On the 6th on March, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs in cooperation with Partnership for Social Development held a public hearing in the European Parliament on Media Clientelism Index: Measuring Media Realities in Six South East European Countries.
Media clientelism index (MCI) measures the risks of clientelistic practices, the existence of such practices, as well as the potential of the society and the state to address the issue of clientelism in media, as well as other issues connected to the functioning of the media industry.
MCI 2016 recorded most significant decline in Serbia and Romania in comparison to previous year measurement. Croatia is placed well ahead of Serbia, however, the overall picture in Croatia has deteriorated, as well. The 2016 measurement indicates that the situations in Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia are very similar, thanks to the similar dynamics of political activity in these countries in the previous year. A considerably worsening of media picture, i.e. risk of clientelism in the media, was recorded in Romania, which corresponds to the actual state of affairs, i.e. to significant political intervention in the media in the previous year.
In conclusion, clientelism and politicization of the media, and institutional setting in charge of media issues, in the societies observed have become the rule, rather than the exception, and in all these societies, it is fair to speak of media capture, i.e. a media scene which is controlled to a significant extent by various political, economic and financial interest groups.
This year the presentation of the results of the measurement gave special attention to the case of the investigative journalist Dušan Miljuš in Croatia. According to the available investigative information and documents, in 2008 one of the strongest Crime Syndicates in Croatia, known for its high level political connections, engaged to murder Dušan Miljuš, who was badly injured, but survived due to „lucky“ circumstances and reaction of the witnesses. Despite the evidence available at the time, prosecution and investigation bodies failed to adequately proceed with the information available to them and failed to engage in the deeper investigation on who contracted the attack. This has resulted in failure of the case before the justice system (attackers were set free). In the attempt to reopen the case in 2017, both active journalists’ associations in Croatia, failed to support the case, leaving Dušan Miljuš alone with his fate and with increased danger to his life.
The public hearing was chaired by MP Monica Macovei (ECR). In her opening speech, Macovei emphasized a critical need for media ownership transparency:
”We need to know who the real owners of the media are. This is expected to be achieved within the 5th Anti-Money Laundering Directive, to achieve full ownership transparency.”
MP Željana Zovko (EPP) urged the media to be held responsible to the citizens rather than to be political servants. She also mentioned that the heavy burden of ethnic divisions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the serious lack of transparency in money allocations to media from state budgets affect the media landscape.
Sabine Zwaenepoel, Coordinator of the Centre of Expertise on Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights (DG Near) emphasized that none of the countries recorded progress; but some countries, in fact, recorded a deterioration in the media freedoms aspect.
”Media are the backbone of democracy. Nevertheless, the muzzled media are a threat for democracy. This is why we need to continue our efforts in assuring media freedoms and independence”, Zwaenepoel said.
Read the entire report here.
- Complete transparency of media ownership, with the special attention to beneficial ownership is the first priority for policy intervention in observed countries, which all future policies governing media space must address.
- While addressing transparency of ownership, there is urgent need as well to address the political culture in which the winner of elections gets the complete control over public media as the reward.
- Comprehensive registers of media ownership, financial and material support allocated to them, grants, and the declared interests of those involved in decision-making on media policies, must be available in real time to all interested citizens.
- The criteria for allocating financial aid to the media must be based on universal principles, and the system of legal protection for potential beneficiaries of allocation of public resources must be accompanied by strong accountability mechanisms and right to appeal of the interested parties.
- Marketing capital (advertising investments from the public sector) which is distributed through the media outlets and advertising agencies, especially by public companies, public institutions and political parties must be visible to control mechanisms, while information must be available to the public in real time.
- Systems in charge of protection of media freedoms, fundamental rights of journalists as well as media ethics, must be strengthened and their capacities built with special attention on promotion and protection of universal principles that guide media freedoms and fundamental rights.