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Media Surveillance by Communications Regulatory Agency
At the time of the pre-election campaign, political parties’ goals and programs are being broadcast in the media even during a movie on TV. Thus, it is time to recall the rules that the media should respect when broadcasting such contents. Code of the Communications Regulatory Agency, adopted on 17.12.2015, in a concise manner regulates the rules of broadcasting of different contents, where audio-visual and radio programs should not tangentially promote the interests of political parties or any related group or individual.
Broadcasting media may not allow a particular opinion or viewpoint to overcome when it comes to controversial political, economic and other issues of public interest, which means that the Communications Regulatory Agency have to take care that all program contents, in particular informative-political as well as current events programs, are fair, impartial and balanced. Fairness, impartiality and balance can be achieved by imposing an obligation on the media to announce opposing viewpoints and opinions during the broadcast, either in the same program or in a series of related programs.
Given that it often happens that it is not possible to obtain the opposite opinion (e.g. an individual or organization refuses to make a statement) it is necessary to consider new sources to achieve balance, i.e. the public must be aware that different opinions exist (it should not be assumed that the audience a priori is aware of it). Similarly, one should not equate impartiality and neutrality, since none of these concepts implies complete absurdity, or the necessity that any opinion should also have an opposite opinion, but it is necessary that each topic is edited independently without prejudice to the final opinion and viewpoint. In the pre-election campaign, it often happens that political actors become editors, thus disrupting the core role of the media to provide pluralism of information related to political candidates, based on which the public should adopt, change or strengthen their electoral decision.
Following the tendency for a sensationalist approach, there is a deviation from the principle of transparency and a serious distortion of trust in the media as an impartial source of information and hence to the violation of the above-mentioned Code. Of course, the media are free to take a critical attitude towards a particular issue, which does not mean that they express their bias because it is in the spirit of their profession to investigate and take an attitude, but they must take into account the representation of other opinions and attitudes in the way and to the extent in which it is relevant, having in mind the concept of the program, the manner of reporting and the target audience.
Given that media service providers in democratic societies have the duty to report and inform the public about all relevant events in a society, to enable the public to become familiar with public affairs, to maintain the public interest in public affairs, to promote ethics as well as the responsibility, there is also an obligation of the Communications Regulatory Agency to take care about the general principles regarding the protection of individual rights such as the prohibition of discrimination, freedom of expression, the right to privacy and the use of hate speech. Therefore, when we consider this, we should bear in mind that this kind of information and communication should not be unilateral, everyone has the right to present their own side of the story, and that is why it promotes pluralism of thoughts and public awareness that there should not be only one viewpoint. The public has to think freely and according to their own convictions, rather than the media doing it for them. There is no need to ignore the legal role of public services as well as the need to ensure equal representation of all political programs, which is especially apparent when larger parties are almost always in a position to finance guest appearances in all shows, while independent candidates cannot do that, where of a particular importance in such circumstances is that public services do not neglect their corrective role as well.
The Communications Regulatory Agency, through enhanced monitoring of violations of the relevant provisions of the Code of Audio-Visual Media Services on fairness and impartiality in program contents, in particular when it comes to public broadcasting services in BIH in 2017, issued a total of 4 executive measures while just a year ago there were 28 executive measures. Although the CRA’s Report on Processed Cases of Violation of Broadcast Rules in 2017 has shown that certain media in their information program continuously promote the interests of one side, i.e. one political structure through selective approach to reporting and the constant presentation of favoured individuals or actors in an affirmative manner, while the activities of other political blocks in a substantial number of cases are being reported exclusively with a critical note and with noticeably tendency of reduced number of sentences imposed. Given that we are in the election year for the actual state of the media and the situation regarding the violation of the relevant provisions of the Code on Audio-visual Media Services will be relevant only this year, but certainly, the media should not go beyond the scope of their activity or public information. The role of the media is to provide pluralism of information about political candidates to their audience, on the basis of which the public should adopt, change or strengthen their electoral decision and not in a way to take obvious positions, favour certain political programs and thus impose its own will on a wider public.
Tijana Milacic is an Associate employed by the Law Firm SAJIC since 2015. Tijana graduated from the University of Belgrade Law School in 2014.
In addition to the labour and media matters, Tijana's area of expertise is corporate and stock market law, consumer protection, IT and trade law.