“The Burden of Experience”, a new documentary produced by SEENPM (The South East European Network for Professionalization of Media) and Mediacentar Sarajevo as part of the “Resilience” project, deals with threats against and harassment of female journalists in the Western Balkans. The film follows three journalists: Serbeze Haxhiaj, an investigative journalist from Kosovo, Nataša Kovačev, a TV journalist from Serbia, and Vanja Stokić, an editor and online journalist from Bosnia and Herzegovina. All three are often exposed to threats because of their journalistic work.
The film premiered at the fourth Fažana Media Fest, after which an interview was organized with the journalists who speak in the film. Director Sabrina Begović Ćorić told Mediacentar Sarajevo that while working on the film, among other things, it led to giving female journalists a voice to talk about their experiences with each other, but also to be the ones who are asked questions, because the journalistic profession is usually in the service of asking questions.
“There are many superheroines in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in the region and the world. Those who baselessly criticize their work from comfortable armchairs should ask themselves what our world would look like if they did not open up difficult topics, ask provocative questions, question the system, and point to injustice,” says Begović Ćorić.
You directed the documentary “The Burden of Experience” which talks about attacks on female journalists in the region, what was the biggest challenge when talking about this topic and why did you choose this title for the film?
The title came from the movie itself. It is actually a quote from one of the lines, because in one part, Serbeze Haxhiaj says that journalism is not an easy job even for men, but the heavy burden of experiencing sexism, direct and indirect pressures and threats, sexual harassment, and threats of rape is specifically reserved for women. The most difficult thing was to compress all the contexts that the issue of women in journalism includes into half an hour of film.
This film shows the increasingly pronounced problem of attacks and violence against women, not only journalists; how big this problem is in BIH and the region?
My goal was to include several types of violence and attacks against female journalists, but also to emphasize that our protagonists come from different countries. Unfortunately, there are many examples. Some stories are better known to the general public, so we decided to include protagonists who come from different media and whose experiences are not so well known, some of the stories were told for the first time. Serbeze Haxhiaj from Kosovo is a radio editor and investigative journalist, Nataša Kovačev from Serbia is a television reporter, while Vanja Sokić edits and writes for an internet portal. Their “cases” are specific and closely related to the type of journalism they practice, but they say a lot about the broader context of not only violence against female journalists, but also the system of protection in place for people working in this profession, primarily women.
In your opinion, why is it important to talk about these topics, especially in regard to female journalists in the context of patriarchal Balkan societies, freedom of speech, as well as pronounced discrimination?
This may not be the most direct answer, but what guided while I was working on this film was, among other things, giving female journalists a voice to talk to each other about their experiences, but also to be the ones who are asked questions, because the journalistic profession is usually in the service of asking questions. Serbeze, Vanja, Nataša, as well as their colleagues, devote their lives to giving a voice to the disenfranchised, to the truth that is taboo, they are a voice against crime, injustice, and corruption. This film was an opportunity for them to, for once, be in the position of being asked, but also in the position of those whose voices needs to be heard, those who need to be empowered.
How demanding was working with journalists who are the target of constant attacks and threats? How much did you know about this topic before the film?
Given that I had previously done a performance about the position of female journalists in contemporary society, the topic was very close to me. I have also read research that unfortunately yielded devastating results, of which the lack of solidarity, especially among female journalists, is the saddest fact. A female journalist who experiences violence, harassment, and provocations is rarely supported in the media outlet she works in, in the wider journalistic community, especially in the public, who can’t wait to tear her apart.
The protagonists talk about that dimension in the film as well, how important every bit of support is to them and how much it gives them the strength to continue. It is important to me that, in addition to the part where we talk about the problems that women journalists have encountered and are still encountering, they also talk about what encourages them not to give up working in journalism.
As a woman, could you identify with the problems your protagonists are talking about?
The problems encountered by Serbeze, Vanja, and Nataša are not specifically reserved for female journalists, they are also present in other professions. Given that my profession is in a way close to journalism, and that both of them are traditionally associated with men as professionals, I could understand their problems from personal experience, too.
A lot of attacks on female journalists today happen online. How important is it to teach young women, not only female journalists, that it is important to know how to protect themselves and how much does this film warn about those important aspects?
Online violence and threats must be given more attention. They are more and more present and the biggest fear is that this type of violence and attacks could be normalized due to the sloppiness of the system, but also because the journalists themselves often think that it is all part of the job, that they agreed to that part when they opted for the journalistic profession. We need to communicate how dangerous that segment is and respond before one of those threats is carried out beyond the online space.
Did you learn anything new about this topic while working on “The Burden of Experience”? How much did the stories of the protagonists in some way shape you and influence you to portray them the way you did?
I can’t say that I learned something new in general about the subject of attacks and violence, because it is an issue that is being resolved very slowly and that has been frequent for decades.
What impressed me and affected the way of presenting the film’s protagonists is their courage, boldness and perseverance. That’s why my approach to presenting their private and work life was to highlight the dimension in which they are really heroines, real life superheroes, like from comics and science fiction movies.
I am not just talking about the three protagonists as the film’s format allowed, there are many superheroines both in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in the region and the world. Those who baselessly criticize their work from comfortable armchairs should ask themselves what our world would look like if they did not open up difficult topics, ask provocative questions, question the system, and point to injustice. That is why I believe that this is also a call for greater and louder support to the protection of women in journalism.
The article was originally published by Mediacentar Sarajevo.