AIM: start



MEDIA IN TRANSITION

Introduction

In the nineties of the past century, independent and alternative media in the countries of former Yugoslavia became a subject of interest of the international community. The dissolution of the state in war conflicts pointed out to the big role the official media had played in breaking out of the war. Official propaganda of aggressive nationalism, hatred and intolerance towards neighbours and other ethnic communities within a single state was wholeheartedly supported and stirred up by these media. Their negative role was underlined by Mazowiecky, High Representative for Human Rights of the United Nations at the time, who asked member states to assist independent media that opposed such manipulation and tried to offer objective information. The assessment that the official media share the responsibility for breaking out of the war implied the idea that different, independent media could to a large extent contribute to the establishment of peace and promotion of the ideas of a democratic society.

Financial support of the international community (European Union, Council of Europe, UNESCO, individual states, nongovernmental organizations) to independent media on the territory of former Yugoslavia was primarily aimed at their role in suppressing nationalism, chauvinism, hatred and valorization of the ideas of a multicultural democratic society. The support consisted of donations and subsidies, and it enabled the appearance of a large number, although small and not with a large influence, of new media.

That is how a situation was created in which during a whole decade almost all the media in newly created countries of former Yugoslavia survived outside the law of the market thanks on the one hand to state (for the official media) or on the other foreign financial support (for independent media). Nevertheless, the proportions of these two types of support cannot be compared. All independent media could rely on in order to carry out their mission was primarily the enthusiasm and moral courage of their associates who agreed to work on insufficient salaries and outside every system of social security for the sake of a high cause. Their reward was offering a different picture of the developments in their environments by defending the deontology of their profession through documented and analytical approach. The support of the international community, although insufficient in the material sense, had a big role in the symbolical sense: it was an expression of solidarity of the democratic world with antiwar and democratic movements in these countries.

The end of wars and the election of more or less democratic governments in these states raised the question of the media. Economic transition these countries entered (again more or less successfully) was supposed to inevitably lead to the transformation of the media and their valorization through the observation of market laws. However, such transformation has not affected all the media equally. Due to the existence or absence of the laws on the media and their observation or failure to do so, independent media turned out to be the biggest losers which are still forced to rely largely on exploitation of human resources in order to just barely survive.

This dossier is devoted to the situation in independent media nowadays when foreign donations and subsidies have almost disappeared. The question that arises is whether these media which are of first-class significance for the development of political culture and defence of public interest have equal opportunity to survive in the market together with other media that have come into the hands of powerful, domestic or foreign, capital? What can guarantee their survival? Is the answer in strong presence of the international community which has in the domain of the media just managed, like in Bosnia & Herzegovina or Kosovo, to create a picture of two worlds: one virtual and one real? Or is it in the selection of a domestic or foreign strategic partner who in the long run threatens the editorial policies of these media, like in the case of WAZ (Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung) in Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro, and probably in near future in Serbia as well? Or should they wait for their states to become aware of the importance of these media for their national cultures and by means of various exemptions enable their survival?

Dragica Mugoša