By Mirna Stanković – Luković
Of all the local public televisions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo Canton Television receives the most funding for its operations. Every year, TVSA receives nearly 3.5 million KM (around 1.75 million EUR) from the budget of the Canton, which in 2014, according to the Report on the Work and Operation of this media outlet, amounted to more than 80% of the television station’s overall revenue.
“The main activity shall be primarily funded from resources provided by the Public Enterprise, as well as by resources of the founder, from the ‘Information’ budget line”, states Article 13 of the Decision on the Founding of the Public Enterprise of Sarajevo Canton TV, published in the Official Gazette of Sarajevo Canton, number 7/98, 13 April 1998.
Despite the deviation of funding practices from the provisions of the founding document, the allocation of money from the budget to the television station does not stop there.
The response to Žurnal’s access to information request was as follows. “In 2013 and 2014, the City of Sarajevo concluded an Agreement on Business and Technical Cooperation with TVSA, whose total value was 46,800 KM including VAT (2013 – 23,400 KM incl. VAT; 2014 – 23,400 KM incl. VAT). The Agreement regulates the coverage and promotion of activities and projects of the City of Sarajevo using communication tools such as items on the city’s current projects and the activities of city officials, items on press conferences, guest appearances of City of Sarajevo representatives in the media outlet’s programs (Journal, Morning Program, Good Vibrations, Coffee with …, etc.)”.
THREE MARKS PER HOUSEHOLD
The already mentioned Report on the Work and Operation of the Public Enterprise of TVSA for 2014, which the Canton Government adopted in mid-January 2016, provides somewhat different data from those the City gave us. Revenue from the City of Sarajevo in 2013 amounted to 19,090 KM, while it was 30,530 KM the next year!
In the agreement with the City of Sarajevo, TVSA committed to broadcasting live the formal sessions held on the occasion of 6 April (Sarajevo City Day), and 25 November (B&H Statehood Day), “and from the sessions to provide video recordings for the archive of the City of Sarajevo. Also, in its program, it broadcast greetings on state occasions, religious and New Year holidays”.
In addition to that, in 2013 and 2014, TVSA also generated revenue from “certain city municipalities with which it has had many years of successful cooperation”:
In total, from the City and six municipalities in the territory of Sarajevo Canton, TVSA collected more than 160,000 KM in 2013, and more than 175,000 KM the next year.
These data confirm that budget funds are not spent transparently. When researching reports on budget executions, Žurnal calculated the amount of 120,000 KM (which five municipalities had paid into TVSA’s account in 2013), and 90,000 KM the next year. In its budget execution reports, one Sarajevo municipality did not even show payments for TVSA, while some municipalities showed smaller amounts than those published by TVSA.
In this way, the citizens of Sarajevo are actually paying for Sarajevo’s cantonal television three times: once through the Canton of Sarajevo budget; once from the budget of the City of Sarajevo; and once from the budget of the municipality in which they live. When all the amounts that TVSA receives from different budgets are added up, it seems that every household in the Canton pays three marks (1.5 EUR)per month for the television station’s work.
The public media outlet’s revenue from the budgets of the City and municipalities is listed as marketing revenue, which is an additional problem: under the Code on Commercial Communication, “commercial communication shall be immediately recognized as such”, with the Code defining commercial communication on television as “visual presentations with or without sound. They are aimed at promoting, directly or indirectly, products, services or images of a natural or legal person engaged in economic activity. Such visual presentations accompany, or are included in the program in exchange for monetary compensation or a similar counter-service, or for the purpose of self-promotion. Forms of audio-visual commercial communication include, among other things, television advertising, sponsorship, teleshopping and product placement.”
From the response we received from the City of Sarajevo, we know that the paid items are about “the city’s current projects and the activities of city officials, items on press conferences, and guest appearances of City of Sarajevo representatives in the media outlet’s programs”. The City receives at least a part of these services from other commercial or public media as well, but does not pay for them.
From some municipality budget execution reports, we know that payments were made for so-called “chronicles of current events” – items on what is happening in municipalities, which are aired in a program called Sarajevo Chronicle. This program airs on Saturdays at 13:50. It commissions content, but contrary to the Code on Commercial Communication, they are not labelled as “paid programming”. Seventeen hours of this program are produced a year, with 31 hours of repeats.
According to Professor Lejla Turčilo of the Faculty of Political Science of Sarajevo, “The situation today is that information is commercial merchandise. We consider information a commercial resource to be used as if it was some kind of new currency. That currency is easily turned into our regular currency. However, public broadcasters should not operate that way. If I, as a resident of a municipality in Sarajevo, am interested in getting information about what stretch of a road has been built, then public television has an obligation to give me that information.” Professor Turčilo adds that the difference between information which the station produces without charging payment and when it does charge payment can be determined by the approach.
