Interview with SEEMO member Marco Gombacci (September 2021)

Interview with SEEMO member Marco Gombacci (September 2021)

September 18, 2021 disabled comments

Marco Gombacci

EU and foreign affairs journalist for The European Post, Il Giornale and Inside Over.

He reported from Mosul offensive (Iraq), battle to reconquer Raqqa, Deir Ezzor (Syria) and Nagorno Karabakh (during the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan).

Author of the book “Kurdistan. Utopia di un popolo tradito” (ed. Salerno, 2019). Opinions and articles have been published by Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, The Daily Express, TgCom45, TG5, Rai1, RaiNews 24, TRECE TV, FRANCE24, La Libre, Le Temps, and many others.

Tell us a little about yourself your family, including how you started as a journalist.

I am proudly Italian but with an International background. My hometown is Trieste, a city on the border with Slovenia. I remember when I was very young, the war in the former Yugloslavia, few kilometres from my house.

I remember the sounds of airplanes and my parents explaining what was happening, the images of child of my age suffering and starving and many journalists from Trieste going there to report about it. I was always fascinated by the courage of those people that risked their life to report in a dangerous situation.

You reported a lot from the conflict zones in Iraq, Syria and Nagorno Karabakh. How hard is to be a war reporter?

Being a journalist and going in person where something is happening is fundamental but at the same time very difficult. The crisis in the media business has changed the paradigm and now also big newspapers or media prefer to save money and avoid to send a reporter on the frontline. I think this is a huge mistake and the role of journalists can not be replaced by some video on social media without any double-proof of what is happening.

Personally, I have to arrange almost everything by myself. I have to find the correct (and trusted) contact, I spend my money to go there, I risk also my life being there. But being there ‘alone’ means having the capability to dive into the local culture, live 24/24 with locals, with soldiers, living their life, suffer for the losses and this means understanding better some dynamics that otherwise (or reporting behind a desk) cannot be understood.

How you see the situation in Afghanistan in September 2021?

The withdrawal was largely announced. What was a real shame was how the withdrawal took place. It is unbelievable that Western countries have so many difficulties to save the life of the interpreters and collaborators who had helped the International coalition during these 20 years. Under an humanitarian perspective, the attention should be focused on women’s and children’s rights. But according to the first acts of the new Taliban government, it is gonna be quite difficult for them to safeguard their rights to live a normal life. Under a geopolitical perspective, we should focus on how regional actors will act; this included China, Pakistan, Russia, India…

Can you tell us a little more about your book Kurdistan: Utopia di un popolo tradito. How you see the future of the Kudish population?

They have been forgotten many times in history. And now they have been forgotten again. They fought against DAESH for their (and our) freedom. There were women fighting against the black flag of Isis, women that gained the respect of their male soldiers for their braveness. The Kids in Syria created a society based on equality between man e women, religious freedom and coexistence among different ethnicity. But the West didn’t help them when Turkey decided to attack them. The West used them to fight the war against Isis in Kobane, in Raqqa, in Bagouz but forgot to help them when they needed it.

Has EU a future? Or is Brexit the start of the end of EU?

No, I don’t think that Brexit started the end of the EU. But the EU need reforms, need leaders who could be able to change it.

How important is work of SEEMO for you?

It is a great reality. Putting in contact so many journalists from different part of Europe, with different perspectives, different backgrounds and different political views bring a cultural enrichment to all its members.

Finally, as press freedom, human rights and democracy are very important in your life, can you give please some advice for younger journalists?

Be curious. Investigate. Try not to sit down. Be around and discover new stories and never, never, be scared to fail or to go against the stream. You will fail (probably more than once as I did). But at the end you will have always more experience; wisdom and you will know how to face the world.

Prof. Johann P. Fritz (1940-2021)

September 15, 2021 disabled comments

Prof. Johann P. Fritz (1940-2021)

Former Director International Press Institute
Member of SEEMO BOARD OF ADVISORS

Johann, we will never forget you !
Thank you for the support since 2000!

SEEMO members and staff

Educated in both Vienna and the United States (Hochschule für Welthandel, Vienna, Austria and Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA), Johann Fritz’s early career was with an Austrian Youth Organisation.

In 1970 he joined the Austrian Economic League / Österreichischer Wirtschaftsbund where, among other duties, he edited its magazine.

From 1975-91 he managed the daily paper Die Presse and from 1975-83 was Managing Director of Austrian Cable Television.

1975- 1991 Johann was board member and deputy president in Austrian Newspaper Publishers’ Association  VÖZ (Verband Österreichischer Zeitungen). 

1982- 1991 Johann was board member and member of the supervisory board of the Austrian news agency APA (Austria Presse Agentur). 

In 1977 he co-founded with his wife Brigitte Radio Adria, a radio station for German speaking tourists in Northern Italy and  covering  the Adria cost in former Yugoslavia (Radio Adria covered part of Slovenia and part of Croatia).

