Accessibility links

Balkan Report: March 12, 2004


12 March 2004, Volume 8, Number 10

SERBIAN MEDIA IN A NEW ERA. The key factor in Serbia is that a new coalition government headed by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica of the conservative nationalist Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) took office on 3 March. The government also consists of the reformist G-17 Plus party and a coalition of the conservative nationalist Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) of Vuk Draskovic and Velimir Ilic's New Serbia party.

It is a minority government that relies on the legislative support of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). It is obvious that there will be many forces and personalities fighting for influence, power, and money in the new political landscape, which could make itself reflected in the media scene.

For example, among those seen at the DSS party offices during the coalition talks on 19 January was prominent and controversial businessman Bogoljub Karic, whose many interests include the private broadcaster BK TV. Karic financially supports numerous conservative or nationalist causes but is believed to be primarily motivated by a desire to create the best climate for his extensive business interests, rather than by any specific ideology.

The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 24 December that Karic was among those well-heeled individuals who allegedly bought influence in the previous Serbian legislature. The reported buying and selling of legislative votes ultimately led to the downfall of the previous government, which tottered ever since the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic of the Democratic Party on 12 March 2003.

But while Karic and others may be active behind the scenes, two factors are visible in the public domain. First is the new Minister of Culture Dragan Kojadinovic (SPO), who is a former editor at Studio B Television. He is well known as a Draskovic loyalist.

That leads to the second factor, which is the legal framework. On 19 July 2002, the Serbian parliament adopted the Broadcasting Act, but enforcement has been patchy, according to the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM). In any event, the new government will have to fill vacancies on administrative and oversight boards.

For now, Kostunica's first priority is to draft a new constitution. He has spoken of holding new elections once that is done, but it is not clear if some of his coalition partners will agree. In any event, any drafting and enacting of new media legislation will most likely have to wait until the new constitution is finished.

In addition to the influence of moneyed interests and problems with the legal framework, the Serbian media landscape suffers from clutter. Besides BK TV and the other main private television broadcaster, TV Pink, there is the old socialist-era dinosaur of Radio-Television Serbia.

Furthermore, perhaps well over 1,000 private radio stations can be found scattered throughout one of Europe's poorest countries. Some experts say that the optimal number for a country Serbia's size would be about 300.

Moreover, Belgrade, like many other capitals in this part of the world, has more daily newspapers than it would seem the market can support. The mass-circulation "Glas Javnosti," "Vecernje novosti," and "Blic" are perhaps the most influential, if not necessarily the most serious.

The oldest and traditionally most prestigious is "Politika," which marks its 100th birthday this year. The paper was the flagship of serious Yugoslav journalism before the collapse of communism, but Milosevic turned it into a propaganda mouthpiece. Following his ouster, "Politika" drew close to Kostunica, but that did not stop Djindjic from giving his New Year 2003 interview to it. "Politika" is currently owned by the German WAZ group, and its future is anybody's guess.

As to the newsweeklies, the most serious remain "Vreme," whose future is in jeopardy because of low circulation figures, and "NIN," which is due for privatization.

Use of computers and the Internet is considered cool and trendy, but it remains largely limited to those who have access to them at their school or place of work, or those who can afford to have a computer at home or regularly visit an Internet cafe.

Politically motivated lawsuits were no stranger to the outgoing government that followed Milosevic's ouster in October 2000, including charges filed by one member of the governing coalition against another, or by an official against a journalist.

In the second category, Vladimir Popovic "Beba," who headed the Serbian government's Communications Department, filed charges in Belgrade on 27 June 2003 against "Vreme" and its well-known journalist Milos Vasic for some of "Vreme's" articles during the state of emergency declared after Djindjic was killed. Beba wanted $33,000 for "mental anguish and damage to his reputation." He had previously filed similar charges against several other news organizations, including "NIN," Radio B92, and the "Novosti" publishing house, and also against dozens of individual journalists.

