Creating media image from behind secrecy wall

Among the most read or watched media in Bosnia and Herzegovina are outlets that completely lack transparency about their ownership or editorial staff. They are using self-regulation principles and are influencing the public's perception of the media and professional journalism.

Media have reported that politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been calling for stronger regulations for media and sanctions for offences like spreading hate speech or disinformation. Such initiatives aim to get rid of self-regulatory systems but would lead to more political control over the media and potential censorship, while achieving little in terms of better media ownership transparency.

Audiences and readers lack transparency about media outlets' owners and editorial staff, meaning that the general public do not have a clear and complete picture of who is providing them with news. The situation is similar across all the platforms the Media Ownership Monitor has analysed. But some media outlets offer absolutely no information about who is running them. Such media outlets have a wide reach and eye-catching content, but their owners and editorial staff are hidden behind a wall of internet secrecy. Their reporting can have a significant impact on people's perceptions of the media in general.

This is more of an issue with online media, which are self-regulatory and are not controlled or monitored in the same way as electronic media. Online media outlets are not affected by the work of state regulatory agencies for communications, and self-regulatory bodies such as the Press Council only have a limited impact if they publicise the mistake made by such online outlets.

The Press Council has a set of regulations for media and is concerned with printed and online media. According to Ipsos agency research, 30 percent of citizens between the ages of 15 and 64 read printed media, while according to the Statistics Agency, 76 percent of citizens have access to the internet.

Media outlets' cooperation with the Press Council is voluntary, based on the principles of self-regulation. Bosnia and Herzegovina lacks legislation governing the disclosure of ownership and editorial staff for media outlets, leaving media owners to decide for themselves if they want to reveal their identities to the public.

While some of the online media that have the biggest reach provide information about their staff and owners, such as Klix and Fokus, some of the top-ten most-read sites lack this basic data. The site offers no information about its journalists, editors or owners.

When asked to disclose this information for this project, explicitly declined to name its owner, company or editor.

Some media share such information selectively. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, where veteran politicians have been dominating the political scene for years, some journalists fear that revealing their identity in critical articles could lead to retribution or political pressure.

However, this is contrary to OSCE's principles on self-regulation and could have an impact on the way that the public perceives all media as operating. It could lead to calls for stricter media regulation, to the detriment of journalism.

In recent years, there have been numerous initiatives to limit the work of the media. In Republika Srpska, defamation was recently re-criminalised, making it harder for journalists to operate. There is also a proposal for a new 'foreign agents' law on NGOs, similar to Russian legislation, which would also restrict the ways in which news outlets can work.

When advancing these initiatives, politicians claimed that the current self-regulatory system is not providing enough 'protection' for the people being reported upon by the media. They also claim that the misuse of self-regulation principles can be detrimental to the media.

International organizations such as the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) support and recommend self-regulation of online media and consider it to be the best way to regulate media.

The OSCE states that the key task of self-regulatory mechanisms is to encourage public trust in the media. Self-regulation is regarded as a tool for increasing the independence of the media and reducing the possibility of government interference in their work.

For example, the OSCE said, the sector could adopt a self-regulatory code to ensure that media outlets' rules follow an identical methodology. Codes of conduct are the most common form of self-regulation for media, usually combined with enforcement mechanisms such as press or media councils.

  • Project by
    Global Media Registry
    Funded by European Union