The biggest problem of PBS in the Balkans is political pressures

The research results and the need for deliberation of a radically different approach to the operation of public service media in the region were the topics of the discussion during the conference “The Future of Public Service Media in the Western Balkans: Never-Ending Transition?”, held in Sarajevo on 18-19 May. The event gathered more than 20 speakers from universities, research institutes, regulatory bodies, public service broadcasters and other relevant organizations and institutions from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland and UK. 

The aim of the conference was to investigate the role, functioning and future of public service broadcasters (PSBs) in seven countries of the Western Balkans – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo and Serbia – taking into account specific contexts in which these services developed and the role the European Union played in these processes.

Along with political pressures, the problems shared by public service media pertain to the models of collecting subscription fees. These models are mainly inefficient, and the problem is particularly prominent in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Croatian Radio-Television is the only PSB in the region with full financial stability, which nevertheless has not helped it resist increasingly frequent political pressures, concluded Davor Marko, research associate of Analitika.  

One of the conference conclusions is that digitalization is not debated adequately considering that the public discussion has been reduced to technical issues rather than focusing on the digital switchover via terrestrial network – a process that Bosnia and Herzegovina has not initiated. 

Addressing the media, one of the panelists, Andrey Georgievich Rikhter of the Austria-based Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, described public service media as "hungry and abandoned children who cannot survive on their own".

Milan Trivić, director of BH Radio 1, talked from the perspective of PSBs and said that society and politics are not aware of the condition of the PSBs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which can lead to shutting the PSBs down. 

The conclusion of the conference is that the transition from state-owned media to public service media is still ongoing, being a long lasting process in need of a radically different deliberation  that should involve key stakeholders – international and local, expert public, expert bodies, but also politicians, as well as citizens who should ultimately have the biggest benefit from independent and objective public service media. 

The conference is part of the project “The Prospect and Development of Public Service Media: Comparative Study of PSB Development in Western Balkans in Light of EU Integration”, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation through the SCOPES (Scientific Cooperation between Eastern Europe and Switzerland) programme.