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    Media and the Public Credibility: Media Freedom does not rest only on the Journalists’ Shoulders

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    Author: Alena Beširević

    Can the media be better than society? Where does freedom stop, where does responsibility start, and where does freedom of one endanger the freedom of another? Are we learning? In the era of expansion of online media, which took over as the primary source of information, media freedom and responsibility are becoming topics of increasing debate, while the understanding of these concepts and their practical application are slowly fading. Traditional media in the world are also facing problems determining their guarantee of fully exercising their media freedom. The reasons are often linked to sources of financing and maintaining economic stability.

    The media in Bosnia and Herzegovina face an array of challenges. Even though, according to the index on media freedom by Reporters without Borders, the country advanced by 3 places, thus finding itself on the 62nd position this year, out of 180 countries ranked, we cannot be satisfied with the state of our media.

    Pressure against media

    Even the fact that according to the mentioned index we are better ranked than the countries in the region should be taken with reserve. “It is not the reflection of the actual state, being that it also accounts for the legislative framework which is relatively good in BiH. We are aware of the pressures against the media and of the political subjects competing to overtake various media for self-promotion before and during election campaigning. Unfortunately, even the public broadcasting services, which should be in the service of citizens, are not spared. They are, it seems, under the biggest attack. What can then be said about the private media, which have the right to choose whether they will be right, left, neutral or something else. So, we are not in the best situation”, states Ljiljana Zurovac from the Press Council in BiH.

    Editor of media.ba, the online magazine of Mediacentar Sarajevo, Elvira Jukić-Mujkić, commented the state of media freedom index and BiH’s better ranking compared to other countries in the region, stating that it does not reflect an improvement in the state of media freedom in BiH. “The fact that the stat in the countries in the region is worse does not mean that BiH improved. It can only mean that the freedom of media in the region is more endangered,” says  Jukić-Mujkić.

    Often, we cannot speak about freedom in absolute terms. It is limited, primarily by responsibility towards the community, as well as by the fact that the freedom of one threatens that of another. Journalist and columnist at Al-Jazeera Dragan Bursać holds that nowhere on earth does media freedom exist. He notes that only an individual can be free. “The media is free to the extent that its owner allows. It is so from France to Alaska. We can only speak of free individuals. This is universal in the world. First you fight for freedom as an individual and then as a journalist,” states Bursać.

    Journalists, on the other hand, are working in very poor economic conditions, as freelance contractors or illegally. Considering such social status, they cannot have too much power. This discredits the claim that media freedom should be born solely on the journalists shoulders or that it should be sought in excesses of journalists’ courage. According to Ljiljana Zurovac, that is one of the causes of the distress of media freedom. “When a journalist is materially threatened, he or she is much easier to manipulate. That is why journalists, I will dare say, sometimes disregard professional standards as to avoid being threatened,” states Zurovac.  

    In Bosnia and Herzegovina there are media who through their editorial policy show that they are dependent on some political options. The European Commission Report, published in April 2018, confirms that the political and financial pressures against media continue to take place. “Journalists are divided as well. Even those who are independent, when they research important topics, they are often accused of being on someone’s side. There are several media groups that work for some political options, but this is usually linked to the source of financing. That is why it is very important to know who finances the media,” says Jukić-Mujkić.

    The ownership structure directly decides what the editorial policy of a media will be. “It is so in the USA, in China and in Russia. The media owner decides what will be written between the covers. Journalists only need to decide whether they accept this or not. The problem is that there is no transparency of media ownership and that is where we differ from the rest of the world. We still do not know if the owner is a local peddler, a politician or a tycoon. It is not disputed that people who own numerous villas and mistresses sign off as media owners. It is hypocritical, though, that you know everything in the world but not who the owner is. This is where the Balkan is specific in relation to developed societies,” claims  Bursać.

    The economic and social aspect that creates the conditions for the journalists’ work cannot be a guarantee for the freedom of media, nor protect journalists’ rights, due to an inefficient judiciary system. “The Labor Code protects the work rights of journalists, but there is no law that regards exclusively journalists. If the law was to set what a journalist may or may not do, it would cancel freedom. We have to be careful what we want,” states Zurovac.

    What we want is a healthy democratic society where media freedom will be guaranteed. A society which would be able to recognize deviations and open debates. But in the era of media expansion, tabloids are often resorted to, whilst avoiding issues that are important for the development of society. In addition to sensationalism and tabloids, there is the issue of media pluralism in BiH’s media space. “The problem is that we have a large numbers of media and internet portals, but we do not have pluralism of information,” states  Jukić-Mujkić.

    BiH’s media space is, according to Zurovac, contaminated with spins, propaganda and manipulative articles often presenting half-truths. “It is rare that you read an original article in the mass of media. They say that people do not have the patience anymore to read long articles. Give them quality and you will see if they have the patience,” finds Zurovac.

    The Future Public

    However, the opinions on whether it is the media’s job to educate, are often split. Bursać feels that the media do not have an educational role in society. “The media should be let be. They are as they are. The occurrence of trash and kitsch in the media should not be condemned. We may sometimes act as some elitists, but we are not. We are acting as if our people were much smarter than they are. Everywhere in the world it is known which percentage of people read scientific magazines, and which tabloids. So it will be here, and we cannot do anything about it, because it is not the job of the media. The media inform or provide their opinions through columnists, while other people and other institutions are responsible for education,” states Bursać.

    Zurovac feels that the solution could be to introduce classes of media literacy in the schools. “It is necessary to include serious education on media and digital literacy, and thus shape the future public,” claims Zurovac.

    The situation under our media sky currently is far from ideal. Since the media have always been the reflection of society, they show us that our society is not mature. It is completely unaware of the importance of media freedom, pluralism of information, internet freedom, the public good and responsibility. That is why today, more than ever, it is necessary to open debates on the state of media freedom, educate the young and support those who fight for improvement.

     

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