Interviews with participants of the Stability Pactís Media Task Force - National Working Groups
After the meeting of the Stability Pactís Media Task Force on October 10 in Brussels, Roland Brunner spoke for Medienhilfe Ex-Jugoslawien with the representatives of the National Working Groups from Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegowina, Serbia and Macedonia.
After this meeting, what do you expect from the SP-MTF for the media in your country?
Davor Glavas: Well, I do hope that after this meeting and after the members agreed on the action plan for the national working groups we will be in the position to negotiate and to talk and discuss not only with the government but also with other institutions as well to see where and how we can improve the position of the media in the country. We do hope that with the support from the Stability Pact and from other institutions we will succeed in this. We know more or less what to do, we know what should be done to improve the situation of the media in Croatia. We hope now for an additional support negotiating with our respective governments.
Vladan Radosavljevic: I expect now a better organisation of the NWGs and full affirmation of that groups. You know, there are still many difficulties in working with that groups. People donít understand all the rules and the importance of the Stability Pactís national working groups of the Media Task Force. I hope that will be clearer in the next period. I must say as the chairman for the Serbia working group that the situation is clearer for me personally and that the meeting was very comfortable. I will explain this to the members of my group as we have one goal and that is Ė together with the other working groups and independent organisations Ė to move things in Serbia, first of all to make pressure on authorities to accept new media laws. And the second to work on is the transition of media where we are still at the very beginning.
Duska Jurisic: For Bosnia-Herzegovina, we expect some concrete action: first of all it should at least be decided about the draft on the terms of reference for the NWG and about our strategy. Afterwards we need to define the priorities for the media in Bosnia-Herzegovina, what our specific assignment are going to be, to develop the projects and to suggest them to the donors. Thatís basically it.
Roberto Belicanec: I saw for the first time something concrete, something specific in the SP-MTF. That was not the case before. Itís going to start, but I cannot say that I expect too much. We should just wait and see how this will develop. There is a need for strong political commitment in the region, also in the media field. Supplying the funds is not enough, until political pressure is made on the governments to open the questions on infrastructure and to solve them. The governments are the only partners that are capable to do that, because it is a political issue and cannot be done without political pressure. I donít expect too much to change.
The Stability Pact is a regional initiative for the whole of South-Eastern Europe. You heard all the reports given by representatives from other countries, including Albania and Romania. Do you feel there is enough in common among these countries to develop common strategies and answers?
Davor Glavas: Well, we do share some problems. The media situation in Croatia is indeed better compared to the problems which media have in other countries in the region, but this doesnít mean that there is not enough space to improve the position of the media in Croatia, right? Some of the problems are common in the whole region like legislation or like the problems of journalism as a profession. We discuss these problems of working contracts and the role of trade unions etc. So, I feel that there are some common problems we can work on at regional level.
Vladan Radosavljevic: Serbia is not completely different from the other countries present here. I found very, very similar problems in other reports. There isnít any clear legislative solution in Serbia as in any other country. The situation is very similar also with the transition of the media. But I must say that I am Ė maybe itís not the right word Ė satisfied and happy that we are not in a much worse position then other countries which have been under democratic government for more time than Serbia with the only one year. Despite they had more time to solve the problems, they are in almost the same position as we are. We can hope that developments in Serbia will be quicker, because we can base our work on the experience drawn from the other countries in the region. Their experiences is very, very useful to speed things up in Serbia.
Looking back to October 5, 2000 the expectations that everything would change fast were high. But since than, things didnít change that much. Veran Matic writes in his twelve months analysis on media development in Serbia that the situation looks as it looked before, just more chaotic. Why do you think that things should go faster now? How do you see things speeding up?
Vladan Radosavljevic: You are right, in this last year our media situation got stuck in three big knots. The first knot is in the legislation, the second knot, there isnít any sign that the transition will start and the third knot is that there isnít any sign that independent media will be in a better position, but if you look all that from the point of how things looked two or three or more years ago, itís still a big step ahead.
