Media caught between local needs and national policies

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Monitoring of the public perception of the quality of media reporting in minority languages, initiated in February in the municipalities of Bujanovac and Presevo by BIRN Serbia, was the topic of a debate which took place yesterday in Bujanovac, and which was hosted by the OSCE.

As part of the survey,  people were able to directly and openly express their views about the local media.

The aim of the debate was to evaluate the content, accuracy and  objectivity, of the local media who are reporting in Albanian language, and to assess the overall quality of journalism.

The results are intended primarily for use by the local media, as well as to produce guidelines for the production of quality newspaper content that will fully meet the needs of local people.

The research is part of a project supported by the British Embassyin Serbia,  ‘Raising awareness and intensifying dialogue as a means to prevent potential conflicts’.

Birn Serbia representative Tanja Maksic said that the preoject had helped to initiate discussion among people in Bujanovac because it had directly sought out their views on the content in the local media.

She said that BIRN Serbia’s objective was to obtain data on the authenticity, quality and objectivity of the media. The method used in the research were focus groups which sought the views of people from a range  of socio-economic groups.

The point, she said, was that to show how important it is to preserve the media in the Albanian language and also that the minority media are essential for the preservation of  the identity of minorities.

“Local media are constantly competing for audience share and have not been doing too well in the face of competition from the national media who have undisputed primacy” – said Maksic.

Consultant, Dragan Kramer said that local media structures were created out of the old system of Yugoslav Radio-Television News because they regulating news in a way that is rarely broadcast local news at the beginning of the program, which should be the other way around.

“News should conclude with the order and what is published must be localized because the privatization of television has a huge impact on the coverage and quality of content – said Kramer.

He added that local media are more focused on securing advertising and making profit than on quality content, and that this was clear  evidence of mismanagement.

Kramer said that the people require much more  from the local media than they can provide to them, and so they want to compensate for the disadvantages that they deprive the national media.

“Radio is the ideal tool of local reporting and in combination with the Internet is an almost a perfect combination for transmitting local information very quickly and it is possible to secure a large audience, even though TV is intrinsically the most powerful media, ” said Kramer.

He noted that there are very few media networks and associations and limited exchange of programming, and that local media were trying to develop in-house programming, something which he said could be financial suicide in the long term, and that whilst in the short-term there might be ratings improvement there were insufficient resources in the longer term.

He predicted that digitisation would lead to liberalisation of the media, and that those who had the resources for production would survive locally but that others stood to fail.

Editor Zoran Stanojevic from RTS’s “Oko” Magazine programme said that the problems in the media on the local level are mirrored in the national media, which also suffered from a lack of money and  manpower, and that the single difference was that that national media work on a larger scale.

Stanojevic emphasised the value of the licence fee paid by citizens for RTS programming without which he said  public service broadcasting could not fulfill its role.

“News is the largest market, and Belgrade is the biggest source of news, thus, more than half of the RTS programme is produced, deals with and works in Belgrade” – he said.

He added that the media should find how to make local news  interesting to people who are not from the region and that it was necessary for journalists seek out issues that would be interesting to  people who have an interest in similar problems in different cities.

“In Serbia, there is a lack of ideas for quality programming.  It has never been a problem to provide the technology – the problems are with ideas and quality manpower. When you solve that problem, the situation at the local level will be better. The state should recognise this and do everything to provide assistance to the local media,” said Stanojevic.

At the meeting, representatives of local media focused on the financial aspects and the balance of views was that the main problem was not as Stanojevic said, wholly a lack of ideas, but also one of resources.

Particularly referring to problems at the local level, participants felt that pressure should be brought to bear on local authorities who have significant  impact on the content that is broadcast.

They talked about the lack of programme schedules at local TV stations that where there are schedules these are often not followed. The noted that news is often taken directly from agencies’ websites, and that local stories are often not well covered. The public is very rarely interviewed, footage is sometimes irrelevant to the stories creating confusion and a bad image.

Emphasis was placed in the fact that journalists never really investigated problems, that socio-economic issues are completely ignored, and that many journalists are not paid and in many cases, news programmes go out with content downloaded from stations in Tirana.

Media representatives from Bujanovac objected  to the output of  RTS saying that because they only run reports from this part of Serbia that feature conflict and hot spots.