He became the Director Designate of the International Press Institute (IPI) in 1992, and in 1993 as the Director, he successfully moved its headquarters from London to Vienna. In 2000 Mr. Fritz received the Honorary title of Professor from the Austrian Ministry of Science.

In 2000 Johann Fritz supported the idea of a new press freedom organisation in South East and Central Europe – SEEMO – and he supported the organisation of the SEEMO founding meeting.

After his retirement he became in 2010 member of SEEMO board of advisors. He participated in 31 conferences and seminars organised by SEEMO.

Interview with SEEMO Member Prof. Thomas A. Bauer (September 2021)

September 15, 2021 disabled comments

Thomas A. Bauer

Born in 1945, Diessen/Ammersee. After completing the studies in Philosophy and Theology at several German universities (1971), he completed the studies in Communication and Media Studies as well as in Cultural Sociology as Dr. phil at the University of Salzburg (1973), followed by a Diploma in Group Dynamics, Media- and Communication Training at the “Internationale Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Kommuniation und Medien” [International Working Group for Communication and Media] (Graz, Zürich, Amsterdam) in 1976. Working as an external lecturer at several Austrian universities and publishing a three-volume book on Media Education, in 1980 he received the academic certification of teaching and research (habilitation) at the University of Salzburg. In 1993 he accepted the appointment for a chair-holding professorship at the University of Vienna, in the status of Prof. emeritus since 2013.

Since 2013 Professor emeritus at the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna, starting employment there in 1993 as Chair of Audio-visual Media and over the years developing a working program in Media Culture, Media Literacy Studies, and Media Theory. Additional fields of research and teaching so far are: Future Studies, Environmental Communication, Health Communication, Transcultural Dialogue of Religions, Cultural Studies, Migration, Minorities and Social Change Issues. In addition to theoretical work he is engaged in maintaining a critically reflexive interrelation between theoretical analysis and innovative practice. This has been the reason for co-founding OKTO Community TV Vienna in 2005 as a model of alternative media-work as well as other projects in the field of media magazines.

Among other functions he has been the the publisher of OKTO Community TV Vienna, now Honorary President, and since 2010 the acting president of the ESEC (the European Society for Education and Communication). His academic work always has been oriented to international relations. Based on this interest, he accepted several invitations as a visiting professor at universities in different countries of Asia, Latin America, the USA, and the Balkans. Since 2015 he has been the scientific coordinator of a Media Literacy Program, co-founded by the EU, realized with academic partners from Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Netherlands and Germany.

Among many books and articles on media literacy, media theory, transcultural communication, his last comprehensive book was published in 2014 as a theoretical framework of cultural studies of societal communication and its relation to media literacy and social change: “Kommunikation wissenschaftlich denken” – [Thinking Communication Scientifically. After that, books and articles on the Mediology of Teaching and Learning have been brought to publication.

Please tell us a little more about childhood.

I was born in the last days of WW2 in January 1945 while my mother has been housed at a women’s camp in Bavaria. She was mentally disabled and for that, but also for the reason that she was allied to a man without job or home she was not the human to which the Nazi regime administration has set value. Anyway, I was born there under unfriendly conditions, but luckily the end of the war brought her back to her home in Linz, Austria. From there I was moved to an orphanage in Upper- Austria, where I have been until I was 8. By the enforcement of a lady working at the youth-welfare administration I was moved to foster parents, where I lived for 2 years ending there the primary school.

This is a very hard post-war childhood. How you managed to finish the schools under so hard conditions?

I did everything to have the chance to visit the Highschool. I was so keen to study. Though there have been some difficulties about my status, I could crab the chance and did the first 4 years of the high school in a school, managed by a congregation of catholic priests, and the next four years I could visit a public school, but living in an Internat of the same congregation. At that time those schools also have been run in order to direct young people to the priesthood.

And your university-period?

By many ups and downs and Yes’ and No’s finally I joined that congregation aiming to become a priest. So I studied philosophy and theology, again in Bavaria, but left that congregation after 6 years, concluding my studies, went to Salzburg to study sociology, communication and media studies, finishing those studies with a doctorate at the University of Salzburg.

Your first job and how you became a professor?

Then I worked as a free lance lecturer at several universities in Austria, as well as a communication trainer and media consultant for almost 18 years, coaching private companies and public organizations and institutions. Beside that I. Always have worked in science, especially in the field of Media Literacy, So I became somehow the first academic professionalized scientist and teacher in media literacy in Austria, graduated 1980 by the license of academic teaching (habilitation ) by the faculty y of philosophy of University of Salzburg.

That was the basis for being appointed as a university professor for communication with focus on journalism of audiovisual media by the decree of the minister for science and education that time, vice chancellor Erhard Busek.

