Media Fan Flames of Hatred in Balkan Journalism Crisis

19 November 2012

More than twenty years after revolutions in the south-eastern fringes of Europe opened up a new era of democratic pluralism with promises of an end to political control of media, journalism still operates in an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship.

Even if the guns are silent in the Balkans these days, bitter tribal battles between Muslims and Christians and different ethnic communities are still being fought in some of the media in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo.

These are the bleak findings of a series of country reports produced by the South East Europe Network for Professionalisation of Media, an EJN member, which were discussed at a conference of media support groups in Bucharest on November 16-17. The reports will be published in full early next year.

The state of media in each of the countries covered – Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia – was assessed according to the conditions in which journalism is practiced  – the levels of threat and attacks; the relations between media and politics; the role of law in media governance; the state of broadcasting; the changing market conditions;  and the scope for ethical journalism and self-regulation.

The conclusions are troubling. Hate-speech and intolerance still infects journalism and the political culture remains deeply attached to notions of control and command of media, even in countries which are now established members of the European Union.

In each of the countries surveyed contradictions abound, with legal and constitutional guarantees – on paper as good as those to be found anywhere – rendered meaningless by poor government, institutional corruption and political opportunism.    

Journalists live under the constant threat of political interference and legal intimidation. Often major media are owned and controlled by unknown forces; and, even worse, some journalists willingly flout ethical principles and go along with deceptive handling of the truth to suit their political friends.

Worst of all is the evidence of physical attacks and legal intimidation of journalists, particularly in Serbia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.  

In Bosnia and Kosovo there has been enormous investment of expert resources and media development funds to enhance pluralism and to forge professional institutions and forms of media regulation to strengthen tolerance. But even though there are more media outlets, particularly online sources, this has also increased the scope for hate speech in tragically divided communities. These problems are made worse for media working unsustainable conditions – weak economies, underdeveloped advertising markets and a congested media landscape.

The scourge of defamation laws is everywhere, but in Slovenia it is a particular curse with the Prime Minister and his ruling party in the vanguard of legal actions against journalists.  In Serbia alone there were 241 legal cases against media in 2011, mostly dealing with defamation.

The impact of Hungary’s  one-party media law, which led to a startling European-wide controversy and condemnation by all of Europe’s political bodies, has been amended no less than 12 times and in some 200 articles in the past 18 months, but there is little chance of this law being finally dumped in advance of elections in 2014. Meanwhile, uncertainty over media regulation only reinforces self-censorship.

In Romania, where media have played a central role in the polarising political turmoil which has seen the coming and going of three governments in a year there are fears that media are too politically engaged.    

Even where there are positive signs – in Albania, for instance, the penal code has been cleaned up to remove offences that protected politicians from media scrutiny – and in Montenegro, which erased defamation and insult laws in 2011, few people believe it will make any difference. A lack of institutional support, a weak judiciary and the absence of political will can render good legal protection ineffective.

In Bulgaria there is an astonishing lack of transparency over who controls media. The country’s dominant media force – the multimedia New Bulgaria Media Group – has a labyrinthine ownership and funding structure that defies easy analysis. The lack of national market controls and supervision has already prompted a European Union investigation.

The public broadcasting crisis is also deepening. In Croatia, for instance, the public radio system has come under pressure and although the law covering Croatian Radio and Television was changed in 2012 the system’s independence is not guaranteed and it continues to suffer from “management problems, political meddling and nepotism.”     

The decline of journalistic freedom in Macedonia during 2011 and 2012 has caused consternation within the international media community with particular concern over selective and politically-massaged application of broadcast law. But it’s not just the law that worries; Macedonia has low ratings on almost all freedom counts with self-censorship, media concentration, and poor protection of economic and social rights.

Everywhere the media advertising cake is often unfairly distributed. Political and corporate interests combine to deny independent media much-need revenues. This lack of transparency in how advertising is allocated, particularly from public and state agencies, means that the media market can be easily manipulated.

The final balance sheet from this comprehensive audit of media conditions reveals a considerable democratic deficit and a suffocating atmosphere of political and corporate corruption.

But is there any good news? Well, some. Participants at Bucharest noted that in some countries the public broadcasters are becoming more trusted, that online media offer the hope of a durable challenge to abuse of power, and media professional groups – such as the independent Editors Forum in Hungary, and self-regulators in Bosnia and Slovenia – are trying to strengthen media standards.   

