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May the third is known as the World Day of Press Freedom. But, let's be real, are they really free? How are the journalists treated? Are they able to freely investigate and objectively inform us about the new events in the surrounding and the world?
As we mentioned in one of our previous articles, the Balkans is a very tempestuous region with many downfalls. Eventhough the press freedom is guaranteed on the Balkans, this region lacks behind the other European countries, according to the Press Freedom Index. Bosnia and Herzegovina is placed on the 58th position, Albania on the 84th, North Macedonia on the 92nd position, Serbia is the 93rd, while Montenegro is on the 154th position.
We often witness attacks, harrasments and abusement of female journalists (as well as the male ones). Examples are Olivera Lakić, Živana Šušak Živković, Daško Milinović and many more. Civil society media organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) are very concerned about political influences on the country’s media. Free Media Help Line, a free legal aid program provided by the Association of BH Journalists, registered 45 cases concerning the violation of journalists’ rights in 2018. Five of those were brutal physical attacks, including one attempted murder. Among other violations the foremost frequent were political pressures and threats.
According to research by Mediacentar Sarajevo, due to a fall in advertising revenues, the media in B&H are getting increasingly hooked in to public finance. Subsidies and grants are allocated to the media during a non-transparent manner, while advertising revenues from public companies are exploited for political interests.
Media ownership remains under-regulated: there has been no law limiting media concentration of ownership since 2006 and no information on possible political influences is out there to the general public .
The polarised political climate, marked by constant verbal attacks and nationalist rhetoric, has created a hostile environment for press freedom. Editorial policies reflecting ethnic divisions and hate speech are ever more evident. Journalists are attacked for his or her ethnic origins also as what they write, especially about migration. Defamation suits by politicians often serve to intimidate journalists and deter them from pursuing their work. Manipulation of the media for political purposes continues, especially within the public broadcast media but also in privately-owned media (and online media in particular). Although implementation of the defamation laws has progressed, they still have a self-censorship effect on journalists. Nonetheless, investigative journalism plays a serious role in society and a number of other online media outlets have exposed significant cases of corruption. Yet no legislation has improved the general environment for journalists, no law on online media has been promulgated, and no progress has been made on media ownership transparency. The Covid-19 pandemic undermined and threatened press freedom in 2020. The government held press conferences without journalists being physically present, and officials avoided answering critical questions on the relevance of the government’s measures. Some authorities and state institutions directly obstructed journalists’ work, and in some cases, they even accused journalists of “inaccurate and malicious reporting”.
That being said, we want to warn of the importance of truthful media reporting, without political pressures which often lead to some political games and fake news. Fake news—news articles that are intentionally and verifiably false designed to control people’s perceptions of reality—has been wont to influence politics and promote advertising. But it's also become a way to fire up and intensify social conflict. Stories that are untrue which intentionally mislead readers have caused growing mistrust among people. In some cases this mistrust leads to incivility, protest over imaginary events, or violence. It is time to stop this and allow journalists and other press workers to do their job properly, genuinely, without pressure and objectively.
Press freedom is the foundation of many other basic human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights. Free media can call for accountability – raising awareness of clarity discourages corruption and human rights violations. The problems of marginalized groups and minorities can be heard. Accurate information and free media are the key to public discourse: they form common values and influence policies at the local, state and international levels. Freedom of the media is not limited only to investigative journalism – it also includes satirical texts, columns and editorials.
Author: Ajla Aljović