As a Professor of the Department of Communication at University of Vienna, starting from 1993 until 2013 I was very much engaged in deepening the theoretical reflection on journalism and general media education on the one hand, and in introducing opportunities of media practice within the academic structures in order to rise the mental and the practical sensibility for the usability, the aesthetics and ethics of media-based public communication – in the fields of politics, environment, education, trans-cultural communication, inter-religious dialogue and civil society.

That interest made me founding an university media system, was called U-TV and U-Ton, timely accorded with new media law in Austria opening – comparatively quite late (1994) – the right for private media activities. Later, and in connection to other activists in civil society and arts, out of that OKTO Community TV was born, the first TV program in Austria taking care of the media-communication interests off minorities in Vienna. Okto aims to give all minorities and communities living somehow at the edge of the society the chance to intervene in the public discourse and interests of the city.

You are a lot international active as professor.

Next to that I always was interested to internationalize the teaching and the research act the university department. So I soon did almost every seminar as much a possible in cooperation with foreign universities. That was the reason for many international activities and also engagements as a visiting professor – at the and – in four continents, among those countries especially countries in SouthEast Europe region, Turkey, Brasil, USA, China, SouthEast Asian countries, Northern Africa and Arab region.

How your coopeation with SEEMO started?

Exactly that interest and those activities soon brought me into contacts to IPI and, especially to SEEMO. Within the ambitious SEEMO programs and the tireless activities of its Secretary General, Oliver Vujovic, I had so many chances to get in contact to media professionals and media organizations in South East Europe , also to academic institutions. Thanks to that SEEMO-affiliation I could establish lots of international programs, courses, research activities in cooperation with universities in Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Kosovo, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece,Turkey.

There were next to the SEEMO-organized conferences and seminars the idea, two special programs, born by Oliver Vujovic, which ware very meaningful for the practice orientation of the students at Vienna – but also other universities: „Descripto” and the “Media Days”.
„Descripto“ was organized as a media project, reflecting the media landscapes in Southeast Europe within a „Journal of critical Media Analyses“. Students from Vienna have been engaged as well as students, professors, lecturers and media professionals from all those countries. It was not always easy to organize all the resources needed to realize and maintaining such a project regularly 4 times a year. But By Olivers talent of funding it was possible to maintain that project quite ba couple of years.

„Media Days“ as a concept to bring together media professionals, mostly journalists, academics and students reflecting the media structures as well media cultures with focus on special countries. So we could realize Istanbul Media Days in cooperation with different universities in Istanbul, later then „Prishtina Media Days“ with University of Prishtina. I dared to copy idea later to organize similar programs, for example „Hanoi Media Days” in Vietnam.

Tell us a little about press freedom – how you see the situation today worldwide?

Experts have to say a lot of wise and practical comments to media freedom. What I think, its important, is to bound back the idea of medias freedom to the logic of sociability. Societies are somehow publicly working and publicly organized communities. The nerves of society is its communication. Off course, construction of reality is depending of distribution of power and competence. And as far communication is the way how humans get aware of what is relevant, should be relevant, and of what is real or should be reality, communication is the sphere, where truth and trust can be reached as well as they can be destroyed. Even more in public communication: So, philosophically considered, freedom is the basic model of politics and of any public or societal affairs. If there would not be the idea or the principle value of freedom, politics, public and societal affairs would be the breeding ground of totalitarian, authoritarianism and dogmatism. Where not is freedom, there is not justice und not a fair distribution of power. Freedom of opinion is the guaranty of social, cultural, and political development. That means, related to media as the sphere of political and public discourse, that media-related communication only makes sense under the condition of freedom. „Freedom is the sense of politics“ (Hannah Arendt) means twofold: Only under condition of freedom the political discourse makes sense. And: The aim of politics or political discourse is to emancipate from all structural, systemic, economic, societal or personal repressions. Obviously for both aspects an elaborated level of competence is required.

In that meaning media freedom, understood as free handling and free managing of media for a free exchange of information, knowledge or opinion is first a public value. Is a civic right. Beyond that freedom makes sense only on level of competence, means: ability, capacity, authority and responsibility.

How you see the situation in South East and Central Europe, in the SEEMO region?

Since the the so called new democracies in South East Europe still are in a certain phase of the process of transition, getting off of structures and even mind settings established in and with authoritarian regimes, it needs broad educational efforts to find trust in democratic structures of media organizations or companies, which is a long-term learning process. After the repressive systems, of course, any way of doing as I want just to do was understood as the way of liberation and freedom. The component of responsibility to use freedom reasonably is a level of competence to be learned.

The uncontrolled growth of media companies and media- cooperations in South-East- European countries after the political turn-arondund has to be assessed as a first reflex, but cannot be just the exactly brilliant in the long run. Media communication, if it should reach the quality of reasonable communication, is in all systems, either within classical media order or in social media environment, a case of trust. If trust is not given by the quality and credibility of journalism or/and the media organization, then freedom of communication or for communication is just a verbiage.