“That is what is arguable. It is not whether you took money to broadcast certain information, but it goes without saying, when you took the money, you signed some sort of loyalty to whoever is paying for the broadcast that the information will be presented in their interests. That is the gist of marketing contracts. What you paid for will be broadcast in a way that is in your interests. However, citizens should know whether that information was paid for or not. Any content that is broadcast and paid for should be labeled, so that we citizens know it was paid for and is being broadcast that way,” argues Professor Turčilo.
COSTLY MARKETING SERVICES
Mario Nenadić, Minister of Justice and Administration, whose portfolio includes TVSA, told Žurnal that his Ministry, and the Sarajevo Canton Government, know that TVSA is concluding contracts with the City and municipalities.
“We know that contracts are being concluded with municipalities. Without going into a deeper analysis of the situation, we have concluded that it is a supply and demand relationship: it is a mutual interest, where a certain product or service is purchased,” he told Žurnal.
The minister did not know whether TVSA labels these contents as paid programming, and believes this is a matter for the Communications Regulatory Agency.
“The Ministry of Justice and Administration has no right or grounds to be involved in the content and broadcasting of programs,” said Nenadić. In his belief, the Ministry is responsible for the portion of the budget funds allocated to them.
“In that regard, we request information on the expenditure of these funds. We believe the Ministry is not the body that should carry out inspections of these matters. We are interested in a justification for the funds we approved,” said Nenadić.
Žurnal asked Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA) if these contents broadcast by TVSA should be labelled as paid contents and received the following answer:
“We are particularly drawing attention to sponsorship which is defined by the Code as “participation of public or private legal entity or individual which is not offering audio-visual media services or media services of radio broadcasting, that is is not engaged in production of audio or audio-visual works, in financing audio-visual media services or media services of radio broadcasting or of program with the aim of promoting its name, brand, image, activities or products”.
CRA emphasized that one of the main obligations is to ensure recognizability of commercial communications compared to other, editorial content. In case of advertising, this is achieved through optical, acoustic or spacial means, while in case of sponsorship or product placement such commercial communications have to be clearly marked, in a way proscribed by the Code, so that viewers could be aware of the existence of a commercial contract.
“The Agency stresses that it cannot give general opinions on a certain programme content. In accordance with its mandate, the Agency through a procedure establishes if applicable rules and regulations have been breached by airing certain contents, exclusively based on monitoring the programme content in question and other relevant facts, such as documentation that proves the nature of commercial agreement and the like”.
TVSA’s total marketing revenue in 2014 was 652,384 KM (333,558.6 EUR), which made up less than 20% of TVSA’s overall revenue. According to an analysis performed by CRA, the percentage of revenue from marketing in 2012 for TVSA was a little below 16%. Among all 12 public television stations, only two had a poorer result: Prijedor and Rudo.
In its report for 2014, TVSA’s marketing department stated that “certain limitations of an administrative and legal nature, TVSA’s position as a local media outlet, and CRA provisions have all considerably impeded the work of the department, and have directly affected the source of its own revenue from marketing and services.”
The report further states that TVSA’s programming does not contain attractive enough content in terms of marketing, and that TVSA’s marketing services, compared to the competition, are considerably more expensive.
TVSA does not participate in a viewership-monitoring system, and it is therefore unknown how many viewers it actually has. The reason for this is allegedly the excessive cost of such a system, and outdated people meters. According to a report on the work of the TVSA portal, its website in 2013 had between 50,000 and 70,000 visits a month, while they have 11,000 likes on their Facebook profile.
In the whole report sent by TVSA to the Sarajevo Canton Government, there is no figure stated anywhere that even estimates how many viewers the TV station has, although some shows are claimed to be “most-watched” and “iconic”. The marketing department, through direct contacts with clients and viewers, calculated that the most-watched programs are Sarajevo Morning, Good Vibration, and entertainment and music programs, and that prime viewing time is just before the start of the 18:30 news program.
In its annual report, the marketing department did not spare its newsroom colleagues from criticism:
“An unsightly visual image of program hosts, journalists and reporters is still present to considerable extent, accompanied by unprofessional and inadequate performances,” states the report that was adopted by the Sarajevo Canton Government.
Konstantin Jovanović, TVSA’s former director, told Žurnal, “As it is, Cantonal TV does not fulfil its function, and does not justify the invested budget funds. Whether the solution is closure or privatization, I am not sure, and I do not want to spend too much time thinking about it. I would like to forget about working at that station as soon as possible, as well as about the way I was dismissed.”
Despite all the budget funds that are “pumped” into this public enterprise every year, TVSA ended the 2014 financial year with a gain of around 8,000 KM (4,090 EUR).
Translation: Kanita Halilović
This article has been produced with the financial assistance of the South East European Media Observatory project, supported by the European Union. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.