AIM: start

MON, 02 APR 2001 23:51:50 GMT

Mass Media in the District of Brcko

AIM Banja Luka, March 27, 2001

It took less than a year to representatives of the international community in the District of Brcko in Bosnia and Herzegovina to put an end to the work of the public media in the area of the pre-war municipality of Brcko.

Until Brcko was proclaimed a district on March 8, 2000 the media picture, at least as far as the public media were concerned, was rather colourful. During the war and some time afterwards, three municipal or national apparatuses had "their own media". Local politicians with some knowledge of journalism knew full well that the fastest and most complete information about their modest activities would reach the voters in a quickest and cheapest way over the radio-waves. Consequently, at the beginning of the war the Bosniacs in Maoca, seat of the Bosniac municipality, and Croats in Seonjaci, seat of the Croat municipality, established "their own" public media. On the other hand, the Serbs already had a local radio station with 40 years long tradition.

During the war all three warring sides spread their ideas and war-mongering propaganda over the waves of the mentioned radio stations. With the arrival of peace to these parts new politicians came with new demands, but also voters with their new needs. Some people realised that they could profit from the public presentation of individuals and parties over the media. Several private media sprung up overnight equipped with expensive foreign donated technical devices.

Eight radio and three TV stations and two bi-weeklies were established in the area of the pre-war municipality of Brcko with the money of foreign tax payers. Only three radio and one TV station, as well as two papers were financed from the municipal treasury. That was how the situation looked liked until recently when, within the discussion on the District's budget, a decision was reached on suspending the financing of the mass media from the budget.

Things would not be so complicated if there were not some 60 people employed in these media. The reporters were the ones to rock the boat when they asked to be paid back for their services: "We have helped put you on the map, now is your turn to help us survive and keep our jobs". Representatives of the authorities explained that it was the OHR (Office of the High Representative) which prohibited the financing of the media.

Finally, the misunderstanding was resolved when the local authorities somehow managed to mollify the international community so as to allow them to establish a multi-ethnic radio station with its financial support. This news was also confirmed by the OHR. The ensuing selection and appointment of the management and journalists was marked by foul play. Both open and secret support campaigns were organised in favour of several reporters. Everyone wanted to see his man at the most responsible post. It seemed that most wanted were precisely those people who figured prominently in the war-mongering rhetoric during the war.

As far as professional skills and qualifications were concerned, which were basic preconditions at a competition for the employment of 20 reporters (which the Supervisor's Office decided was the number of reporters to be employed in this radio) national affiliation and political loyalty were most appreciated. Candidates who had been invited to the employment interview said that employment commission which tested their professional abilities was made up of people whose only connection with information field was remote control of their TV sets.

In order to make the whole affair look serious, decisions on the selection of reporters of multi-ethnic radio were brought at two levels. The first level was the Application Commission which had the task of establishing whether all applicants met basic competition requirements.

However, Commission members developed a liking for the entrusted authority and assumed the competences of the Selection Committee too. Consequently, they proposed Stevan Panic, professor of Serbian language now working for the Radio Brcko, for Director. A non-commissioned officer of the former YPA (Yugoslav People's Army) Tihomir Bijelic was proposed for editor of the information desk and Admir Kadric, also secondary-school graduate, for editor of culture and entertainment programme. It was the Mayor, as one of the officials charged with the appointment of the management of the new radio station, for which funds (30 thousand KM each) have been secured from the District's budget for the next two months, who proposed such personnel-national-half-literate journalistic mix to the Supervisor's office. Deputy Supervisor rejected the proposal. The officials knocked on all doors of the District Government in order to reverse the decision, but in vain.

Deputy Supervisor Gerhard Zonthaim, appointed new personnel at his own discretion. There are stories going around Brcko (among those better versed in what is going on behind the Secondary School walls where the OHR Office in Brcko is located), that the credit for the election of Sead Buric, retired journalist of the former Sarajevo agricultural and rural weekly "COOPERATIVE MEMBER" (Zadrugar) for a new Director, should go to no one else but Bozidar Matic, President of the B&H Council of Ministers (who is said to be Buric's great friend from school days). Rumour also has it that Sophie Laguni, Political Advisor in the OHR Office in Brcko (who is Buric's subtenant), had great influence on the election of the pensioner Buric.

The dissatisfied workers of the Radio Brcko made a strong protest with Zonthaim because "at the moment when the District Government is trying to resolve the problem of 312 redundant administration workers by allowing the purchase of the years of service, he has appointed a retired journalist as the Director". They claim that at that moment Brcko had at least some ten experienced and educated reporters qualified for that position.

Marko Draganic