Under condition of the social media and accounting all the direct or indirect effects to the classical media system media the value of freedom gets a new framing: the post-professional or post-systemic media order challenges the use of media on a personal and individual level. A new quality of public behave under conditions of privacy and a new quality of privacy or personality (authenticity, responsibility) is challenged under the condition of public privacy. What we all have to learn: in a media society, where society is the social practice in modes of media, (creating and gaining attention, statements in modes of simulation, fictions of facts and factualizing fiction and fantasy etc.) the construction of reality and the appropriation of relevance has become a general socio-cultural challenge and chance. That might be even more difficult for societies, where the principles of social trust have been misused systematically or are not yet represented enough in the institutional or social structures. But to be clear at the end of this statement: all those breakdowns of social trust are in danger in all the societies, where the democratic system turns to become political hardware (Apparatur).

Interview with SEEMO Member Boro Kontić (September 2021)

September 14, 2021 disabled comments

Boro Kontić (Nikšić 1955)
Started his journalistic career on Radio Sarajevo (1979) as a host of the live radio broadcast called “Primus”. In a later analysis “Primus” was estimated to be one of the most significant media project in former Yugoslavia. “Primus” was a basis for the young authors from Sarajevo who were recognized as creators of “Surrealists’ a specific movement in arts and media with broader cultural and social implications.

Later (1987) he created “Youth program” as a platform for the new radio voices. Between 1990 and 1992 he was editor-in-chief of the Radio Sarajevo, II program.

During his radio career Boro Kontić won Grand Prix of two remarkable world festivals of radio authors for his documentary “Jazztime”: Prix Futura – Berlin and Prix Italia (1991). As a co-author in a radio documentary “Sniper” with colleagues from Danish Radio, won another Prix Italia, 1993.

During a war and siege of Sarajevo (1992-1996) he reported for BH Radio and Voice of America.
Since 1995. he has worked as a Director of the Mediacentar (www.media.ba).

Media center – Sarajevo developed few core activities: education of the journalists, Data base with content from the main regional media (www.infobiro.ba), Research department, Documentary Film department as well as broad regional media co-operation Mr Kontić was author and producer of numerous documentaries. Among them “Years eaten by lions” about journalism and hate speech in ex – Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995. For the movie he¸s got prominent regional prize “Jug Grizelj”- for achievements in investigative journalism in the service of developing friendship among people and removing the boundaries between nations.

You were born in Niksic, Montenegro. How and when you came to Sarajevo?
I was twelve years old when I came to Sarajevo with my family. My father found a better job and Sarajevo was, unlike Nikšić, was University City. I finished primary and secondary school here, graduated from the Faculty of Law and Sarajevo has been my city for more than half a century.

Tell us a little bit more about your background. Why and when you decided to work as journalist?
I came to the radio (and journalism) quite by accident. I was a second-year college student when the local radio station Sarajevo 202 invited students to collaborate. The radio station was a few hundred meters from my house, so I actually “walked to future job.” After a few months, I realized that this is the ideal place for me. Everything suited me, especially the radio way of expression, so I soon spent all my time in the newsroom, studio and editing

Where you worked as a journalist in the past?
I started at Sarajevo 202 and after finishing my studies I got a job at Radio Sarajevo. New place was Second Program of Radio Sarajevo, which, unlike the First – informative, paid more attention to the documentary, alternative culture and the destinies of “ordinary” people. I’ve always preferred to explore people’s lives than political events.

You have lot of radio-experience. How important is radio for you today?
Radio has been my whole world for a long time, literally. I went through all the phases from basic journalism to work on live programs, from reporters to authors of complex documentaries. I studied history of radio, looked for the best ways to take advantage of its features and did hundreds of live radio programs. Today I am just a listener.

Can you tell us a little more about Primus.
Primus is an abbreviation of „Priča i muzika subotom“. It lasted three hours and was broadcast every Saturday from 8-11 o’clock. Program was dedicated to the phenomena and trends in Yugoslav and Bosnian society at the time. I did it from the end of 1979 to the beginning of 1985. For many regional listeners (Radio Sarajevo covered huge part of Yugoslav territory), Primus is best remembered for the 15-minute part called “Top List of Surrealists” (Top lista nadrealista). That humorous part that I designed and called that, will later have a million-strong audience in Yugoslavia as a television show and will be remembered today as one of the most important programs in this area.

After the end of former Yugoslavia in the 90´this part of Europe was in war. How you spent the war-years, working as a journalist in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
I came into the war as the editor-in-chief of the Second Program of Radio Sarajevo. Unfortunately, this program, like all of Radio Sarajevo programs, will be shut down because we have turned all our programs (First, Second, Third and Sarajevo 202) into one. War program. During the war I worked as a war reporter, hosted the weekly show “Duty Microphone”, a political and social analysis of the war events in BiH. From the end of 1993, I started reporting for the Voice of America from Sarajevo. I did it long after the war was over.