Nonetheless, then-Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said publicly that Beba's many lawsuits were his own private affair and not the work of the government. Lawsuits against critical media were a frequent practice under Milosevic and the late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman.

Beba's successor in charge of media affairs in the new government is Srdjan Djuric, whom Karic sacked one year ago from BK TV at a time when Karic was friendly with Djindjic. Karic is now considered close to Kostunica.

An important problem that has emerged in 2004 -- following the strong showing by the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) in the 28 December parliamentary elections -- has been threats against Croatian media in Vojvodina (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 January 2004). (Patrick Moore)

KOSOVA'S COMPLEX MEDIA SCENE. While the overall situation in Kosova might be called stable, political tension in the province still remains high. The ethnic Albanian majority increasingly regards the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) as a colonial institution that has overstayed its welcome. Albanian political leaders press for UNMIK to transfer more and more of its powers to elected institutions. The Albanians' goal is independence and an end to all ties to Serbia.

Representatives of the Serbian minority, which makes up less than 10 percent of the population, seek greater security guarantees for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, as well as for freedom of movement. Most Serbian leaders stress the need for Belgrade to play a continuing role in Kosova's affairs. Should the Albanians succeed in winning independence, most Serbs would opt to partition the province, which the Albanians would not accept. The new Serbian Prime Vojislav Minister Kostunica has already called for a form of partition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2004).

After the parliamentary elections in late 2001, the new Kosovar government led by Bajram Rexhepi took office on 4 March 2002. The international community announced in November 2003 that talks on the final status of Kosova could begin as early as mid-2005, but only if eight tough standards are met first.

The situation of the electronic media in Kosova is quite different from that of other Balkan countries in that it is still controlled by the Temporary Media Commissioner (TMC), an independent institution introduced in June 2000 by UNMIK. Persistent but unconfirmed reports have suggested for some months that the TMC is due to be closed soon, but it still appears to be functioning.

The TMC, which receives administrative support from the OSCE, "acts as the regulatory agency for broadcast media and is responsible for the implementation of a temporary licensing regime. This role includes upholding the principles of freedom of opinion and expression, but also entails the disciplinary authority to ensure that broadcasters uphold their licensing obligations," according to the TMC's official website, which, however, otherwise appears to be in need of updating (http://www.osce.org/kosovo/bodies/tmc).

While print media are not subject to TMC control, the TMC was given temporary authority to address the conduct of the print media in Kosova.

It is mainly due to the international community's ability to influence editorial policies among the Kosovar media that nationalist content has been greatly reduced. Nonetheless, threats are made against journalists from time to time. Furthermore, investigative reporting has a long way to go, especially regarding key areas where change is needed, such as crime, corruption, and attacks on Serbs.

The media market in Kosova is dominated by a small number of major players. The major electronic broadcaster is the public Radio and Television Kosova (RTK), which is the only television broadcast to include multiethnic programming. It must nonetheless struggle both to keep going and to meet its goal of instituting 24-hour broadcasting.

RTK officials complain bitterly that they receive little foreign funding because they are a public broadcaster, even though they are the only television corporation that is multiethnic. Two private Albanian-language television broadcasters, by contrast, receive more foreign funding. Adem Demaci, known as "Kosova's Mandela" for his long years spent as a political prisoner under the Communists, recently resigned as chairman of RTK, in part out of frustration with the lack of funding.

Evening television newscasts are the main source of electronic media information for most of the population. In addition to broadcasts from within Kosova, programs are received from Albania, Macedonia, and the Albanian Service of the Voice of America (VOA).

In addition to the major radio and television providers, there are about 50 local radio stations that primarily broadcast entertainment programs.

In recent years, Internet cafes have sprouted up in Prishtina and elsewhere, but computer use is still limited by most European standards. Interest in the Internet nonetheless received a big boost during the 1998-99 conflict, both within Kosova and in the large and important diaspora. Internet users are most likely to be from the younger segments of the population or from professional classes. Among the Albanian-language programs of foreign radio stations, VOA ranks first, which is probably a result of the powerful impact of its television broadcasting. RFE/RL comes second, followed by the long-established Deutsche Welle (DW).

