Over 400 participants representing editors-in-chief, media owners, leading journalists, media CEO, business professionals, civil society and academia from the CEI region and beyond, as well as representatives of international organisations and state institutions gathered in Zagreb, Croatia, on 4-5 November 2019 for the XIII South East Europe Media Forum (SEEMF).
This year’s event focused on “The Future of Public Broadcasting and Print Media in South East Europe: Financing, Independency, New Business Models”. Welcome speeches were delivered by the representatives of the three main partner institutions – the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) Media Program SEE and the Central European Initiative (CEI). Additional partners were European Broadcating Union (EBU), Styria Media Group, Norwegian Embassy in Croatia, International Academy (IA), International Institute – International Media Center (II-IMC) and South East and Central Europe PR Organisation (SECEPRO).
In the name of the government, the Croatian Minister of Culture Nina Obuljen Koržinek welcomed the participants making reference to the media situation in Croatia and the new electronic media law currently under discussion. “As for guidelines and priorities that we consider important in the further development of our media policies, emphasis is put on improving the quality of the media. It is clear that without free and independent media, a society is neither free nor democratic,” she said, adding that currently everyone was faced with a flood of fake news and misinformation. Obuljen Koržinek said: “One of the biggest challenges is the decreasing professionalism in the whole media landscape.” Thus she underlined that the Croatian EU Council presidency in the first half of 2020 will have as priorities the strengthening of media in the digital world, especially of the Croatian public service broadcaster (HRT).
Hendrik Sittig, Head of the KAS Media Programme South East Europe said: “A democracy cannot exist without free media. Journalists must be able to work independently – without political or economic influence or any other reprisals. In this system public service media play an important role.“
CEI Deputy Secretary General, Nina Kodelja highlighted the importance of regional cooperation in the field of media, where CEI activities focus on the promotion of media pluralism, transparency and independence, as well as on enhancing quality journalism. She particularly pointed out the CEI support to investigative journalism through the CEI SEEMO Award, which this year has focused on environmental issues. “Media freedom and pluralism are among the key indicators of a country’s readiness to become part of the EU. Media highly contribute to shaping public perception and raising public awareness, therefore it is essential to encourage fair, accurate and inclusive media coverage” she also said.
Some introductory words to the journalists in the audience were also been given by Christian Halvorsen, Deputy Head of Mission of the Norwegian Embassy in Zagreb: “Never lose sight of your task and keep your credibility and integrity.”
Traditionally a discussion on media and politics in the host country, moderated by Oliver Vujović, followed. The public broadcaster HRT was also here a central subject of the discussion. “The current government does not like journalists, we only bother them. But we have to fight for our own freedom,” said Ilko Ćimić from the online platform Index.hr. „We expect from the government not to bribe us, not to arrest us, not to sue us and not to destroy us economically.” According to him, HRT is “a disgrace for whole Croatia.” Other panellists agreed. Also Zrinka Vrabec Mojzeš from the weekly Nacional, for her the situation at the HRT is very bad and she points out that „we are moving with big steps to 1990s.” Vesna Karuza Podgorelec, Project Manager for the Strategic Development at the HRT, confirmed that there is pressure. Yet public service media are needed.
The President of the Croatian Journalist Association Hrvoje Zovko talked, apart from the situation at the HRT where he is suspended, about the general situation for journalists. Croatia is the single EU country where journalists can still be sued for telling the truth. The criminal law on shaming and defamation enables this. Several days before SEEMF started, the Croatian government announced that it will remove the shaming-law as part of legal reforms.
The complicated media situation and the tense relationship with politics do not hinder journalists to keep fighting for independence. This was confirmed by Sandra Križanec from the TV channel N1. She added that more solidarity among journalists is needed
The Forum’s agenda addressed key issues such as: Public Service Media under pressure – between finance struggles and political influence; Multimedia – “rescue package” for established media outlets?; Print media as pillar for democracy. The debate witnessed a lively participation from the audience with several questions and contributions. The need for promoting education activities especially to train the new generation of journalists was particularly tackled, considering the challenges and opportunities of the new technologies, on one side, and the necessity to preserve the standards and the ethics of journalism, on the other side.
