As media owners' and politicians' ethics are called into question, journalists attempt to maintain professional standards.
By Bedrana Kaletovic for Southeast European Times in Tuzla -- 14/07/12
Cases of media owners who hide their ties to the media houses from the public yet finance their media operations with public funds in collusion with politicians and demand journalist loyalty in reporting have raised a debate about how to defend journalism from pressures and improve its public standing.
"The perception that journalists are 'bad guys' that politicians can shut up ... is widespread. That is devastating news, and the only thing worse is that society has not reacted to it," Borka Rudic, member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) Journalist Association, told SETimes.
Many bloggers argue the reality is that journalists in the region endure pressures, threats and physical violence for aspiring to preserve their professional integrity.
"Journalism is an exceedingly difficult and responsible profession," Maja Nikolic, a journalist for Radio Free Europe in BiH, told SETimes.
"Citizens are not aware they will not know certain things without the engagement of journalists, such as the fact they are often defrauded by politicians, various lobbyists and interest groups," Nikolic said.
"Because society is disoriented, such is the situation with the media in the entire former Yugoslavia," an anonymous commenter said.
A case in point is Montenegro, where prosecutors have not processed a single case involving attacks on journalists in the past four years.
"The public word in Montenegro is killed, all that is left is to bury it," Veselin Drljevic, editor of the sport's section at the daily Dani, said.
Journalist associations in Serbia and Croatia said the biggest problem is the media houses hide the identity of their true owners, creating distrust among the public towards the information they publish.
"Those who pay for advertisements run the newspapers. ... That is why in our newspapers there is not a word against the big businesses. Another reason is that the journalists do not have the courage and knowledge to deal with such topics," Matan, a Croatian blogger, said.
Others, like Snjezana Milivojevic, a blogger from Serbia, point to the non-transparent state financing of media and a lack effective public oversight as undermining journalism.
"This convoluted mix of money and influence testifies about the high-level of corruption in the commercial and public media ... reflects the political and financial influence from the power centres to the media," she said.
Many bloggers in BiH agree news is not selected according to the public interest since the public is apathetic and politicians like Milorad Dodik use significant public funds to buy journalists' support.
"It is curious that for ordinary people in Republika Srpska this development is not suspicious, but has become a normal occurrence. What Dodik does cannot be compared even to Milosevic: he has introduced a total media blockade for anyone who is against him," Cutura said.
Other bloggers argued the traces of a war mindset and a propaganda framework in the media, remainders from the 1990s, seem to have scarred the profession, contributing to the perception of journalists in addition to financial-political influence.
"Not being professional remains a problem which arrived with the war period, degrading the professional and ethical principles," Mirza Mehmedovic, professor of communications at Tuzla University, told SETimes.
Mehmedovic argued journalism should be brought back among what he terms the elite professions as a means to bring back this profession's dignity.
"In Serbia, however, the first court rulings against commentaries containing hate speech have been made, indisputably pointing to the media to take responsibility for their space," Milan Kovach, a journalist working for the Alternative Television from Banja Luka, said.