RFE/RL is the newest of the three broadcasters but enjoys an advantage over the others in that it is widely regarded as the most objective and serious, as well as being concerned primarily with Kosova rather than with Albania. DW tends to be seen as close to Albania's Socialists, while the VOA is regarded as sympathetic to Albania's Democrats. VOA's main advantage over its rivals is its television program, which broadcasts the first news bulletin early each evening.

Print media are widely dominated by three groups: the Koha group, the Zeri group, and the daily "Bota Sot." Prishtina has five daily newspapers, and, as elsewhere in much of postcommunist Eastern Europe, seems long overdue for a consolidation of the market. The dailies are: "Bota Sot" ("The World Today"), "Koha Ditore" ("The Daily Times"), "Zeri" ("The Voice"), "Kosova Sot" ("Kosova Today"), and "Epoka e Re" ("The New Era").

While the Koha group also has a television program (Kohavision), its major outlet is the daily "Koha Ditore." That paper is closely affiliated with the political parties that emerged from the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK).

It is inseparable from the name of its publisher, Veton Surroi, and has sought to be regarded as Kosova's most serious daily. Some readers, however, feel that its quality has declined in recent months following some personnel changes in top editorial management in the second half of 2003.

The Swiss-based daily "Bota Sot" is widely regarded as close to Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK). "Bota Sot" vies with "Koha Ditore" for the top circulation figures in Kosova, but is hands-down the most widely sold Albanian-language daily in the diaspora. It frequently publishes materials based on RFE/RL programming. (Patrick Moore and Ulrich Buechsenschuetz)

THE MACEDONIAN MEDIA IN 2003. The Macedonian parliamentary elections of fall 2002 brought about a change in the government, which calmed the waves in the country's political life. However, a short flare-up of violence, the kidnapping of two persons, and a subsequent large-scale police operation in September 2003 caused a government crisis, which showed that the governing coalition of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), the Liberal Democrats (LDP), and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) is not as stable as it initially appeared to be (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003 and 2 February 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5, 12, and 19 September 2003).

The situation of Macedonian journalists improved in 2003, but some obstacles remain. Politicians are still trying to influence reporting, for instance by suing journalists for libel. In 2003, a Skopje court found three journalists guilty of libel in separate cases; two of the journalists were fined, and one even received a conditional three-months prison term.

In October 2003, the government presented draft changes to the Penal Code raising fines for libel. The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (ZNM) protested the plans, demanding that the government follow the Council of Europe's recommendation and remove libel and slander from the Penal Code altogether.

Media outlets are often aligned with political interests, and journalistic standards are accordingly low. "Macedonia has no neutral newspapers. All take...sides," Erol Rizaov of "Utrinski vesnik" said, adding that, "We have independent, but not neutral journalism" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 December 2003).

As was expected, the new government tried to secure its influence over the state-owned Macedonian Radio and Television (MRTV). When MRTV Director Ljubomir Jakimovski, who was appointed by the previous government, resigned on 30 October 2002, the SDSM named Gordana Stosic as new director (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002).

After her appointment, Stosic "launched a program to transform MRTV into an effective public broadcaster, and received widespread support from the international community, particularly the OSCE; however, the transformation will not become effective unless there are changes in the broadcasting law," according to the U.S. State Department's annual report on the human rights situation in Macedonia.

In addition to its Macedonian-language radio and TV broadcasts, MRTV also broadcasts in the Albanian language and, to a minor extent, in Turkish, Vlach, Romany, and Serbian. Among the country's approximately 150 local radio and TV stations, many broadcast in minority languages.