On the second event day, Jean Philip de Tender, Media Director at the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), emphasised in his keynote speech that trust of the audience is important to be gained and be maintained. The subsequent panel discussion on the public service media in South East Europe was moderated by Radka Betcheva from the EBU. “We don’t have an up-to-date legal framework which can handle the information overload,” says Viktorija Car, lecturer at the University of Zagreb. For her, public service media need to be a platform for lifelong learning. Susanne Pfab, Secretary General of the ARD, explained that she feels very privileged for the good legal framework in Germany. “Licence fees are the only possibility to keep public service media independent,” said Pfab. This was endorsed by Belmin Karamehmedović, Director-General of the Bosnian National Broadcaster (BHRT). However, there shall be legal mechanism for sanctions if people do not pay their fee. Since in Bosnia a lot of citizens are not doing it, the broadcaster has financial difficulties. Funding is also one of the biggest challenges according to Andrea Arežina Grgičević, Editor-In-Chief of web portal and nonlinear media services at HRT. “Nowadays we need to compete with streaming platforms like Netflix, but there is not enough money for this.” She added that HRT is not only under financial and political pressure, but it is also exerted by different societal groups.
In the second panel of the second event day experts discussed how to face new challenges of the digital world and the information flow. The HRT journalist Maja Sever moderated the discussion on multimedia. “Newspaper die out. They need to transform to survive,” explained Agron Bajrami, Editor-In-Chief of Kosovar daily Koha Ditore. Thus, his newspaper is going through a transformation process towards an integrated newsroom where all media segments (print, TV, internet) are merged. Ivan Lovreček, Managing Director of the consultancy “Videoclick”, encouraged this step. Media need to invest more into the digital market which is still very small in South East Europe. “Experiment, innovate, go digital – without trying you can’t succeed,” said Lovreček. Francesco de Filipo, from the Italian news agency ANSA, explained that media users are “drunk” from sensation and normal texts aren’t enough anymore. New formats are needed like infographics, pictures, videos to catch the audience’s attention. However, panellists and participants saw the danger of decreasing quality.
Jan Schulte-Kellinghaus, Programme Director, Berlin-Brandenburg Broadcasting (rbb), which already works with multimedia content for ten years, opposed: “Digital content is not unserious. It is still serious journalism. Just the production is different.” More courage for change and more usage of digital tools was also encouraged by Martin Liss, Media and Management Consultant from Berlin, in his Wake-Up-Talk “Ten things you always wanted to know about the future in media but never dared to ask”. The main conclusion of his presentation was that the internet is not controllable. He explained to the journalists that they can’t always have a big strategy, but have to perfect their articles and reports.
The last panel was dedicated to print media as a pillar of democracy. “Newspapers and magazines will survive since citizens still look for quality,” said Dražen Klarić, Editor-in-Chief of Croatian daily Večernji list. Only the editorial offices of print media have still enough time for researching and fact-checking. Without print media there is no survival of the democratic society. Mauro Manzin from Italian daily Il Piccolo emphasised as well the importance of print media as they have the biggest income from advertisements and thus make up the biggest part of their budget. The online versions of the print media unfortunately do not cover the journalists’ salaries. Ion Ionita from the Romanian newspaper Adevarul explained that online and print versions work complimentary and only with both the broad audience can be reached. “Newspaper die. But what is not dying is good journalism,” says Ionita. Željko Ivanović, Founder and President of the Board of Montenegrin Vijesti, had the opposite opinion: “Real journalism dies when print media dies.” Thus, his media keeps the print version although readership decreases and online version as well as the TV channel are more successful. Michael Martens, Correspondent for South East Europe of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, moderated the discussion.
During the SEEMF, the CEI SEEMO Award for Outstanding Merits in Investigative Journalism 2019 was presented by CEI Senior Officer Barbara Fabro to Ermin Zatega (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Mubarek Asani (North Macedonia) in the section “Professional Journalists” and Arlis Alikaj (Albania) in the section “Young Professional Journalists”, while a special mention was presented to Jagoda Bastalic (Croatia) and Dina Djordjevic (Serbia).
The SEEMF has been organised annually since 2007 und is nowadays the biggest media event in South East and Central Europe. Previous forums took place in Tirana (2018), Sofia (2017), Belgrade (2016), Bucharest (2015), Skopje (2014), Sarajevo (2013), Budva (2012), Belgrade (2011), Budapest (2010), Tirana (2009), Sofia (2008) and Zagreb (2007).
Nina Kudelja, Oliver Vujović und Hendrik Sittig thanked all panellists, moderators and guests for their active participation. The fighting spirit and the solidarity in the room was seen positive by participants. This was a huge motivation for the organisers. They promised to keep the tradition and to organise the South East Europe Media Forum also in 2020.
Source: SEEMO / KAS / CEI