You founded in 1995 Mediacentar Sarajevo. Can you present a little more “your child”.
The Media Center (www.media.ba) was established in early 1995 as a training center for journalists. I already did that on Radio Sarajevo, so, as the author of that project, I entered a space that I knew very well. Later, we developed a digital database of newspapers, video production, started to research media trends in BiH and protection of media freedoms. We are existing in a regional media scene for 27 years. Numerous journalists who are today the leading journalists in BiH have gone through our educational programs. The Media center today is run by people who were teenagers at the time the center was founded. The fact that we managed to make a successful transition and introduce young people to the business makes me very proud.

How you see the media situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina today?
BH media are struggling with similar problems as in the entire region. From the problem of fake news to political pressure on the media. There are examples of excellent investigative journalism, but a huge problem is the decline in the quality and importance of public service broadcasters.

Finally, you are author of the documentary movie “Years eaten by lions”, about journalism in ex-Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2010. What are the differences in all parts of the former Yugoslavia between journalism some 20 years ago and journalism today in 2021?
That film was an attempt to shed light on war propaganda whose main goal was to justify war conquests, ethnic cleansing and crimes against civilians. This kind of journalism no longer exists but there are significant media efforts to relativize the truth about the war.

Interview with SEEMO member Dr. sci. Lejla Turčilo (September 2021)

September 14, 2021 disabled comments

Dr. sci. Lejla Turčilo, full professor at the Department of Communication / Journalism, Faculty of Political Science, University of Sarajevo, was born in 1977 in Sarajevo, where she finished primary and secondary school. She received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the Faculty of Political Science, University of Sarajevo (with the topic of her doctoral dissertation Media Ownership as a Form of Political Power: Reflections on Global Corporate Media in B&H).
She completed her professional training at the University of Oxford, UK (Annenberg-Oxford Media Summer Institute) and through the International Visitors Program of the United States Government, and was an International Fellow of the Government of the United Kingdom.
She teaches Media Theory, TV Journalism and Online Journalism at the bachelor study, Media and Politics at the master study and the course Shaping New Publics and PR at the doctoral study at the Faculty of Political Science, University of Sarajevo. At the Faculty of Islamic Sciences, University of Sarajevo, she teaches the course Contemporary Communication at the master’s degree.
She is the head of the Center for Lifelong Learning at the Faculty of Political Science, University of Sarajevo and the head of the Department of Communication / Journalism at the Faculty of Political Science, University of Sarajevo. She was also the vice dean for teaching at the Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Sarajevo.

She authored four published books:
– New-Normal and Media: Analysis and Thoughts on Media in COVID-19 Time (2021)
– Views on Media and Society: Articles, Essays, Research (2017)
– Take the Money and Run: Politics-Media-Business in Global Society and in B&H (2011)
– Online Communication and Offline Politics (2006)
She co-authored six books:
– Media and Information Literacy: Learning Design for 21st Century with E. Vajzović, M. Hibert, V. Vucetic, L. Silajdžić (2021)
– Media and Information Literacy: Research and Development, E. Vajzović, M. Hibert, A. Džihana, A. Osmić, H. Cerić, L. Silajdžić (2020)
– Media Reality: Essays on the Usage of Media in B&H with B. Buljubašić (2020)
– Pillar of Democracy on Shaky Ground: Public Service Media in South East Europe (ed. D. Fabijanić H. Sittig). (2019)
– Shrinking Space and Media in B&H: Silenced Alternative Voices with B. Buljubašić (2017)
– Information Literacy-Guidelines for the Development of Network Modules with S. Dizdar, B. Rašidović and L. Hajdarpašić (2012)
She co-authored one Manual:
– Politics, Media and Youth: Manual for Developing Political and Media Literacy of Youth (with J. Žiga and A. Osmić (2017))
She co-authored six research publications:
– Youth Study, B&H 2018. with A. Osmić, S. Šadić, A. Dudić, D. Kapidžić (2019)
– Alternative Facts and Post- Truth in B&H: Who (Really) Sets the Agenda with B. Buljubašić (2018)
– Invisible Europe: Media Picture of the EU Integrations in B&H with B. Buljubašić (2016)
– Study on Youth in B&H with J. Žiga, N. Džananović Miraščija, D. Kapidžić, S. Bašić, A. Osmić, J. Brkić Šmigoc (2014)
– Elections 2010: How Media Reported on the Election Campaign with R. Udovičić and D. Marko (2010)
– Minorities and Media in Bosnia and Herzegovina with J. Voćkić Avdagić, A. Nuhanović and V. Repovac (2010)
She was an editor of the three Proceedings:
– from the scientific conference Media and Public Interest (2016)
– from the scientific conference Media Literacy – Prerequisite for Responsible Media (2014)
– from the scientific conference Media Accountability: the Challenges of Globalization and the Specifics of the Region (2012)
She is an author of the report on the state of media literacy in Bosnia and Herzegovina, published in 2014 within the project “Mapping Media Literacy in Europe” at the University of Sorbonne, France. She is an author of the research report on the assessment of the media sector in Bosnia-Herzegovina (with D. Marko and M. Brunwasser, 2016).
She has published more than thirty scientific and professional papers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, France, Belgium, Germany, USA and Colombia. She has participated in numerous scientific and professional conferences, symposia and congresses in Bosnia and Herzegovina and abroad (list of papers and conferences available upon request).
She has mentored five Ph.D. thesis defended at the University of Sarajevo and University of Mostar, as well as more than 30 MA thesis at the University of Sarajevo.
She has been media literacy trainer for teachers in elementary high schools, librarians and students, within the UNESCO project Media and Information Literacy, implemented by the Institute of Social Research of the Faculty of Political Science, University of Sarajevo. She has also been a trainer for media literacy within the project of eTwinning implemented by APOSO B&H.
Within the course Online Journalism, she mentored practical work of students on the blog: https://fpnmladi.wordpress.com/
She is a member of the editorial board of the journal Adult Education in Sarajevo, B&H and the editorial board of the journal Media Studies in Zagreb, Croatia.
She is a member of the Association of Bh. journalists and author / columnist on the fact-checking portal Analiziraj.ba.