Ms. Jurisic, how did you feel media in BiH being in line with the problems and the situation presented by the other NWGís? Or is the situation in BiH too different from the other countries?
Duska Jurisic: The situation and the problems are not very different. There are plenty of similarities. Actually there are much more similarities than differences. So I think that we can stick together.
And for Maceconia, Roberto Belicanec? Do you feel that Macedonia is a very specific case after all what happened during the last couple of months does it fit with its problems into the framework of the other countries addressed raised here?
Roberto Belicanec: The situation in Macedonia is frozen because of what happened in the last time. Not much moved in the media field since February, especially in the media legislation. There were several legislations stopped, actually all the legislation process was stopped because of the Ohridís constitutional changes that should be made. On one way or another the situation is similar, the problems are similar. Lets say in some parts of the media field Macedonia is more advanced, in some not. But when I was listening to my colleagues from the region, I had nothing to add, the problems were already mentioned, it is only a repetition of the cases, just the modalities are different, but the essence is the same. The problem of the transformation of the public broadcast system is the same, the problem of inadequate legislation is the same, the problem of the labour-force in journalism is the same. Even the financial schemes and the penetration of foreign capital is the same. There is nothing specific from that point. The only specific thing for Macedonia at this moment is the raise of ďhate speechĒ and the penetration of the intelligence services into journalism, sometimes leading to the abuse of data. There is a problem with an ethic codex not developed enough. Actually a Macedonian problem different from other countries is that the profession is more vulnerable for political pressure than in other countries, because the profession is not very well organized. There is an unworkable Association of Journalists, but there is no trade union and there is no mechanism that could stop the political or economic pressure on the media.
What is next the working group will work on when you come back to Macedonia? What are the tasks and priorities now?
Roberto Belicanec: First we have to find out who is about to buy Nova Macedonia (NM). That is a big problem! NM is state-owned and the biggest printing and distribution company in Macedonia. Most of the shares are in the hand of the government, only a small amount is in the hands of the people who work there. The company makes a 12 million DM losses per year. It is a huge system including two daily papers and a couple of weeklies. Selling this whole complex without splitting it into smaller entities is dangerous, because NM also has the hugest roto-printing press in the country, a huge distribution network with trucks for delivering the newspapers and the broadest kiosk-network. If that system is privatised with foreign management entering, it will crash every newspaper on the market with a almost monopolistic position. This state system has to be cut in pieces before selling separately the distributive network, the printing house and the news production to different owners. We are informed that a foreign company is interested in buying the whole system together. This is what we know from sources very, very close to the general manager. We will have to see what is really going on. Iím not against foreign capital entering Macedonia, but Iím against the concentration of that state-power in one private hand. This is an infrastructure problem and I see that in some way it is under the auspices of the Stability Pact. The task of the Stability Pactís Media Task Force is to develop the independent free media, the free speech, so you cannot leave aside the creation of big monopolies. You must do something to stop it.
After solving this problem, we should revise the working program and formulate the strategy in our language, include the raise of Ďhate speechí as a topic and try to find mechanisms how to stop it. Iím very sceptical whether this is possible, because it is not depending too much on journalism and the journalistic profession, but it is simply the media speaking out the sentiment of society which is not going on a good track at the moment.
One problem most of you mentioned thatís the problems you face with the governments not moving as fast as needed. Mr. Glavas said for Croatia that there is no international pressure anymore and that the government therefore doesnít move anymore. What do you see the Stability Pact or the Media Task Force could do here?
