You can tell a lot about a democracy by the state of its public broadcasting

Living in Serbia in the 90s, you were surrounded by poisonous wartime propaganda... Twenty years later, in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina, watching one of the public broadcasters feels frightfully familiar. 

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Source: Istinomjer
You can tell a lot about a democracy by the state of its public broadcasting - NewsMavens
TV sets. Photo: AlexAntropov86/Pixabay (CC0)

Why this story matters:

Living in Serbia in the 90s, you were surrounded by poisonous wartime propaganda, challenged by only a few small independent media. State-owned television (RTS) would endlessly list enemies and traitors, put forward elaborate conspiracy scenarios and fabricate horrifying stories to rally support for the war.

The public broadcaster’s prime time news, a mere vessel for government propaganda, would go as far as having tv-psychics and astrologists on air to assure the citizens that the regime is on the winning path.

Twenty years later, in neighboring Bosnia & Herzegovina, watching one of the public broadcasters feels frightfully familiar. The party-controlled narrative has no actual battlefield as a backdrop and there are no fortune-tellers at the desk, but the talk of enemies, traitors and conspirators -- employed whenever the authorities feel threatened -- could easily be replaced with that from RTS’s worst days.

Details from the story:

In Republika Srpska, one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s two entities, the head of the main Public Sector Auditing Office was recently forced to resign. Republika Srpska's president publicly requested the resignation after a 2016 audit report on budget spending pointed to a large deficit that authorities tried to cover up.

Denouncing the report’s findings, the ruling party's members proclaimed it an attempt to "blackmail the government". The report was then removed from the parliament’s agenda, prompting the opposition parties to boycott the session -- which was continued without them, when the ruling majority retreated to another room. Police were called to guard the entrance, keeping the opposition outside.

What followed was a string of relentless attacks by the ruling party (SNSD), supported by the entity’s public broadcaster (RTRS) in a manner all too familiar.

"Was this really about the audit report?", TV anchors would ask. "No", the government representatives would reply, "the report was just an excuse. It was a coup attempt, ordered by the treasonous opposition’s foreign bosses and the enemies within." The alleged 'puppet masters' named (as they had been many times before) included: George Soros, "political Sarajevo", the US Embassy and the West in general.

These words would automatically translate into the public broadcaster's headlines and TV segments, which showed unison between the party and the media. Numerous "experts" and "analysts" were brought in, day after day, to confirm and support their statements. In a maneuver seen on many similar occasions, any talk of the real issue - in this case, the budget facts and figures - was effectively erased from public discourse and replaced by accusations of treason and conspiracy theories.

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Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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