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    Media and Public Credibility: Media Financing must be Transparent

    MEDIA AND PUBLIC CREDIBILITY: Media Financing must be Transparent

    Even though we often speak of various pressures on the media and journalists, while journalist representatives in Bosnia and Herzegovina emphasize that the country needs a law on transparency of media ownership, the question of economic pressure is often neglected.

    The level of democracy of a media system is reflected in the public availability of accurate, all-encompassing and current information on the media and their ownership.

    Journalist of the portal Ana Marija Jelanic says that economic pressures against journalists are as heavy as political pressures, qualifying them as a threat to both the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression in the media, and feels that there is a need for open publication of the manner of financing the media and their ownership.

    There are three essential ways of media financing, namely through subscription payments, which relate to the three public broadcasting services, through commercial contracts that primarily include selling advertising space, and through public funds that institutions on all levels of government award to the media, but, as a researcher from the Mediacenter Sarajevo, Anida Sokol claims, there are problems associated with all three forms of financing, which endanger media freedom. Hence, the system of collecting payments for the PBS Tax has not yet been resolved, thus the public broadcasters are in a very bad financial situation, while the advertising market is not regulated either, so there is no reliable data on the ratings and circulation, which should be one of the criteria for concluding commercial contracts.

    Due to every decreasing commercial revenues, the media in BiH are ever more reliant on public budget funds. The government institutions allocate more than 30 million KM per year for the media, but this number is much bigger when we consider the money flowing in from advertising of big public enterprises. Sokol says that the public should know how a media is financed because the financial relations can directly influence editorial policy of a media. – All financing of a media, especially for the public budgets, should be transparent in order to prevent instrumentalization of the funds, as well as to prevent corruption – claims Sokol.

    She feels that the citizens should be able to see how public money intended for media is directed and spent. On the other hand, sources of financing can be a great obstacle to the development of free and professional media coverage. Sokol notes that due to the financial relations, the media and journalists find themselves in a position where they have to resort to self-censorship and avoid critically reporting on those who finance them, while the lack of funds can negatively affect the quality of coverage.

    There are a large number of private and public media competing under ever decreasing total revenues on the BiH market. The advertising market is weak and unprotected, even the funds allocated from the public budgets are in many cases insufficient for quality coverage, and the payment of wages and contributions is often late, thus some media even resorted to strikes.

    As project manager for public relations in Transparency International BiH, Ivana Korajlic claims, BiH does not have a law that would regulate the question of financing and transparency of media ownership, while Serbia and Croatia have laws that treat the issue of media ownership. However, application of these legal solutions also presents a problem.

    - The question is posed, of whether the ones who publically claim ownership of a media are in fact the real owners and do other forms of pressure on the media exist – explains Korajlic.

    She claims that this would not be in the interest of the ones who should be passing the laws in BiH, because now they can control the media in BiH from “behind the curtains”. She adds that BiH is awaiting the harmonization of its legislative framework with the acquis communautaire of the EU, and a part of this will exactly be the regulation of these issues. Korajlic also says that the laws on the media in the countries of the EU are on a much higher level and imply much higher transparency, thus every media has the obligation of regularly reporting on its ownership, and this information is available in the registers.

    Certain editors and media directors in BiH say that it is not their intent to “cut the branch on which they are sitting”, but if something is news, then even those who pay for advertising or finance the media in any other way will not be spared.

    Journalist of the Radio Free Europe, Mirsad Behram noted that the media today are commercial, and that in order for them to survive they have to do various things in order to get advertising.

    - A regulated market and an improved economy would solve numerous problems. In such a market, the media would have more opportunity to find money, and they would thus be able to abide by professional rules. A journalist would not be paid 500 KM, but how much he or she is worth, and journalism would become an appealing profession – stated Behram.

    Director of the Alternative Television (ATV), Natasa Tesanovic reminded that in the beginning this television channel was intended to be a media based on professional principles, being that they did not have a political agenda because its donors were international. However, this changed in the meantime, the donors turned to other projects and ATV was left to the non-regulated BH market, and now they depend on the situation in the market and on how much they will earn from marketing, while the total marketing budget for BiH was halved in the last five years and the number of media sharing it increased.

    All of the speakers agree on one thing, and that is that it is necessary to find alternative models of media financing, as well as to include criteria and guidelines when allocating funds from public budgets for the media, and to pass laws that will regulate issues such as media financing and ownership transparency.

    (Hana Imamović Babić)

    The article is written as part of the project “Media and Public Credibility” initiated with the aim of establishing laws on transparency of media ownership, media financing and advertising in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    Its focus is on the preparation of the legislative framework for the regulation of this field that is of special importance for the freedom of expression, protection of journalists and prevention pressures against media and the journalists, motivated by political and financial motives. The Project “Media and Public Credibility” is supported by the EU Delegation in BiH, however, the EU Delegation is not responsible for the content of this article.


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