The EJN with its emphasis on ethics, good governance and self-regulation has agreed to work with partners in the region to help them to create systems of self-regulation both inside media and at national level. These will need to be credible and sustainable if they are to challenge the legacy of hatred and intolerance that still infects much of the reporting in the region.

comments powered by Disqus
ABU, AP, ARTICLE 19, Accountable Journalism, Afghan Journalists Federation, Afghanistan, Afghanistan Journalists Centre, Africa, Africa e Mediterraneo and Lai-momo Summer School, Agence France-Presse (AFP), Ahmad Quraishi, Ahmet Altan, Aidan White, Aiding Law enforcement, Alan Yuhas, Albania, Aljazeera, Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights, Anti-Semitism, Arabic, Ashok Gupta, Ashraf Ghani, Asia, Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, Associated Reporters Abroad, Association of Commercial Television, Australia, Aylan Kurdi, BBC, BBC Radio London, BBC World Service, Balkans, Barcelona, Barcelona Center for Contemporary Culture (CCCB), Being first, Belgium, Billy Russell, Bob Geldof, Bosnia, Boston Marathon bomber, Bottom-line decisions, Brazil, Brexit, Broadcast, Brussels, Brussels Terror Attacks 2016, Bulgaria, Burma, Buzzfeed, CIMA, Can Dündar, Carles Torner, Central Asia, Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CPMF), Ceren Sözeri, Channel 4, Charlie Beckett, Charlie Hebdo, Charter of Rome, Child Rights International Network (CRIN), China, Chris Elliott, Christopher Kremmer, City University London, Climate News Network, Comedy, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Conference, Conflict, Conservative Party, Consorci Universitat Internacional Menéndez Pelayo de Barcelona (UIMP Barcelona – Centre Ernest Lluch), Controversial photos, Council of Media Ethics of Macedonia (CMEM), Covering politics, Crimea, Croatia, Cumhuriyet - Turkey, Darfur, Dart Center, David Cameron, David Jordan, Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Denmark, Director's Letter, Donald Trump, Dorothy Byrne, Dr. Zahera Harb, Dunja Mijatovic, EJN Annual Report, EJN Board, EJN International Collaborators, EJN Secretariat, EJN activities, EJN member, EJN participation, EJN report, Earthquakes, Editorial Guidelines, Egypt, Elliot Cass, English, English PEN, Erdem Gül, Eric Baradat, Eric Wishart, Erol Önderoğlu, Ethical Journalism, Ethical Journalism for Free Expression, Ethical Journalism in Action, Ethiopia, Europe, European Commission, European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), European Magazine Media Association, European Media and Information Literacy Forum, European Press Prize, European Union, European University Institute (EUI), Evening Standard, Facebook, Fatumo Farah, Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), Film, Finland, First Amendment Award, Founding EJN member, Fox News, France, Franco-Prussian War, Frans Timmermans, GFMD, Gambia, Gary Younge, Gaza, Geir Terje Ruud, George W. Bush, German PEN, Getting the story, Gezi Park, Giles Duley, Global Editors Network (GEN), Google, Haim Shibi, Handling sources, Huffington Post, Human Rights, Humanitarianism, Hungary, Hürriyet - Turkey, IFEX, IPI World Congress, ISIS, Iceland, Independent Association of Egyptian Editors, Independent Press Standards Organisation, Index on Censorship, India, Indonesia, Indonesia;, Indonesian Press Council, Indonesian Press Council (IPC), Institute of the Mediterranean, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), International Journalism Festival, International Media Ethics Day, International Press Institute (IPI), International Women's Day, Invading privacy, Iran, Israel, Israeli Federation of Journalists, Italy, Jakarta, James Copnall, James Rodgers, Jan Egeland, Jean-Paul Mathoz, Jerusalem Association of Journalists, Jerusalem Post, John Oliver, Jon Snow, Jordan, Jordan Media Institute, Journalist, Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Justice and Development Party - Turkey, Jyllands Posten, Katie Hopkins, Katie Morris, Keith Somerville, Ken Clarke, Kieran Cooke, Kigali, Kosovo, Lampedusa, Latin America, Latvia, Le Monde, Le Siècle, Lebanon, Leveson, Liat Collins, Lindsey Hilsum, London Press Club, London School of Economics (LSE), Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), L’Osservatore Romano, Macedonia, Macedonian School of Journalism and Public Relations (SJPR), Malta, Manning, Mare Nostrum, Mark Doyle, Marta Foresti, Martin Plaut, Matt Frei, Matthew Price, Media & Learning, Media Diversity Institute, Media Literacy, Media and Information Literacy, Media and migration, Mediterranean, Megan Howe, Mehmet Baransu, Melanie