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    Focus Group “Media Financing from Public Budgets”, 15.05.2018

    THE PRESS COUNCIL IN BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

    Sarajevo, May 15, 2018

    The Press Council in BiH  organized the discussion “Financing Media from Public Budgets” as part of the project “Media and Public Credibility” that took place on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 in the Bosnia Hotel, Sarajevo. The discussion was attended by editors, journalists, representatives of media organizations, municipalities, government institutions and the academic community, with the to try to identify together the problems that exist in the area of media financing from public budgets, and provide expert recommendations for possible solutions to this problem.

    The introductory speakers at the discussion included Mr. Dario Novalić, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Press Council in BiH and Director of the magazine “Start” and Mr. Adnan Osmanagić, Director of radio Stari Grad.

    Media financing from public budgets is a general societal problem, not just the media’s. The government spends 30 million KM per year on media, and those are mainly public services and cantonal radio-television stations. It is very important to know who decides on the awarding of funds and based on which criteria, for which program content, and who and how monitors the manner of spending the funds received, what are the characteristics of media contents receiving support and what are the characteristics of the media applicants. Currently this is not transparent. An especially problematic issue is who and how gives resources to media, under which conditions. The manner in which it is currently being done is not satisfactory. There were proposals to form independent committees and commissions for the awarding of funds to media from public budgets. The independent commission should oversee the legitimacy of procedures, the abidance of standards of public funds spending, as well as the results realized and their contribution to public interest.  

    Such an independent commission should also monitor the realization of fund spending, and its members should be representatives from professional journalists associations. The public must be informed about the competition procedure, as well as about the conditions that the media houses must fulfill in order to receive support from public budgets. According to recommendations from professionals, the discussion’s participants, the most efficient solution would be that the media receive financial support exclusively from one source - Treasury Operations of the Ministry of Finance, and this should be exclusively program budgeting. Such financing would be easier to monitor, the public interest would be included from the planning phase as one of the most important conditions for awarding the funding, and the precise data on to who, for what and with what expectations is money given to a certain media  would be available.  

    Participants of the focus group also pointed to the problem of the lack of existence of a second and third program on the public services, which would allow for the current limited program offer, mainly of political nature, to expand to tens of other important programs that the public services are legally obligated to develop. Three thematic components were defined that should be in such program budgeting: Sustainability and independence of media, Investigative journalism and Cultural heritage, where content about life topics would be developed, such as drama, schooling, children’s and educational programs and stories about the average person and his or her problems, and not just politics. In this context, there is the issue of financing private and commercial media from public budgets, which would in part of their program budgeting offer quality diversity content lacking in the public services. Such content could also be developed from the additional funds coming to the public budgets from the Communications Regulatory Agency, making use of it to finance quality professional programming and not just media.

    When awarding budget funds to media we should look to the EU practice. In many EU countries, financing to media is given, but without interfering in their editorial policy and imposing control over the program content. In the BiH context, financing the media from public budgets is a direct attack on the independence of its programing content. In many cases, these media become PR services of cantonal or municipal governments, the independence of their news content is suffocated, the media become an extended arm of the politics, while the public interest is completely disregarded. Interest of political parties is not the public interest. That is why we need the requirement for media support to be aimed at increasing the quality and professionalism of the programming content.

    The discussion saw participation from representatives of: the Press Council in BiH, magazine “Start”, Radio Stari Grad, The Communications Regulatory Agency - CAR, the Center for Investigative Journalism - CIN, the portal radiosarajevo.ba, the Faculty of Political Science in Sarajevo - Communicology Department, Mediacentar Sarajevo, the dailies “Oslobodjenje” and “Dnevni Avaz”, magazine “Dani”, the news agencies Patria and FENA, the Center for Media Development and Analysis, the Municipality Old Town, the BHRT Public Broadcasting Service, the Ministry of Traffic and Communications of BiH and former media ombudsmen.

    The Focus Group is realized within the project “Media and Public Credibility”, implemented by the Consortium of four organizations in BiH, with support of the EU Delegation in BiH: The Press Council in BiH, Media Center, JaBiHuEU and the BH Journalists Association. The Project “Media and Credibility” aims at preparing the legislative framework for the regulation of transparency of media ownership, media financing and advertising in BiH. These areas are of special importance for the freedom of research, journalists’ protection and preventing pressure against media and the journalists.

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