These private radio and TV stations often have arrangements with the foreign-languages services of international broadcasters such as RFE/RL, VOA, BBC, or Deutsche Welle. The Albanian-language services of RFE/RL and VOA have affiliates in all regions with a strong Albanian population, including Skopje. VOA's Macedonian service has arrangements with some local radio and TV stations, while RFE/RL's Macedonian newscasts are broadcast by the nation-wide Kanal 77.

The biggest change to the media landscape took place in the print sector.

In August, the German WAZ media group bought up the country's three major dailies, "Dnevnik," "Utrinski vesnik," and "Vest" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July and 1 August 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 August 2003). Taken together, the three dailies had a circulation of 120,000 to 150,000 copies, thus accounting for about 90 percent of the Macedonian newspaper market.

The dailies are now formally owned by the newly formed Media Print Macedonia (MPM); its director is Srgjan Kerim, a former foreign minister and ambassador to Germany and the United Nations. Trifun Kostovski, a wealthy businessman, who is also an independent lawmaker elected on the ticket of the governing Social Democrats, is a minority shareholder in "Utrinski vesnik" and "Vest."

After the purchase, MPM tried to dispel the notion that it has a monopoly on the Macedonian-language newspaper market by pointing to the fact that WAZ was the first international publishing house to sign the OSCE declaration on editorial independence. However, MPM's competitors "Nova Makedonija," "Vecer," and "Makedonija denes" had minimal circulations before the WAZ deal. And in October 2003, the bankrupt Nova Makedonija publishing house, which published "Nova Makedonija," "Vecer," as well as "Birlik" (in Turkish) and "Flaka" (in Albanian), went into liquidation (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 December 2002 and 31 October 2003).

Only "Fakti" remains as an independent Albanian-language newspaper, but its sympathies clearly lie with the more radical political parties such as the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians or the governing BDI. Many observers believe the weekly "Lobi" to be the most important and most independent Albanian-language publication in Macedonia.

At present, it is hard to assess the role of the Internet on the Macedonian media market. Given the economic situation in Macedonia and the limited accessibility of the Internet, it is likely that radio and TV will dominate the market for a long time to come. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

BOSNIA: DIVIDED COUNTRY, DIVIDED MEDIA. Bosnia remains a society firmly divided along ethnic lines. The general elections held on 5 October 2002 saw the return to power of the three nationalist parties that governed during the 1992-95 conflict. But just as these politicians have generally been sufficiently clever not to try to blatantly turn the clock back, the media have not returned to the hate speech common during the war.

In the years since the Dayton agreements were concluded at the end of 1995, strict international regulation of broadcasting licenses and frequencies has gotten the hatemongers off the air and kept them off.

Not so in the print media. Experts say it is not simply that newspapers support certain political parties -- this is common even in established democracies -- but reporting, for the most part, can be sensational, unbalanced, and irresponsible. According to Freedom House's Annual Press Freedom Survey 2002, Bosnia's media outlets are still "mainly established on the basis of party or ethnic interests." That remains largely true today.

Depressed economic conditions keep newspaper circulation rates low in Bosnia. Although figures remain sketchy, most of the larger national and regional papers have circulation figures of somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 copies.

Pluralism has not led to a rise in standards. Reporting in newspapers still depends on rumors and anonymous, "well-informed" sources, especially if it can be used to discredit a political rival.

Many observers agree that "Oslobodjenje" is resting on the laurels it received for its dogged determination to continue publishing during the wartime siege of Sarajevo. Its main competition in Muslim areas is "Dnevni avaz," which is widely seen as close to the Office of the High Representative, although its roots are in the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and it recently called for pro-Muslim protests against High Representative Paddy Ashdown. "Oslobodjenje" also publishes abroad for the large and important diaspora, which includes refugees and Gastarbeiter (guest workers).

In Croatian areas, dailies from Croatia predominate, including some with special supplements for Herzegovina. The main Croatian dailies have long been available for the diaspora.