Davor Glavas: The international community has to remind the Croatian government of what it had agreed on in January 2000 after the elections. I donít think that there is a deliberate attempt not to implement all the basic principles for the media throughout the country. But in fact there are always some other priorities, there is always something more important for the government to work on. So I think that we will have to remind them and we have to be stubborn in reminding them of what the role of the media in a democracy and what their position in the democracy should be. I think that too often in Croatia the government doesnít understand, doesnít want to understand or is not competent enough to understand all the elements of what media in a democracy should be. I said once that sometimes it is easier to change the government than to change the mentality of the politicians. Here the largest impediment we have to do with is the mentality of the politicians, not something which is a defined political strategy or government policy.
Vladan Radosavljevic: The situation in Serbia is also not that good, but we must understand that we spent only one year, a totally unclear year, since the Serbian elections. The president for example is a man from the ex-regime, Milosevicís regime. We have a lot of job to do to clean our house, but we started. We are not satisfied with the progress, but we are satisfied that it at least began. The Stability Pact is one of the institutions that can make permanent pressure on a government. The new regime in Serbia is much more flexible than the Milosevic regime, but they need permanent pressure to make a first clear step.
Roberto Belicanec: The Stability Pact is a contract between states, we have the member states who have their diplomacy through which they can act. The Media Task Force can set up the strategy and the priorities.The member states can enforce them- if their diplomats apply them Ė and then the effect will be visible very fast. It is as simple as that, but it depends on the priorities which the member countries will have and on the diplomatic will to pass a clear message.
All representatives of the NWGís mentioned as one big problem the transformation of the state media to Public Broadcasters. In BiH, this attempt is being undertaken since more than five years now and after all unsuccessful attempts there is now again a new one. Ms. Jurisic, how will the working group address this issue?
Duska Jurisic: Well, first of all we are going to encourage the international community and the people who right now work at Television Bosnia-Herzegovina, to transform the station in a public broadcasting service as soon and as fast as possible. Our further action will be to encourage and to reinforce this, to make the procedure to establish public broadcasting service faster as well as recommending and finding the funds to make it self-sustainable. And of course we will continue helping with the education for the journalists, because there is a serious lack in investigative journalists and good managers, especially in the electronic media in Bosnia-Herzegovina. These are the things on which we are going to insist. We do have some legislation for free access to information, an information law etc. Thatís the difference to the other countries. We are going to encourage the implementation of these laws.
There was a lot of discussion about governments still politicising and directly influencing the media. Is this the problem also in BiH and what can the Stability Pactís Media Task Force do about it?
Duska Jurisic: The strategy of the Media Task Force is that the international community should continue with political pressure. And I think that political pressure should be directed in that way to explain the governments, to pressure them to understand that although a part of their budget is going to be used for public service media, that these media donít belong to them.
Also in Macedonia, the state-TV is an issue. Channel 2 once was a set up as a minority media. What happened to this channel? Channel 3 was planned to become a new multiethnic station. What happened to the plans for Channel 3?
Roberto Belicanec: Channel 3 is just re-broadcasting CNN all the time since September 11. Channel 2 is a mixed minority and Macedonian-speaking easy-looking program, i.e. the more commercial part of the Macedonian Television. Until eight oíclock there are minority shows and newscasts going on. They have since February an Albanian program going on regularly. There is also a small amount of Turkish program every day, and since February once or twice a week something in Roma-language and Serbian. But after eight or nine oíclock in the evening - this depends on the day - there are only musical shows or something like that.
Assessing the media situation in Macedonia now, are there any professional media left or would you say they have all been swept away by nationalism? How would you describe the media situation in Macedonia at the moment?
Roberto Belicanec: There are two phases we can distinguish. It is a very strange thing. In the first phase, when the conflict was at its high peak, the media behaved more responsible than now. When the peace process began, the wave of hatred passed through. We would expect something completely different. Yes, there are voices of insanity, there is irresponsibility still. I cannot say that all were immune. At some point almost everyone has a black spot on the reporting, failed one day or two days, slipped in one commentary or in one news. They were working under hard pressure. In general, the reporting is still quite professional, but the mainstream-media are catching up the hate speech in a very subtle way now, after the worst of the conflict is over and the peace process began.
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