Bosnia and Herzegovina After the Elections
Bosnia and Herzegovina After the Elections
Report 21 / Europe & Central Asia 3 minutes

Media in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Given the critical role that the media played in the destruction of both Yugoslavia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the on-going role they play in fanning the flames of ethnic hatred, the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina has devoted much time, energy and money to this field.

Executive Summary

Given the critical role that the media played in the destruction of both Yugoslavia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the on-going role they play in fanning the flames of ethnic hatred, the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina has devoted much time, energy and money to this field.  Despite frenetic activity, however, there have been few breakthroughs.  Nearly 15 months after the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) came into force, the media in Bosnia and Herzegovina remain divided into three separate and mutually antagonistic components in Republika Srpska, Bosniac-controlled Federation territory and Croat-controlled Federation territory.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has a mandate to support the media in Bosnia and Herzegovina under Annex 3 of the DPA by way of creating conditions for free and fair elections.  Otherwise, the international community is also able to influence the Bosnian media via subsidies, training programmes, and its own media presentation.

The work of the OSCE’s Media Development Unit (MDU) and in particular its Media Experts’ Commission was extremely disappointing in the run-up to the 1996 national elections.  As a result, nationalist media were able to flout minimum standards with impunity.  The postponement of the municipal elections, however, has given the media development unit a second chance.  Critically, the MDU has new leadership and personnel who appear determined to play a more pro-active role and to respond rapidly to abuses.

Foreign donors, in particular George Soros’s Open Society Fund, the US Agency for International Development and the European Commission ploughed money into media projects in 1996.  However, only the Open Society Fund, which unlike the other principal donors has already been working in Bosnia and Herzegovina for many years and is largely staffed by Bosnian nationals with media expertise, appears to have a long-term strategy.  Donor rivalry and overlap in both training and subsidies are rife and a cost-benefit analysis of media investment indicates a poor return.  Moreover, the very number of media projects, which is out of all proportion to the size of Bosnia’s population and, critically, the limited number of able journalists, dilutes their potential impact.

The highest profile and most expensive project, TV-IN, which is otherwise known as the Open Broadcast Network and cost $10.5 million in 1996, has been a failure.  The fundamental problem was the desire for quick results.  The station went on the air one week before elections to give the impression of media pluralism.  It was not technically ready and lacked the journalists to make it a success.  Worse still, it was built on a network of small Bosniac stations and this has compromised the project in the eyes of both Croats and Serbs.

The other high-profile international media project, the Swiss-financed Free Elections Radio Network (FERN) which cost 2 million DM, also had negligible impact on the Bosnian media scene during the election campaign, despite going on air two months before polling day.  Although originally scheduled to close after the elections, postponement of the municipal poll gave the station a new lease on life and time to develop a quality product and to build up an audience.  It has therefore been able to evolve into an influential medium, albeit concentrated in Bosniac-controlled Federation territory, the part of Bosnia and Herzegovina where media are generally the most open.

The media approach of international organisations in Bosnia and Herzegovina is unimaginative at best.  The principal point of contact with journalists is a daily press conference which is held in English without translation.  While the foreign press corps is well catered for, Bosnian journalists feel that they are ignored and consider the international community’s approach imperialistic.

ICG proposes a series of measures for the international community which, if implemented, could help change the role of the Bosnian media from one which is exacerbating tension to one which could contribute to restoring trust between the country’s peoples.  They include:

  • Switching the focus of press relations from the international media to the Bosnian media and switching media relations work from English into the local language.
  • Initiating an aggressive public information campaign in the Bosnian media to explain to Bosnians what the international community is doing in their country.  This should include frequent appearances by international spokespeople on local television, weekly columns in Croat, Serb and Bosniac newspapers, and public relations on behalf of the many smaller non-governmental organisations working in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • Restructuring TV-IN and expanding FERN in such a way that TV-IN breaks away from the Bosniac stations which currently comprise the network, and that both TV-IN and FERN build Serb and Croat legs, in addition to their Sarajevo headquarters.
  • Using local expertise to help develop a co-ordinated media strategy that would involve rationalising investment to focus on quality, not quantity.

Sarajevo, 18 March 1997 

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.