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    Media and Public Credibility : Media Freedom and Media Financing

    Author: Uroš Vukić

    SARAJEVO, BANJALUKA - Media financing is tightly connected with media freedom, while development of a free editorial policy independent of the source of financing is possible, but very difficult, especially in BIH, the land entrapped in social and cultural poverty, political violence and corruption.  

    Media freedom in BiH in the past few years have been at a constant decline, while the number of media (mainly portals) is growing, so it is not difficult to conclude that certain center of power, political, economic and even criminal are entering the media business without providing a clear picture of media ownership, which poses a particular problem. Along with the non-transparency of media ownership, the problem of media in BiH are also sources of financing which are also, often, foggy, and the disclosure of which would say a  lot about a media.

     “The manner of media financing is in fact the manner of controlling the media and what will and will not be published, and thus what the public knows. The money entering the media determines what will be on the media’s agenda, the media’s approach to certain topics or actors, the manner in which a news is contextualized and “framed”, and all this in accordance with the interests of those who invest the money in the media. That is why it is important to know, and have reliable indicators who and how finances a media, but the concentration of media ownership is equally important, as well as monopolies of advertisers and their influence on the media”, says Lejla Turčilo, professor at the Journalism department at the Faculty of Political Science of the University of Sarajevo.

    When we know who finances a media, Đorđe Vuković, Professor at the Faculty of Political Science in Banjaluka, says then it is more clear why that media “has such editorial policy”, the manner of reporting, the choice of topics and so on. With regards to media financing, the marketing department has one of the key roles, which is often in direct connection with the editorial collegium of a media. Ideally the marketing department would be separate, however in the current BiH setting this is practically impossible. Government on all levels, from the state, entities, cantons to the local communities, as well as public enterprises and intuitions, through various programs and through the marketing department, are amongst the most significant financiers of the media, especially the smaller and local ones. Through such programs it is often the case that the money of all citizens, which is controlled by political parties, is poured into media, where only the large and serious redactions have the opportunity (although constantly decreasing) to resist the pressure and freely decide on the topics they write and speak about.

     “The connection of the media owner to the political centers of power, family connections or others interests, can enable the enrichment of individuals at the expense of tax payers, as well as the use of public money for supporting political parties, individuals in power or similar, at the expense of other subjects in the political arena, as well as citizens and the freedom of speech as one of the biggest democratic heritage,” says Nataša Tešanović, former director of Banjaluka’s Alternative Television.

    An editorial policy that is independent of financing sources, as our speakers point, is possible to create, but this is much more difficult in BiH than in developed countries and that is why often the media must make rotten compromises in order to survive in the market, while the journalists often must adapt to the concept dictated by the marketing department.

    Marketing is what brings money and that is a fact, but  the problem is that the marketing experts are increasingly meddling in the editorial policy. Media readers with any literacy can conclude that the media have been becoming marketing platforms in the past few years, with exception of the “informative”.

    As is the case in the world, so is in BiH, the professional journalists are in relatively “tense” relations with marketing, because on one hand there are those who want to bring money to the company, while on the other there are those who feel that informing the public should be the priority.

    “Marketing is complaining about the journalists and views them as an expense, while journalists feel that marketing is a parasite living off of their work just to make money. It is not true. One cannot function without the other, but there should be clear, developed, written, internal rules with which both departments must be acquainted, in order to avoid conflict,” says Siniša Vukelić, journalist, editor and owner of the portal

    It would be ideal to split the marketing department and the redaction, namely, they are formally split, but in practice in BiH it is impossible to function. It is a known secret that in BiH there are media surviving due to “racketeering”, and such examples are best evident from the relationship journalist-marketing. The principle is very simple, the journalist discovers a story that could compromise an individual or company and afterwards, it sends marketing to “negotiate” the conditions under which such story will not be published.

    Is it possible to create an editorial policy, regardless of the source of funding? Vuković says yes, no matter how difficult that may be, it is the only correct and only journalistic way: "The market is poor and tight,  advertisements have long since become independent of media quality, it seems that timely, analytical, objective, attractive, diversified journalism does not pay off, while the transformation of a media to the announcement board of a party, a pamphlet of a powerful individual and his or her circle is reducing the taste to the level of tabloids," Vuković says.

    The editorial policy that is independent of funding sources requires both uncompromising editors and media owners who will place public interest in front of the commercial and who will stand behind the information the public needs to know and publish them in spite of everything, including political pressures and economic risk for withdrawal of advertisers from that media.

    "I am afraid that there is less and less of such editors and owners, not only in our country, but also globally, and that the economic interest of the owners is in front of the interests and rights of the public," Turčilo said, adding that the separation of marketing from the editorial board appears to be utopian, but that it is not, because marketing should not be a priority activity of the media.

    In BiH, the marketing department and editing college are not separated because the owners see the media as organizations that bring them profit and power,  and not the organizations that give this power to citizens whom they inform objectively and impartially. In the world, especially in BiH, when it comes to the freedom and responsibility of journalists, it is pointed out that the key issue lies in media management, because the journalists cannot do their job freely if the management has a policy that gives priority to the economic interest .

    Another problem, which is given little attention when it comes to freedom of media in BiH, is the economic impact on journalists who are very often subsumed and who, for the sake of mere existence, agree to serve a powerful person, or, fearing for their own safety, they hide information they know about from the public. The state of the journalists is best described by the saying that is increasingly heard in professional circles, that is, "The rich journalist in BiH is living proof of face selling out the profession."

    "The economic impact on the press quickly breaks the character of those who have come to the profession by accident, while those who are trying to economically influence the press certainly have no good intentions towards the state or society," Vuković says.

    The economic stability of the journalists, and the media as a whole, is one of the basic prerequisites for professional work, so that both would not be in a difficult situation and publish news before the election and risk losing the advertising budget, or compromise their reputation, which in the end reflects on ratings.

    "Investigative journalism is expensive and takes long. For quality content you need a good journalist with good pay. In order to balance the economic impact and good content, I think the solution is in a good, credible editor who will protect his or her journalists and stand behind them and their work" , said Vukelić.

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