, conditions must be created for independent sources of income to emerge. This is to do with, above all, development of media market, as an incentive but also a challenge to all media. They will have to work on their management and their development strategies, but those who do so will be rewarded by financial stability at much lower cost than at times of heavy state involvement.
All this is not worth a penny of course unless those who generate media contents cannot staisfy their public. Any further reform in media sphere calls for sweeping changes in education of journalists - and this implies their skills as well as their awareness of their own place, rights and responsibilities in the society.
At the same time, the public must be ready for new media - not only to absorb what it is been fed by skilful professionals, but to keep an eye on them and to be able to identify manipulation or pushing certain limits in the exercise of freedom. This makes building of media competence within society a necessity if we want well-informed civil society capable of adequately dealing with the media. Therefore, media competence should be one of the main targets of systematic efforts directed at creating professional media scene.
As one can see, the list of problems and adequate policies is long and complex indeed. Nevertheless, not much if anything has to be invented, but a lot has to be adjusted and implemented. The way forward is full of obstacles, and it takes effort, expertise, and long-term commitment on all sides if we are to find the right path - and to stick to it. In all this however only one thing is for sure - the 'child' must start walking it by itself, as much as the 'child' may be afraid of dark or wolves.
Tarik Jusic is doing his PhD in Mass Media and Communication at the University of Vienna. Svjetlana Nedimovic is managing editor of Media Online. ©Media Online 2001. All rights reserved.
 The text is based on the conclusions of T. Jusic, Media and Politics in the Clinch, in Albanian Media Institute edition: Exit From Censorship – The Media’s Role in the Post-Dictatorial Transitions, Albanian Media Institute, EJTA, AEFJ, Tirana, 2001.
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