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    Media and Public Credibility: Law in preparation - media ownership in BiH and the manners of advertising need to be transparent

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    Author: Semir Hambo

    One of the most important laws in BiH is the one which should regulate the issue of transparency of media ownership, as well as improve the advertising market. Due to the lack of adequate legislative regulation the media scene in our country is relatively messy because the work of numerous media cannot be controlled nor monitored. That is why the project “Media and Public Credibility” was initiated, which is supported by the European Union, and which should result in legislative solutions for the issues of media ownership and a better advertising system.

    BiH has no rules, stipulations or decision of a media regulator or any other responsible body that would regulate this issue in accordance with international standards of media transparency and information pluralism.

    Borka Rudic, secretary general of the BH Journalists Association told Klix.ba that the legislative regulation of the issue of transparency of media ownership is necessary in our country. “The law on media transparency is needed in BiH for many reasons. The first one is that our country does not have any regulation that would regulate this issue. Ownership transparency is necessary in order for the citizens to know who is behind a certain media, what kind of politics or other interests, why is certain information placed exactly in that shape, and why, for instance some information about some public events cannot be found at all in certain media. Citizens need information on the owners of media and the politics behind them due to the critical approach when consuming the content of that media and better understanding of news and information they can obtain through that media. The second important reasons for transparency of media ownership are public responsibility and a correct treatment of the public by the media. This is a moral principal requiring ethics from the media in view of behavior towards those whose work is being questioned and criticized by the media, those who they write about, from which they seek transparency in work, public spending and similar,” said Borka.

    She asks the question of how can the media, which do not have clearly stated names of owner or founders, directors, editors, and editorial staff, ask any member of parliament how much money he or she spent on business trips?

    Who stands behind which media

    “This is unfortunately possible in our society, but this is not an honest relation that should be pursued by media and journalists in their work. An important reason for passing this law is the issue of conflict of interest, the movement of money in the media and the impermissible media clientelism. If we have regulated media ownership and public publication of a media register with this data, then we could monitor and determine why certain media received money from a certain ministry, from the budget for the environment, culture, cinematography, etc.… Then we could very easily ‘connect’ media owners with persons who work in those services, organs… We would be able to know why it is exactly those public companies that are present every day in those media, while they have not paid for advertising, etc. Even know we have some idea about those political, family and client connections amongst certain media, media content and the ‘source’ of money which pays for all that, but we have no adequate legislative mechanisms to sanction this and prevent ‘deceit’ of the public”, says our speaker.   

    With regards to the type of media, Rudić notes that the most chaotic situation is found in online media. “The situation with online media and news portals is completely chaotic. We in BiH do not even know the number of portals, nor who founds them, nor who finances them, nor who works for them… This is even more apparent in this election year and it is becoming an even bigger problem, especially due to radicalism, hikes against people, the spreading of hate speech, defamation… unethical acting and committing criminal deeds against which one cannot fight because one does not know who bears responsibility for such acts and who should the denials, suits, and reactions in general be addressed to”, said Rudić.

    Some of those portals are registered outside of the borders of BiH, in America, Germany, Asian countries and it is impossible to reach them. Domains and servers have been rented in exotic and far islands, thus, their founders made an effort so that no one can sanction them due to unprofessional acts.

    “This is all well a planned ‘job’ aiming to damage the public communication space in BiH, especially to damage some individuals for political purposes… The damage is also large in the financial sense - these portals of invisible ownership participate equally in the BiH advertising space, lowering ad prices, making non-loyal competition for domestic media which are operating in accordance with BiH’s laws, paying taxes, and have well organized newsroom. It is unacceptable that large public companies advertised on such portals and accept cooperation with portals that for instance have only an e-mail address for marketing on its web page as relevant information!!!? There is a third security aspect for regulating transparency of online media ownership - it is important to know or have information on who personally or organizationally stands behind certain portals, in order to monitor and determine their eventual connections to extremists and terrorist groups,” feels Rudić.

    The consortium implementing the project “Media and Public Credibility” is currently in the phase of electing experts for writing the draft Law on Transparency of Media Ownership in BiH. The plan is for the law text to regulate the obligation of reporting ownership and eventual links of owners to third parties.

     “Currently, we are still not sure how ‘deep’ and ‘wide’ we should go into investigating, so to say differentiating ‘owner from owner’, but we will strive to abide by the world’s best practices on this task, as for instance is done in Germany. It is important also to regulate sanctions for hiding ownership and failure to report changes in the ownership structure. It is important to find solutions for forming simple public registers of media and their owners and determine a monitoring system for those processes when changing ownership,” concluded our speaker.

    Parallel to seeking a solution to solving the regulation of transparency of media ownership we will seek the solution to its practical implementation.