Can you tell us please something more about the start of your career?

Well, my career in journalism actually started when I was 14 years old and started working in Children Radio at Public Radio Station Radio Sarajevo. During my studies I worked at the Radio M, commercial radio station in Sarajevo and Radio ZID, Independent radio station in Sarajevo, and then in 2001 I started working at the University of Sarajevo, first on the project of cooperation between the Faculty of Political Science and School of Communication, Information and Library Studies of the Rutgers University in USA and after that in teaching. I actually studied journalism, since I was so in love with radio as media, but I ended up in the academia and I enjoy it very much.

How is it to be a professor in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the year 2021?

For me personally, inspiring, since I meet so many young and gifted people devoted to truth and hard work in order to make this country more transparent and better place. It is a privilege to share my knowledge with them and to work with them. Also, it is very challenging, since academic freedom is under strong attacks in many cases in the country and those rare brave academics who oppose to dominant ethno-nationalistic narratives are facing with shrinking space and sometimes even threats. It is not easy, but it is not boring either 🙂

Can you work independent as professor or you have some pressure from outside?

There are pressures. For example, at the moment I am facing with a strong character assasination campaign against me on social media, which started after I spoke openly about some irregularities in the academic community and at University in B&H. Some right-wing web portals and trolls on social media started spreading fake news and fueling hate speech against me and I even received threats. However, I also received such a great support from my students, from more than 30 colleagues from universities in B&H, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Slovenia, from civil society and media community in B&H which makes me very proud and happy. So, to answer the questions, yes there are pressures, but it is our duty as professors to resist them.

What is for you the biggest motivation for you to work as professor?

My biggest motivation are my students and my main goal is to help them grow into the great journalist and professionals who work for the benefit of their society and who serve the truth and public interest.

How professional are media in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

There are many professional media in B&H in spite of all pressures and obstacles that they are facing. Of course, the situation is far from good. But, in many cases, when we are discussing the media situation in B&H we talk about unprofessional media, their influence on the public etc and we forget to mention those great people devoted to truth and public interest that every day enter the newsrooms in B&H and fight for better life in the country. My deepest respect goes to them.

How you see the general media situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina today?

Situation is far from good as I said. Media are in many cases divided along ethnic lines, there are many political and economic pressures, PBS is in very difficult position, public trust in media is detoriating, there is a flood of fake news and disinformation campaigns and hate speech in online media. Everything became even more complicated due to COVID 19 of course. But, I think that there are chances for the revival of media scene and public sphere in Bosnia and Herzegovina. What we need is a stronger alliance between media literate public and professional media. I see my role as an academic in recognizing both of them and connecting them together through my work.

How strong is the influence of politics and business on media in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Very strong. All our research results, media monitorings and interviews with B&H journalists are listing political and economic influences as the biggest obstacles to freedom of media. This is precisely why I strongly support professional media and professional journalists in B&H, since I am more than aware of very very difficult political and economic climate in which they work.

Interview with SEEMO Member Lutfi Dervishi (September 2021)

September 10, 2021 disabled comments

How and when did you start your journalistic career?
I graduated from the Faculty of Geology and Mining in Tirana in 1991 and 6 days after graduation I started working as a journalist. So 30 years ago. At the time of system change, when Albania started the transition from the harshest dictatorship in Europe towards democracy and the market economy.

Where have you worked in the past?
As a journalist I started working in newspapers, with a brief experience in radio and recently television.

And where do you work today?
For 5 years I have been directing on the public television in Albania a political talk show called ” Përballë “. The show is based on in-depth interviews mainly with personalities of the political life in the country. I also teach students the subject of investigative journalism and I am also a part-time trainer at the Albanian Media Institute.

