IWPR'S BALKAN CRISIS
REPORT, NO. 275, Part II, August 29, 2001
FOCUS ON BOSNIAN MEDIA
COMMENT: WASTED MILLIONS
Huge sums of money have
been invested in Bosnia's media, with too few results.
By Zoran Udovicic in Sarajevo
years after the end of the war, the media scene in Bosnia and Herzegovina
continues to go from bad to worse. Despite millions of dollars of international
aid, most media organisations lack strategies for business and professional
development, and the overall reputation of the industry appears to be in decline.
one of the key engines of democratic change in any country, and in numerical
terms alone Bosnia may look rich. But Western-inspired efforts are now being
made by the Communications Regulatory Agency to improve programme content and
prune back the number of independent and other broadcasters who mushroomed
during the war to champion one or other of the country's three ethnic groups.
print media, no such efforts are being made. There is no regulatory body with
powers to set up minimum professional, management and financial requirements.
main daily newspapers in Bosnia have together an average circulation of between
80,000 and 90,000 copies. This is only an estimate since circulation data is
considered a top business secret. The three oldest papers, Oslobodjenje, Glas
srpski (formerly Glas) and Jutarnje Novine (formerly Vecernje Novine), each with
more than 40 years of publishing history, are facing serious problems over
funding, industrial action and the consequences of clumsy privatisation.
moment, there is only one newspaper with readers in the Federation and Republika
Srpska. This is the Nezavisne (Independent) novine run by popular Banja Luka
editor and businessman Zeljko Kopanja. All other papers seem resigned to selling
only among one ethnic community.
weekly magazines, Dani, Slobodna Bosna and Reporter, initially prospered but,
despite hundreds of thousand of dollars invested in them from abroad, have
failed to achieve financial sustainability.
newspaper which seems to be doing well at the moment is the Sarajevo daily
Dnevni Avaz, but even that has been strongly criticised by some local and
Western experts for its political shifts and questionable financial arrangements.
newspaper was established during the Bosnian war as a mouthpiece for the ruling
Bosniak nationalist Party of Democratic Action. It shifted its political stance
as soon as the party lost power to the currently ruling moderate Alliance for
addition, the owner of the newspaper, Fahrudin Radonjcic, never properly
explained the origin of the funds used to run the newspaper. His paper recently
moved to a brand new luxury building - again without revealing where the money
broadcasting too, Western investment has had its failures. The initial priority
was to build a parallel system in which independent local media operated
alongside two regional networks - the TV Open Broadcast Network, OBN, and the
radio network FERN. But the big local networks (RTV BiH, RTRS and Erotel)
remained controlled by the nationalist parties and continued to attract the bulk
of the audience.
the international community has ceased donations to Radio Fern and OBN, and is
now concentrating on a complex transformation of the state broadcasters into
public ones, both of which would draw their output in part from a planned
central Public Broadcasting Service. While this process of changes is taking
years to implement, Fern has been integrated into the new public radio service,
while OBN has found itself in a grave financial crisis.
due to the new and very strict regulations, more than half of Bosnia's 210 radio
stations and 71 TV studios may shut down. The regulatory agency has had some
success in setting professional standards for broadcasters but has itself run
into criticism for being too much under Western control.
all the problems, most observers feel the current state of the media in Bosnia
and the rest of the Balkans is hardly surprising in view of its history - the 50
years of socialism followed by a rebirth of nationalism, the wartime propaganda
frenzy and post-war economic chaos.
the war, international organisations charged with implementing the peace in
Bosnia had to face fiercely nationalistic governments and politically
manipulated journalists who were mostly intent on obstructing change. Because
the media played such a major political role in provoking conflict in the
Balkans over the past 10 years, the West felt obliged to focus on it with
financial and advisory help.
to an independent media organisation, the Sarajevo-based Media Plan Institute,
Western countries have spent or invested about 135 million marks in Bosnian
media during the past six years. The OBN project alone consumed some 40 million
the international projects were expensive and complex. Many of them were
implemented without a firm, long-term strategy and based on ad-hoc decisions
reflecting the conflicting interests of various Western countries.
projects achieved some results, like cutting down inflammatory material in the
media and in professional education for journalists. But according to some
observers, the changes came at too high a cost. Critics complained that the
international community had assigned politicians who had led the country into
war to be responsible for democratising the media. They found these leaders
preferred to block media reforms rather than carry them out.
last few years, state RTV networks have freed themselves from party pressures -
in some cases with strong international intervention or oversight. However,
their transition from the state to public service has been very slow. PBS has
been an idea on paper for the last two and a half years.
privatisation of local newspapers and magazines has been marred with problems
local radio and TV stations are barely surviving although American donors try to
prop up the Association of Independent Electronic Media which is supposed to
protect the interests of small broadcasters.
to local and foreign media experts, international projects were carried out with
little understanding of local needs. Only rarely, according to these experts,
did some Western official or agency enter into a real, constructive partnership
with local media.
of German marks were spent on numerous short training courses which were often
taken up by local journalists more interested in travelling to Western Europe
and tourism than learning news skills. Many journalist trainers were incompetent
and came with little or no knowledge of the media situation in Bosnia. Much
remains to be done but the flow of international money seems to have dried up.
This means that local media, journalists, managers, analysts and eventually the
state must do the job themselves.
Udovicic, a long-time journalist and media researcher, is the founder and
president of Sarajevo-based Media Plan, a media development and research
source: IWPR Report 275, Part II
P.O. Box, CH-8031