The complex problems that plague BHRT are a result of many years of bad policies and influences on the public service, according to BiH media editors.
That survival of BHRT should not be raised as an issue at all is a common idea shared by media editors in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who said that politicians are the ones who are supposed to come up with a solution to the problems they created, but also added that solidarity in the current situation in this profession is very low.
After announcements of a planned halt in broadcasting and production on Radio and Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina after 30 June due to accumulated financial problems, both local and foreign media experts and institutions reacted, opposing the plan. But the problem persists and the role that BHRT plays in B&H society is the most important idea defended by editors of B&H media, who commented on recent developments at the public service for Media.ba.
The existence of public television should not be a topic of discussion on any level, maintains the Editor-in-Chief of Nezavisne novine, Sandra Gojković-Arbutina.
“Whether someone likes it or not, state television must survive, if we want to talk about a serious state and be on a par at least with the region, if a broader perspective is too ambitious for us. This is not only about pure existence just to save hundreds of jobs, but about an institution, a public service, which must exist if we are to talk about a European road,” she says.
The opinion that BHRT’s role is irreplaceable is shared by Dejan Jazvić, Editor-in-Chief of Fena Agency. He says that this radio and television organization has fulfilled its role in the service of citizens and therein lies part of the problem resulting in pressure by politics.
“Above all, I view BHRT as a public service, not a state television. Due to that fact, I think the public service role is irreplaceable, particularly if we know how much the media space in B&H is poisoned. Unlike the entity public broadcasters, BHRT has truly, at least as far as I have monitored it, tried to be a public service, offering citizens everything for which a public service should exist. It seems that this is one of the reasons why BHRT is in this situation today,” Jazvić told Media.ba.
The Editor-in-Chief of Dnevni avaz, Faruk Vele, says the state television must not be allowed to shut down because of the importance of the public broadcasting service in its informational, educational and other roles.
“BHRT has simply not been given a chance and it has also been tripped many times,” believes Vele. “Various compromises have been made at the expense of the television, in editorial, staffing and even business terms. Under the pretext of a ‘bad past’ and similar reasons, many people who were good at that job have been pushed out of the state TV. All in all, the state television has been moving in a way that has stripped it, slowly but surely, of the importance that essentially belongs to it. Consequently, the situation which BHRT is in today is completely logical! The importance of entity broadcasters has grown.”
Štefica Galić, Editor of Tačno.net, says that BHRT is important for the functioning of the state itself, for creating independent public opinion, democratic processes in society and independent reporting, and that is why it should be stronger than any other media outlet in terms of its influence on citizens.
“Unfortunately, due to ethnic divisions and political pressure, the entity broadcasters are becoming stronger and the state-level service is being sidelined. That is happening in all spheres of B&H society,” Galić told Media.ba.
Milenko Voćkić, Head of the Sarajevo Office of Radio Free Europe, says that the situation in which the public service has found itself is a reflection of the state and of the policies that have influenced it.
“It’s a real miracle that BHRT has survived even this long since the Parliamentary Assembly, i.e. the parties that have dominant influence, have by their inaction consciously demolished the system and are now supposedly astonished by what is happening,” he says. “Citizens of B&H deserve, as in all of Europe, to have a public broadcasting system that serves citizens.”
Dario Lukić, Editor-in-Chief of Dnevni list, says that BHRT should be the strongest media organization and a model for other media, but it will continue to be destroyed until politicians place it under their control.
Politics is to blame – but so are management and citizens
Blame for all problems related to BHRT does not lie in one place and media editors who commented for Media.ba say that blame lies on politics and politicians, on poor management of the public service, but part of the responsibility lies on citizens too.
“It’s hard the point the finger at one man and say it’s his fault,” says Faruk Vele. “Responsible are all those in this country who in any way have contributed to the dying out of such an important institution, and they are not few. The system is at fault, which was installed in such a way that state institutions are losing their meaning. At fault, of course, are crime, corruption, nepotism and other diseases of this society, where people believe and act in line with the belief that what belongs to the state belongs to everyone and no one.”
“The uncertain situation that BHRT is currently in has led to this latest dramatic appeal, which means that the end has been reached. Everyone, of course, is responsible… from managements which kept changing and did not find a solution and pushed BHRT into an even deeper abyss, without anyone answering for it, to Parliament which is unable to find a solution for RTV tax collection to finally start working,” says Gojković-Arbutina, the Editor of Nezavisne novine.
The Chief Editor of TV Hayat’s news program, Senad Omerašević, believes that responsibility should be shared by those responsible in B&H institutions and BHRT management, but he said that generally speaking, no one is calling for responsibility.
“Divisions within BHRT, which we witnessed in recent days, are definitely not conducive to overcoming the financial crisis. Energy that could and should be directed into action for BHRT’s benefit in every regard is spent on mutual conflicts,” he says. “On the other hand, this certainly is not and cannot be an alibi for years-long lack of concern by those responsible for BHRT’s sinking. Many of them, by not paying and justifying not paying RTV tax, have even contributed to deepening BHRT’s crisis.”