Gouby, Mexico, Miami Herald, Middle East, Military issues, Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, Mohammed Jamjoom, Montenegro, Moving Stories, Myanmar, NGO, NLA University College (Gimlekollen) Kristiansand, NPR, Naming newsmakers, Nasser Abubaker, National Broadcasting Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) Thailand, Natural Disasters, Neil Thurman, Nepal, New York, New York Times, Niangara massacre, Nigeria, No Borders Project, North America, Norway, Norwegian, Norwegian Institute for Journalism, Norwegian Refugee Council, ONA, ONO, Ofcom, Oficina Antifrau de Catalunya, Ombudsmen, Oona Solberg, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Organisation of News Ombudsmen, Overseas Development Institute, PEN America, PEN International, Pakistan, Pakistan Coalition for Ethical Journalism, Palestine, Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, Panama, Panama Papers, Paris, Partners Working In Collaboration With the EJN, Peter Greste, Peter Sullivan, Phepchai Yong, Philippines, Pierluigi Musarò, Platform for Independent Journalism (P24), Polis, Pope Francis, Poynter, Prayuth Chan-Ocha, Press Complaints Commission, Press Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Press Council of Kosovo (PCK), Press Council of Serbia, Press Council of Thailand, Press Safety, Privy Council, Racheal Nakitare, Radio, Randi S. Øgrey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Reddit, Regulation, Reporters without Borders, Ricardo Gutierrez, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, Rory Peck Trust, Rossalyn Warren, Royal Charters, Russia, Rwanda, SPJ, Samantha Bee, Sarajevo, Satire, Save the Children, Secret Filming, Self-cencorship, Sensationalism, Sensitive news topics, Serbia, Shaike Komornik, Shami Chakrabarti, Singapore, Sky News, Snowden, Social Action Centre - Ukraine, Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Code, Soft Censorship, South Africa, South America, South East Europe Media Organisation, South East European Network for Professionalization of the Media, South Eastern Europe, South Sudan, Spain, Sr. Rogelio Grajal, Statewatch, Stephen JA Ward, Steven Livingston, Sudan, Sulome Anderson, Supinya Klangnarong, Sweden, Swedish PEN, Syria, TV, Taraf newspaper - Turkey, Thai Association of Journalists, Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, Thailand, The Conversation, The Eagle Tribune, The Guardian, The Independent, The Society of Professional Journalists, The Sun, The Telegraph, The Vatican, Thomas Spence, Tom Law, Transparency International, Tuncay Opçin, Tunisia, Turkey, Twitter, Typhoons, UK, UN, UN Alliance of Civilisations, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), UNESCO, UNESCO IPDC, UNICEF, US, USA, USA Today, Uganda, Ukraine, Ukrainian, United Kingdom, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United States, University of Bologna, Untold Stories, Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB), WAN-IFRA, Wanchai Danaitamonut, Whistleblowing, Wikileaks, William Wintercross, Workplace issues, World Press Freedom Day, World Radio Day, Yasemin Çongar, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Zalmaï, accountability, accuracy, advertising, anonymous comments, automation, bias, blasphemy, blog, breaking news, business model, canada, cartoons, censorship, climate change, code of ethics, comments, complaints, corrections, corruption, credibility, crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, data protection, data-driven journalism, democracy, digital, draft law, e European Magazine Media Association, election, ethical journalism weekly roundup, ethics, events, fact checking, fairness, freedom of expression, gender, global ethics, globalism, good news, governance, handbook, hate speech, identity, impunity, infographic, internet, investigative reporting, journalism, journalism training, journalist safety, journalistic methods, journalists in exile, law, legal, libel, media, media audit, media development, media ethics, media ethics and children, media law, migrants, migration, mobile, moderation, newspapers, objectivity, ombudsman, open journalism, ownership, paid content, photo journalism, pluralism, press council, press freedom, press release, propaganda, public editor, public interest, public opinion, public trust, readers’ editor, refugee crisis, refugees, reliability, religion, representation, right to be forgotten, right to information, robot journalism, rumours, self regulation, self-regulation, shield law, social media, standards, statements, style guide, surveys, technology, terrorism, transparency, trolls, turning the page of hate, verification, video, vulgarities, war, women, İpek Yezdani