SEENPM documentary “The Burden of Experience” premiered at Fažana Media Fest

Bosnian journalist Vanja Stokić experiences undue pressures, threats and attacks on a weekly basis. She is sometimes too exhausted to report them to police. Stokić is among many journalists in the Western Balkans in a similar situation. We heard stories of three of them on the occasion of the premiere of a documentary “The Burden of Experience”, which deals with threats and harassment of women journalists in the Western Balkans.

This film, produced by SEENPM and Mediacentar Sarajevo within the “Resilience” project, premiered at Fažana Media Fest in Croatia, follows three journalists: Serbeze Haxhiaj, an investigative journalist from Kosovo, Nataša Kovačev, TV journalist from Serbia and Vanja Stokić, editor and online journalist from Bosnia and Herzegovina. All three are frequently exposed to threats because of their journalistic work. They spoke at a panel discussion following the film screening.

Trailer for the film “The Burden of Experience”

Newsrooms should have a team of people or a person who deals with pressures, threats and attacks on journalists, said Nataša Kovačev at the screening of the film. “Sometimes you are too tired to deal with the incidents, sometimes you don’t expect to get any support from your newsroom and choose to ignore them, and some journalists don’t know who to turn to – not everyone knows the procedure”, Kovačev explained.

Very often the attacks come from high-level politics, the panelists agreed. “Politicians are spreading some really bad narratives about journalists, especially women journalists”, said Stokić.

Professional solidarity is often missing, Kovačev pointed out. “When a politician says something against a journalist at a press conference, all colleagues should stand up and leave“, she said while also stressing the lack of solidarity among journalists in the Western Balkans.

“We lack solidarity for different reasons. Some journalists are afraid of losing their job, some don’t want to support a particular colleague, while some support the politician [responsible for the attack]”, Kovačev explained.

Haxhiaj thinks that journalists’ associations in the Balkans should cooperate and be louder against the culture of impunity. “I think that huge burden is on the journalists’ associations – how they will handle solidarity all over the Balkans”, Haxhiaj said.

Panel discussion on the occasion of the premiere of the film “The Burden of Experience”. Photo credit: SEENPM.

Should journalists’ associations ask the media to report attacks on journalists regularly considering that this could be seen as interference in editorial policies and would the media see this issue as public interest? Replying to the question from the audience, Haxhiaj said she had no doubt that this would not be interference as the attacks and pressures are “violating and shredding democracy”.

However, Kovačev was not sure of the answer: “The news should appear everywhere because it’s in the public interest and deals with all of us, but I sometimes think that people feel overwhelmed with news of this kind – they listen about attacks on daily basis and they get used to them; if we reported every day about the attacks, people would lose interest unfortunately”.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the media are divided along ethnic lines – some media in the Republika Srpska entity do not want to report about attacks on journalists in the Federation of BiH entity and vice versa, Stokić explained.

Despite the hardships, the three journalists agreed that it is the love of and passion for journalism that keeps them soldiering on. 

“My stories got some great reactions and even changed some lives”, Stokić said and concluded: “When I compare the stress, threats and the lack of personal life with these positive outcomes – the latter always wins”.

Watch the debate following the premiere of the film at Fažana Media Fest.

“The Burden of Experience” will be screened on TV stations in the Western Balkans.

Fourth Fažana Media Fest took place between 5 and 11 September in a small Croatian town Fažana. With this year’s main topic “Women and the media”, the festival brought numerous workshops, exhibitions, performance, film screenings and sessions that celebrate women in journalism.

Fažana Media Fest is organized by Investigative Journalism Centre Croatia and co-organized by Municipality of Fažana, Tourist Association of Fažana, Informo, Media Diversity Institute and SEENPM. 

The regional program RESILIENCE: Civil society action to reaffirm media freedom and counter disinformation and hateful propaganda in Western Balkans and Turkey’ is implemented with the financial support of the European Union by partner organizations SEENPMAlbanian Media InstituteMediacentar Sarajevo, Kosovo 2.0Montenegrin Media InstituteMacedonian Institute for MediaNovi Sad School of JournalismPeace Institute and Bianet.

This article was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of SEENPM and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.