How important is social media for you?
Social media is very important because it allows you to communicate without filtering with many people. Indeed with as many as you want. They are important channels of communication with the audience that, if used properly, should help in the work as a journalist. But I emphasize that they are good communication channels. They cannot replace the work of journalists.

What role in society has the public radio and TV in Albania, especially when you compare it with private radio and TV channels?
Public television does not have many friends. Private competitors naturally do not want it to grow, politics always aims at controlling it. The only friend of public television remains the public. But to be friends with the public, you have to serve them. It is easy to say this but not very easy to implement. The legacy of the “red carpet” television, lack of flexibility to compete with the private sector, political pressure and mediocre people pressure are some of the factors that prevent the public media from being an aggressive actor in the overcrowded media market in Albania.
Recently, the public media is undergoing a process of transformation and the public is increasingly demanding from the public media. This is positive.

How do you see the general media situation in Albania in 2021?
In a word the situation is good, in two words not good. It’s a good situation because there is a huge variety of media operators. Albania is a small country with less than 3 million inhabitants but has about 60 television stations, 5 national television channels, dozens of cable televisions and hundreds of web sites dedicated to the news. But on the other hand quality is a problem. A quality media product requires time, skilled people and money. The tendency is to produce as few people as possible and before. Producing investigative stories or, to put it mildly, critical journalism – this is the test of whether the media serves the public or the day-to-day interests of politics and business. Unfortunately, mainly investigative journalism in Albania takes place in satirical television shows or is developed by media that does not operate as a business, but is supported by foreign donors. As long as donors are present everything seems fine. The question is what if donors leave or priorities change?
People more than information today need clarity, more than content need context, more than details need the big picture. Media should hold those in power accountable.

How strong is the influence of politics and business on the media in Albania?
There has long been a great deal of debate about political influence in the media. Not that this impact has been mitigated, but there are ever bigger problems that still remain under the carpet. Business has its own interests and moreover the media itself has its own problems that it does not talk about. Corruption, widely acknowledged to be widespread, is also present in the media. Cases of media blackmail against business or other actors for close political and economic accounts are not absent. The pressure on the media from all sides is mounting. It’s time for the media to stand up.

8 September 2021: Slovenia STA reaction

September 9, 2021 disabled comments

NEWSROOM
Urgent solution needed as Slovenian Press Agency funding crisis passes 250 days
21 organisations sign joint statement urging end to STA crisis
Sep 8, 2021

More than 250 days have now passed since the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) last received state funding for carrying out its public service mission from the government of Janez Janša, which currently presides over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Since the beginning of the year, the STA has been forced to operate without public funds guaranteed to it under two separate laws while a contractual dispute manufactured by the Government Communication Office (UKOM) is played out with the aim of forcing the agency to submit to greater government control.

As the Slovenian government took over the rotating presidency of the European Council in July, an end to the crisis appeared to be in sight after the administration pledged to resolve the issue. However, the reworked public service agreement for 2021 included conditions which left the STA’s management with a choice between its existence or independence and it was not signed. Despite repeated calls for negotiations, UKOM refused and the government instead passed a controversial regulation on STA’s financing. Top government officials have meanwhile continued to try to discredit and undermine the STA on social media.

Two months on, UKOM’s summer pledge to resolve the crisis has proven to be hollow and the STA now faces imminent financial collapse. Recent warnings by the agency’s unions are stark. If some form of state funding is not reinstated immediately, the STA could face insolvency by the beginning of October 2021. More than 80 journalists, media workers and other staff would be laid off. A central part of the country’s media ecosystem would fall silent and an important pillar of Slovenia’s democracy would be dismantled.

On Monday, Slovenia’s Supreme Court issued an important judgement confirming that the state has a duty to fund the STA in 2021 in line with the agency’s business plan. Yesterday, UKOM and the STA announced a resumption of negotiations. However, it is the belief of our organisations that this dispute has been intentionally drawn out by UKOM to drain the agency of resources, heap pressure on its management and ultimately back the STA so far against a wall that it has no choice but to accept its conditions. As detailed in a report by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), this move to strongarm the agency into submission is not an isolated incident but part of a wider attack on the independence of public service media in general.

As new talks begin, the undersigned journalism and media freedom organisations call on UKOM and the government of Prime Minister Janša to immediately end the economic suffocation of the STA and take steps to ensure sustainable funding before its collapse. This will involve making a genuine effort to compromise on the most concerning elements of the agreement and creating a contract which safeguards both the STA’s financing and its independence.

At the very least, the administration must provide emergency funding to ensure the STA’s immediate survival while negotiations continue. Discussions can then begin on providing back payments for lost income. Moving forward, we urge the Slovenian authorities to provide guarantees that the STA’s funding and independence is ensured in the long-term.

