By Bojana Barlovac
South East Europe can still brag about some good journalism practices, but its representatives doubt it will last long, unless sustainable financial model is found.
Experts and representatives of reputable media in South East Europe gathered in Sarajevo on April 14 to share their good journalism practices. However, the roundtable session entitled “Good journalism is still alive – what makes it possible” ended up as an arena for expressing dissatisfaction and annoyance about the current state in the media, notably the problem of their financing.
If a picture paints a thousand words, then this round table signals an alert. The times of extensive foreign support aimed at strengthening media in South East Europe are slowly slipping into oblivion. For years, foreign donations have been the key supporter of free and independent reporting in the region.
Today, many independent media in the region are facing the problems with fundraising and are forced to do other stuff so as to keep the news production going.
Life with financial troubles is not an easy one, especially if one is constantly receiving threats for uncovering corruptive practices.
In search of new financial model
The past somehow always catches up with Balkan countries. This time a hat with the shiny U (symbolising the Fascist Ustasha regime in Croatia between 1941 and 1945) worn by young Zlatko Hasanbegović, now Croatia’s culture minister, has come into spotlight in Croatia. This picture from the 1990s has been shown in the Novosti weekly paper, published by Serbian National Council in Croatia.
Tamara Opačić, executive editor of the paper, said that this picture triggered daily threats and insults from different groups and individuals in Croatia but also brought into question the existence of the magazine.
Magazine Novosti has been lucky enough to have secure funding from the Council and its journalists have been reporting freely on issues that matter not only for the Serb community in the country but for the general public. But, according to Opačić, funding has come into questions following this front page with Hasanbegović. “Now we are not sure what will happen to us and whether we will continue to get this support,” Opačić added.
Eldin Karić, her colleague from the neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, editor of Žurnal online magazine, claims that there is less and less money for media projects in Bosnia lately, so independent media need to find other ways to secure their existence. Karić said that good journalism is possible only if o work other than journalism is been done so as to keep the news production going. The total amount media in Bosnia are getting from the state stands at KM 30 million annually (15.3 million EUR), but outlets like his never got a penny from this budget nor it is likely they will.
Gordana Igrić, regional director of Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), agreed with Karić that sources of funding are running dry, adding: “Media debates in the region should thus only be directed to finding new ways of funding investigative and independent reporting.”
Countries in South East Europe are not the only ones facing this problem. Investigative reporting is expensive and some of the biggest media outlets, like Britain’s The Independent, have failed to find sustainable model and faced closing. “If such big media shut down, this could happen to anyone,” Igrić warned.
Some other big media outlets in the world live from personal donations and crowd funding. But this culture has yet to be developed in the region and it might take some time. Serbia’s Investigative journalism centre Krik has already tried it out but the amount they collected through personal citizens’ donations is not enough to cover basic expenses.
Stronger than threats
Struggling with funding and constant search for new donors and projects goes hand in hand with getting different threats for uncovering corruption and organised crime cases.
But, Aleksandar Trifunović, editor of Buka portal in the Bosnian entity of Republic Srpska, claims: “journalism that does not annoy anybody is stale”. He is proud that Buka “notices more than they should and we became boring insisting on it.” Buka journalists are thus exposed to threats, but Trifunović claims that those who work well have problems, always and everywhere.
Situation is not much different with Centre for Investigative Reporting (CIN) in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Leila Bičakčić, executive director of the Centre, says they are lucky that no lawsuits are filed against them. “This is because we base everything on proper documentation,” Bičakčić explained.
As last speaker, Vladan Mićunović, director of Montenegrin Media Institute, wished to end the panel on a more positive note by citing some positive examples from Montenegro. These included appointment of new state and special prosecutor in the country; initiative for making changes to the Law on advertising; and a debate on the funding of RTCG, public service broadcaster, which has started. “This signals good change,” Mićunović concluded.
But, the only signal for good change in the region is that all the round table’s participants agreed to start finding and developing new financial model. Societies need good journalism for any future progress. When there is a need, there should also be a way to achieve the goal.