Dunja Mijatović, OSCE’s top leader on freedom of the media, spoke in New York City on Wednesday, March 11th, 2015, during a symposium held at Columbia University.
The conference, titled ‘State of the Media in southeastern Europe: From Crisis to Corruption’ took place at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and was organized by Columbia professor Tanya L. Domi, scholar Jasmin Mujanović and Columbia’s Harriman Institute.
The speakers included journalists and scholars with deep knowledge and experience in the politics and affairs of the Balkans.
Aida Cerkez, the chief of the Associated Press bureau in Sarajevo, said that apart from her colleagues at the local Reuters bureau, she considers herself and her team to be the only other trully independent journalists in Bosnia.
The University of Albany journalism professor Rosemary Armao discussed the media ownership in the Balkans. She said that research shows it’s unclear who exactly owns and influences a lot of the media in the region. Armao said that few local media agencies are able to do real investigative reporting in the Balkans.
All panelists spoke about threats and smear campaigns against journalists, noting specific threats of rape, death and misogynist speech against female journalists. The panelists said self-censorship is prevalent among journalists in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the greater region.
Professor Domi said that currently, Macedonia has the worst human rights conditions for LGBTQ people in the western Balkans. Domi also addressed the election fraud accusations against the Macedonian government, which are currently in the news. She said it’s just another example of the overall critical situation in the country when it comes to freedom of expression and civil liberties.
Lily Lynch, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Balkanist said Balkanist is one of the websites that has been hacked. Lynch said the hacking of journalism websites and deleting of independent news stories has ‘increased alarmingly’ in the recent past in Serbia.
Mijatović said that media freedom has deteriorated in all 57 member states of the OSCE. The OSCE member states span three continents, North America, Europe and Asia, and include more than a billion people, according to the organization’s website.
Mijatović said that European leaders should strongly condemn any threats against journalists. She said she was concerned about recent statements made by Johannes Hahn, commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations at the European Commission, that media freedom violations in Serbia were mere ‘rumors’ and that he needed proof.
Milka Tadić Mijović, the U.S. correspondent for the Monitor, an independent weekly from Montenegro, said that the media environment in the Balkans is very much dominated by partisan media and that it’s very difficult to publish rebuttals. (Related: Tadić Mijović speaks on Erosion of Media Freedom in the Balkans: Shadows of the Nineties)
In the world press freedom index for 2015, compiled and released by Reporters Without Borders, Macedonia is ranked the lowest out of all western Balkan countries, at number 117. At about the same place is Montenegro, at 114. Reporters Without Borders says it’s important to note that the index should not be seen as an indication of the quality of the media in the countries concerned. The index also does not look at human rights violations in general, just violations of freedom of information. According to the 2015 index, BiH occupies 66th place.
Article and photo by Zlatko Filipovic