    BiH’s government not interested in resolving this issue

    The topic of media ownership transparency has been discussed in the parliament for some years. Mainly due to the activities of the Council of Europe, but BiH’ politicians did not find it convenient to make this issue current and propose some solutions.

    Thus, in May 2017, a seminar was held on the independence and impartiality of media. One of the most important conclusions from the seminar where experts from the Council of Europe participated, along with domestic and international representatives of public and private media, was the necessity of adoption of a BiH Law on Transparency of Media Ownership.

     “This is the public interest and our country, and in the context of accessing the EU and fulfilling conditions on this road, they will be obligated to regulate this field as well. Last year such message was sent to the Ministry of Communication and Transport of BiH to, in cooperation with relevant representatives from the media, prepare this law and send it to parliamentary procedure. With regards to many other conclusions that were sent to the Council of Ministers we still not have received any concrete answers, but I am sure that some new, responsible government will treat this issue seriously and responsibly, for the public interest and establishment of a European future for BiH,” said for Klix.ba Senad Šepić, Chair of the BiH Delegation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and Delegate in the BiH Parliament.

    Advertising and abuse of advertising in the BiH media - better law as the priority

    The issue of quality regulation of the advertising space in BiH is of no lesser importance. Existing legislation and regulation in BiH treat certain aspects of advertising, especially in the electronic media sector, but many areas are left non-regulated, as are the conditions for price discounts for advertising services, advertising of lottery games and advertising through influencers.

    In this regard we spoke with Samra Lučkin, Consultant on the project “Media and Public Credibility”.

    Considering the fact that the Law on Transparency of Media Ownership includes the component of transparency of media financing, the adoption of the Law itself would automatically improve and standardize the advertising segment. “More transparent money flows would in any case increase advertising budgets because advertisers would gain greater value, while the media would be better positioned because the financial pressure would to an extent be relaxed. On top of everything, the procedures of advertising would in great part be standardized which would contribute to the regulation of the market. All of this maybe cannot and will not become practice immediately after adoption of the law but with the time the situation in advertising would stabilize,” said Lučkin.

    The power of the media lies within its credibility and transparency

    We asked our speaker to what extent is the media industry in BiH divided, and how can this influence the necessary laws which would better regulate the area of media work. “The media industry is no more or less divided than other industries. The fact that each media fights to survive on the market puts business interest of the media in first place, what is understandable. What needs to follow this market game in the media as well, are professional standards and the protection of journalists and editors, and media are special in this regard. The media can organize in various ways, from professional associations such as associations of electronic media, to journalists associations, self-regulatory bodies, which work on the protection of the freedom of speech, media and journalists. What is important to say is that the media in BiH, due to the heavy pressure they suffered, have underestimated their might. And the media’s might lays in its credibility, professionality, solidarity and mutual agreement that will better position them. The media are those who set the rules. This is sometimes hard to believe because someone always steps out of line and that is why it is difficult to adopt a mutual unique stance. But I think that this time is coming and that everything is leading to it,” said  Lučkin.

    Many campaigns are placed on social networks in a way that they hide the contractor, source or motive. But the level of not hidden advertising on social networks is high.

    Solve problems on time

     “Simply due to the lack of regulation, social networks operate in a completely different manner. And  content marketing is evermore present even in our space, especially in the online sphere. For now we can only place our faith in the content consumers - do they recognize the real message and want to accept such manner of communication. They will decide if such trend stays or flops,” says our speaker.  

    Most of these issues are addressed in the BiH Progress Report. Transparency of ownership and financing of the media and all related industries is one of the pillars of protecting media freedom and the European Union absolutely insists on this.  

    “Therefore it is better that we already in this phase build the infrastructure that will allow us to more efficiently harmonize our legislation with the EU, because these things cannot be solved instantly, they have to be built slowly in a way so that the media can survive on the market, the journalists can freely do their job, and the citizens can receive better content and more value for their money,” says Lučkin.

    Investment in advertising reduced by 20 percent

    When there is no law, there are no rules, and when they are missing than everyone does what they want. And on all sides. The agencies, the advertiser, the media, everyone does as it best suits him and this brings disorder that harms the industry the most, comments Ekrem Dupanović, editor in chief of Media Marketing, during the begging of our discussion on this topic.

     “Last year, in comparison to the year before that, investments in marketing have gone down by six million euros, almost 20 percent. Thus, we need a law, the only question is who needs to initiate its adoption and who needs to write it. This should be done by the advertising profession, but in order for it to do this, it needs to organize, and this is the most difficult to achieve in this country,” feels Dupanović.