In the Republika Srpska, the most serious daily is "Nezavisne novine" from Banja Luka, which many observers consider more balanced and informative than "Oslobodjenje" or "Dnevni avaz," to say nothing of the nationalist Serbian papers. Serbs throughout the former Yugoslavia were traditionally known as avid daily newspaper readers, although tough economic conditions have taken their toll. For the diaspora, the only Serbian daily is the Frankfurt-based "Vesti," which concentrates on Serbian affairs but often runs articles and interviews on the Republika Srpska.

In general in Bosnia, there is a common perception that journalists are just corruptible players in a dirty, political game. High Representative Paddy Ashdown has publicly noted the link between biased journalism and widespread popular cynicism in regard to politics.

The death and funeral of former Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic in October 2003 were reported and commented on by the Serbian and Croatian media, but were often given over to communist-style bombastic treatment by the Muslim media. The Muslim print dailies contained page after page of coverage for several days, including gushing comments from ordinary citizens as to what Izetbegovic meant to them. Television coverage was similarly extensive and uncritical, including reports on traffic conditions for the funeral -- broadcast to the far reaches of the country.

Television remains the most influential and popular media for the majority of Bosnians. Bosnia once had nearly 300 radio and television stations in a country of 3.5 million people --that figure was reputed to be one of the densest rates in the world. Through a licensing process, that was then whittled down to about 50 TV and 150 radio stations.

The dominant players in the electronic broadcasting market are still the public broadcasters in the respective entities: Radio and Television of the Federation of BiH (RTVFBiH) and Radio and Television of the Republika Srpska (RTRS). In addition HRT, the Croatian state television broadcaster from Zagreb, also reaches around 75 percent of the Muslim and Croat federation. NTV Hayat is also influential in Muslim areas.

Growing in popularity is the state-wide Public Broadcasting System for Bosnia and Herzegovina, which gained its own frequency in 2003. The system operates a radio station called Radio BH1 and also produces television news broadcasts for transmission by local stations.

In May 2002, outgoing High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch imposed the Law on Public Broadcasting System. The law was ratified by the Bosnian parliament in August 2002. Petritsch's law allows public broadcasters, on both a state and entity level, several sources of public financing. These include subscription fees, advertising, sponsorship, and direct state funding.

Journalists are still in danger in Bosnia, though probably less so than in recent years. An important means of control is through subtle pressures; most politicians shun journalists known to ask critical questions. The journalists, for their part, are often under the influence of communist-style reporting that simply serves to amplify rather than analyze or criticize the views of officials. Few politicians have grasped the niceties of public relations.

Among international broadcasters, RFE/RL holds pride of place in Bosnia, having launched its broadcasts 10 years ago with many of Bosnia's best-known radio and television personalities. VOA also has specialized programming for that country. Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service, which recently marked its 10th birthday, targets Bosnians with a special interest in Germany because of their work or refugee experience.

The Internet remains small-scale in Bosnia, and penetration rates are among the lowest in Europe, although Internet cafes are spreading. Computer access is restricted, for the most part, to the wealthier, more educated segments of the population, and to those with computers at their school or office. Young people tend to show a particularly avid interest when they have an opportunity to do so. Most of Bosnia's major media outlets have their own websites, which also enables them to keep contact with the diaspora. (Patrick Moore and Luke Allnutt)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The fight against terrorism cannot be a wild, uncontrolled war." -- Presiding Judge Klaus Tolksdorf of Germany's Constitutional Court, announcing the right to a retrial for Mounir El Motassadeq, a Moroccan jailed for 15 years in February 2003 in connection with the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. He was also found guilty then of membership in a German Al-Qaeda cell. Motassadeq is the only man ever convicted of helping the 11 September hijackers. Quoted by Reuters in Karlsruhe on 4 March.

"The threat we face is not conventional. It is a challenge of a different nature from anything the world has faced before. It is to the world's security what globalization is to the world's economy." -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Quoted by RFE/RL from London on 5 March.

XS
SM
MD
LG