The process of building the public broadcasting system in B&H has abounded in mistakes, from the way it was set up and organized to mutual relations among the services, and finally failure to complete the process of creating a corporation of public services, maintains the Editor of Fena, Davor Jazvić.
“The problem of low TV tax collection rate in B&H is also a political issue; BHRT has an excessive number of employees; and we have seen that mutual obligations among the public services are not being settled. Relatively low viewership and consequently lower marketing revenue are also undisputed facts, but I consider them a consequence of BHRT’ effort to maintain objectivity, which is not really popular in the ethnically and politically divided B&H,” he says.
The Editor-in-Chief of the Sarajevo-based Center for Investigative Reporting, Aladin Abdagić, told Media.ba that politicians who are leading this country are most responsible for BHRT’s crisis, but collection of tax is also very poor.
“We can seek responsibility on several sides: in certain politicians who are publicly creating negative marketing for the state television, or in BHRT management, or the television program schedule which citizens do not seem to like and thus refuse to pay the tax, or lack of strict legal sanctions that would resolve the issue of tax collection,” maintains Abdagić.
The Editor of BIRN B&H, Erna Mačkić, said that responsibility cannot be attributed only to management, but also to citizens who are not paying and do not want to regularly pay the subscription fee.
“Lawmakers and policy-makers are also responsible for failing to come up with an appropriate solution. Management’s responsibility is that it did not try to use advertising to overcome problems, but instead created huge debts. When all aspects are examined, we are all to blame,” says Mačkić.
The Editor of Federal Television’s news program, Željko Tica, told Media.ba that the issue of management’s work should be raised with regard to finances, as should the issue of political influences.
“BHRT’s overall revenue in 2015 was 34 million marks. Not a small amount of money. Now we should add politicians to that, who will not or do not want to permanently resolve the problem of financing of all three public services, not just BHRT”, he explained.
The view that government which does not want to solve the problem of BHRT is responsible is also held by the Editor of Dnevni list.
“Why would they pay someone who is constantly criticizing them on the small screen,” says Lukić. “Also responsible are people who under the influence of their tribal leaders do not want to pay TV tax; top people at the state television are responsible too.”
“Generally, [also responsible] is the Parliament of B&H, and individually first HDZ, then SNSD, and after that SDA and SDP. Some of them obstructed the implementation of the law and openly called on people not to pay the TV tax and thus to destroy the system, while others displayed either lack of interest or incompetence. What is common to all of them is that they are acting in line with the principle that what they do not control should not receive any attention,” says RFE Editor Milenko Voćkić.
Pressure by “fourth estate of power”
Everyday pressure exerted by reporting about BHRT is one way for journalists to give support to solving the problem of the public service, according to some editors, while others see no solidarity within the profession.
“The media community, if something like that even exists in B&H, can do very little or nothing. Solidarity generally is not a strong point of B&H journalists and it is therefore not realistic to expect any kind of engaged action of the ‘media community’. Even if the situation were different, I don’t see how any reaction by the profession could result in overcoming the deep political differences regarding the setup of the public broadcasting system,” maintains the Editor-in-Chief of Dnevni avaz.
“The media community in this case must simply do its job. We must exert positive pressure and demand that the government save the state television and the jobs of our colleagues at all costs. I repeat, B&H must not lose the public service,” says Vele.
“We can save BHRT the same way we saved the National Museum. We must all become active. Are we the fourth estate of power or not? We are not all in the service of the political elites. Why is it impossible to collect the TV tax? What is important for those whose interest is to divide the country is that there is no state television in B&H,” says Štefica Galić of Tačno.net.
The Editor of Dnevni list believes that the media community can do nothing but raise its voice, but that will not happen because the “larger part of the media community has been silenced by ‘banknotes’ from numerous state, entity, cantonal and municipal advertisers.”
“A B&H Presidency member stated a couple of days ago that ‘not many people will cry if the state TV shuts down’. That was a statement by one of the top people of the country who is paid by B&H taxpayers. Now, imagine Tomislav Nikolić in Serbia or Kolinda Grabar Kitarović in Croatia saying that no one will cry if RTS or HRT shuts down!? If that is what people who are leading the country are thinking, I am afraid that the 850 people on state TV do not have much hope for a better tomorrow. The media community? I haven’t seen yet that it truly exists. I only see bribed clans,” says Lukić.
Milenko Voćkić said that “media community is a diffuse term in B&H. There is no unity and media are mostly under the staffing control of the parties, economically powerless and dependent on the mercy of political strongmen.”
“Nevertheless, professional solidarity and understanding, as well as individual support, are better than passiveness and ‘disinterest’ which has ruled the media space up to now. Journalism is a calling for the brave and managements of media organizations and journalist associations should be like that as well. Servility does not take this profession anywhere,” he concludes.
The article was originally published on Mediacentar_Online.
This article is a contribution of the SEE Media Partnership for Media Development co-funded by the the Civil Society Facility, Media Freedom and Accountability Programme, EuropeAid/134613/C/ACT/MULTI
This document has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents are the sole responsibility of Mediacentar Sarajevo and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the EU.