    He adds that there is no supervision over advertising in BiH. “There is none because there is no association of the advertising industry, a three-party association of agencies, media and advertisers which would establish rules and insist on their implementation. Then we would have an advertising court where we could report false advertising, harmful advertising, which would be intended before all for kids, theft of creative ideas, etc. All bear the consequences of such state and all are suffering damages because of it, but they live in a lye that such lack of laws suits them and that they can make a profit out of it. The Law on Public Procurement poses a problem even when respected. People from procurement decide on advertising campaigns, who also decide on procurement of screws, cables and other stuff. No one can be so universal as to understand everything. And since they do not know everything, price is the only criteria, and this is wrong in the case of advertising. Cheapest does not mean best in creative work. On the other hand, agencies manipulate tenders. In order for them to be cheapest, for instance, they give their media services for free to get the media budget, but when they get it they will elevate media provisions and thus pay for the creativity. Nothing is free. The creative idea is the only product that the agency has to sell, and when it offers it for free, there is something not right there. Advertisers know this. They know that the agency will charge for this somewhere, but they participate in this theft.

    The issue of pitches is also not regulator. Everywhere, the rule is that the advertiser can call upon a maximum of three agencies to a pitch, plus the agency with which he worked until then, if he wants to continue cooperation with them. Here they call upon ten agencies. Who has the brain to reasonably consider ten offers, ten creative ideas, ten campaigns, ten budgets, etc.? No one,” explains Dupanović.

    The role of media

    Dupanović feels that the media can improve the situation, but that they are not aware of it. Often times, there is mention of the need to establish associations within the media industry, which would set the rules of behavior. “We have UMI - the Association of the Media Industry. But its name is wrong. It is an association whose members are exclusively television houses and media agencies, and all it does is treat the distribution of expenses of measuring TV ratings. There is one measurer who sets all yearly expenses and then all those who use their services meet and divide the expenses between them according to some predetermined key. It is a merchant society it is not a media industry association. We need an association that would, in addition to determining the rules, deal with education, management, journalists, people from marketing and all others so that we could create a media industry of the future”, says  Dupanović.

    Advertising of public companies, the manners of arranging media campaigns and transparency are special issues. “Advertising of public companies cannot be a secret. There is financial documentation, the cash flows are known, someone cannot pay an advertising campaign and say that he bought fire wood in the books. We are not such conmen. No company will publically state how much they invest in advertising. The value of the advertising market is set by the television ratings measurers. If the measurer provides the information on one campaign on television stations, then they take the prices of every second of every single TV station and multiply it by the number of seconds and that is the value. No. That is the gross value that is what the price list says. But one needs to consider that television provides media discounts up to 50 and even 70 percent. There is a huge difference between gross and net. In the same manner the value of advertising in print media is determined, according to the prices from the price list. But those are all false data and that is where the biggest non-transparency occurs,” says Dupanović.

    Social networks and advertising - big challenge

    On the other hand the current challenge is disguised advertising which has been more and more apparent on social networks. “Disguised advertising is abundant. Currently, influencers are popular who do marketing also, before all on Instagram. They have a big number of fans on social networks and then they sell their influence to companies who pay their recommendations. The question is how much is that exactly, to what extent an influencer tells the truth when recommending a product, or does he or she does it just for the money. There is a whole business at the Moscow airport, but others too, which is dedicated to influencers. A girl comes to the airport, enters a small luxury plane where makeup artists and the video team await her. She reclines in a comfy leather chair by the window, in front of here is a table with caviar, salmon, champagne and other specialties. And on her network she writes that she is on a flight to Barcelona. This has huge impact on young girls, she becomes their ideal and subject of affection. Every young girl would want to be like her and so becomes her follower on Instagram. After half hour, she pays the video crew’s services, takes the recording and leaves the plane in front of which other influencers await. That is how plane owners earn a lot of money, without the plane ever moving. And so the influencers, on the basis of false footage, gain bigger numbers of followers who they sell to their contractors,” colorfully depicts our speaker.  

    There is also native advertising, paid content that is also very popular on social networks, portal and in printed media. “For example a company wants to emphasize the quality of its product and its service and it is ready to pay for publication of an article that the media would usually not publish because it is out of its concept. And that is ok. But no one respects the rule of such manner of advertising, and this rule says that every such content must be clearly distinguishable from the regular content of the media in question. They should be framed and clearly identified as paid content. People believe less paid than editorial content and that is why media in BiH mainly avoid from labeling such content as such, because the advertisers insist. Now we are coming back to anything you give is good. There are many misconceptions and deceits in advertising today. This damages everyone, but almost everyone participates in it trying to get any kind of money (the media) or any kind of savings (the advertisers). And when you ask the media and agencies there is shouting how the market is unprotected, how the agencies and the media (cable TV) from neighboring lands are taking their jobs. Before blaming others for the bad situation, they should look at themselves in the mirror and honestly admit that it is their own fault,” concludes Dupanović.

     

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