The general weakness of the media sector in South East Europe manifests itself to the full during socio-political crises. Aggravated by underdeveloped economies, an unstable political climate, ethno-national and political divisions and legacies of wars, crises in the region have been frequent and often severe. In the course of such crises, the news media often fails to perform its public service role.
Media researchers working with SEENPM member organisations in the region have conducted studies of media reporting of a number of recent crises. Working within SEENPM project Reporting Crisis in South East Europe, which is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, the researchers looked at one crisis in each country, analysing a sample of news content.
While their conclusions are not surprising given the widely documented erosion of media integrity in the region in recent years, they are nevertheless concerning. According to this volume of research and analysis, in the course of crises, the media fail to fulfil the journalistic ideal and in part act in its direct opposition, contributing to the aggravation of the crisis. This includes direct breaches of basic journalism norms, for example, through a lack of fact-checking, siding with particular political camps, sensationalism etc., or simply by failing to provide information key to understanding the crisis or to consult alternative sources. Indeed, it could be argued that journalism in the region is itself in a continuous crisis, operating in circumstances of political and corporate capture and scarce resources. The idea of public-service journalism is under-promoted, often pushed to the margins of the media mainstream. As a result, the flaws of journalism are increasingly accepted as a norm.
Crisis situations are taken as an opportunity for political elites to consolidate their power. Mutual antagonism between ethno-national or political factions feeds into the actively promoted notion that the nation is under threat, which almost never fails to cement the support of the electorate for the ruling groups. Instead of resisting such abuse, the media more often than not readily serves particular interests.
With the research coordinated and a regional overview written by Sanela Hodžić, a senior researcher from Mediacentar Sarajevo, the studies focused on the following examples of crisis:
- Protests concerning Grand Park in Tirana, or the so-called Lake Park protests, which started in February 2016, against building of a children playground in the area of Lake Park in Tirana, seen by protesters as part of a dramatic urbanization through which public spaces and green areas across the country are being destroyed (Country report author: Ilda Londo).
Download the report for Albania: “Framing a Crisis in Albania: The Lake Park Protests”
- Events and developments related to the National Day of Republika Srpska (RS) in Bosnia and Herzegovina; the polarization between Bosniaks and Serbs was intensified when RS authorities acted directly against the verdict of the Constitutional Court of BiH (which ruled that the date of celebration of the Day of RS was unconstitutional and discriminatory), organising a related referendum on 25 September 2016, the results of which predictably went against the court decision (Country report author: Lidija Pisker).
Download the report for Bosnia and Herzegovina: “Media crisis or True Crisis? The Referendum on the National Day of Republika Srpska”
- Crisis in relations between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo, triggered by the building of a wall in the divided city of Mitrovica at the end of 2016. Presented as part of revitalization of a bridge that divides the two communities, or as part of secessionist Serb policies in northern Kosovo, it was one of the events that set back the ongoing negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 (Country report author: Isuf Berisha).
Download the report for Kosovo: “On Opposite Sides of the Wall: Reporting Crisis in Kosovo”
- Refugee crisis in Macedonia, dealing with the transit of over 700,000 refugees going from Greece to Western Europe. Deaths of refugees, their illegal detention, threats against them as potential witnesses for criminal proceedings against smugglers, clashes between refugees and police at the border, the closure of the border in March 2016 were some of the issues on which government actions were praised by pro-government media and criticized by other outlets. The refugee crises coincided with a political crisis in the country, something that further polarized the media (Country report author: Marina Tuneva).
Download the report for Macedonia: “Media Coverage of the Refugee Crisis in Macedonia”
- Crisis of relations between Serbia and Croatia that culminated when Zagreb expressed its objections on issues related to education of Croatian minority in Serbia and subsequently blocked the opening of Chapter 26 of Serbia EU accession talks. (Country report author: Jovanka Matić).
Download the report for Serbia: “Framing a Critical Juncture in Serbian-Croatian Relations”
- Crises pertaining to an alleged coup in Montenegro, claimed to be prevented by state authorities. The crisis emerged in the course of the October 2016 general elections, adding fuel to the already inflammatory political climate. Two opposite interpretations of the alleged coup –one portraying it as an act of terrorism and the other as a government hoax—dominated the media coverage. (Country report author: Danijela Vukčević)
Download the report for Montenegro: “Crisis Reporting: How Media in Montenegro Coped with the Coup”
Download the regional report: “Journalism in Times of Crisis: Case Studies in Six SEE Countries”