The European Union cannot stand by as the leading press agency of a member state heading the EU Council presidency is silenced. We call on the European Commission to redouble its efforts to engage with the country’s leadership to end the crisis. Only then will the STA be able to continue the mission it was established to fulfill 30 years ago.
Signed:
AMARC Europe
ARTICLE 19
Balkan Free Media Initiative
Community Media Forum Europe (CMFE.eu)
European Alliance of News Agencies (EANA)
European Broadcasting Union (EBU)
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD)
Index on Censorship
International Press Institute (IPI)
Media Diversity Institute
OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
Public Media Alliance
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Slovene Association of Journalists
Slovenian Union of Journalists
Society of Journalists, Warsaw
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation

Interview with SEEMO Member Marina Constantinoiu (September 2021)

September 2, 2021 disabled comments

WORK
Project manager, editor, www.editiadedimineata.ro

University of Bucharest- Journalism and Communication Faculty

PAST WORK
Evenimentul istoric
Editor in chief miscareaderezistenta.ro
Editor in chief Jurnalul National
MEDIAFAX News agency
Cronica Romana

MEMBERSHIP
Board member of SEEMO (South-East Europe Media Organization) since 2009
Member of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) Journalist Network since 2014
Board member of the European Journalists Association (EJA) since 2017
Board member of the Clean Energy Wire Journalists Network since 2020
Member of Bosch Alumni Network since 2016

AWARDS
„Reporters in the field” grant for investigative journalists (2016)
Special mention „CEI SEEMO Award for Outstanding Merits in Investigative Journalism 2017”
Erhard Busek-SEEMO Award for Better Understanding in South-East Europe (2017)

How and when you started with journalism?

Officially, I have started with this profession from the very beginning of my journalistic studies at Bucharest University. But to be honest, I think I was dreaming about becoming a journalist even when I was only an embryo. I was listening to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty when I was just a child and I remember very well myself dreaming about being a journalist at RFE, preparing programs for Romanians in Romania, but working abroad, for RFE, like it was the case during the Cold War years.

What was the motivation for you to be a journalist?

My family has a long, delicate, and painful story related to communism. My grandfather was a journalist and lawyer, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison by the communist regime, only because he was listening to foreign radio stations (especially Radio Monte Carlo, which he appreciated). He has spent 9 years in several prisons and endured abuses, he lost his jobs and rights after being released from prison. The story of my family always impressed me, even when I was just a child. I was dreaming about telling the world about what communism does to the people, letting the world know what a dictatorship means. So this is how it started: from childhood, like a dream and a sort of need of revenge, but also a need of communication. As the times went by, from playing the radio journalist at home, with an antiperspirant spray as a microphone, to seriously thinking of making a career as a journalist, it took few steps.

You spent part of your life in the old “communist” Romania. How was it? What was the biggest problem for you as a young person?

Beyond all the details of everyday life, which were completely turned upside down, beyond the ban on leaving the country even for a visit to a western country, there was the barrier for your future. Journalism studies were a joke, only a cover for communist propaganda. The studies, for a future journalist, were focused on propaganda, fake news, Communist Party politics. For someone like me, being part of a ”problematic” family, it was almost impossible to study that kind of ”journalism”. Thank God, the Romanian Revolution happened and in only three months I discovered that the University in Bucharest planned to open a brand new studies line: Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication. I have passed an exam, was admitted there, and started my journalism studies. But in the meantime, I started to work as a journalist for the public radio and afterward for a national daily newspaper.

 

Did the end of the Ceaușescu – regime mean a new start in all areas of life?

Yes, this is for sure. Now we have to think about a new question: did the end of Ceausescu’s regime bring real democracy? I do not think so. In our case, the changes happen in slow motion.

How was the change for the older generation, for people who spent a good part of their life in communism?

For many, difficult to accept the change, difficult to adapt. Some never succeeded even after more than 30 years.

The fact that in over 30 years the truth about the crimes and abuses of the communist regime has not been told, the fact that the culprits have not been held accountable, has made communism still sexy in many people’s eyes. As a journalist, I tried to do my duty and cover this gap that exists at the official level. I tried to show the Romanians documented information about the recent past, to be able to understand what happened to us as a society and to be able to go further, without repeating the mistakes of the past. It is a very complicated approach, if not a broad one, involving many people, from several fields. The truth exists, it just needs to be brought to the surface and explained to people.

Romania and EU – what were the changes for media and journalists?

I am one of those who say that the Romanian media is in a coma. Sounds like a cliché, but it’s not. The fact that we have a multitude of television stations does not make the audience large, but small and extremely fragmented. The printed media has almost disappeared from the market, and there is perfect chaos in the online sector. It is very difficult for the public to distinguish between honest journalism and treacherous manipulation.

Physical attacks on journalists are not more a so big problem in Romania or?

Compared to other countries in the region, yes, but they are not excluded. It also happens in Romania, there were some very serious ones, but fortunately, there are fewer than in other countries. But in Romania, the denigration of the press and the annihilation of its influence are more serious.

What are the biggest problems of journalists in Romania today? Can you tell us something more about the media situation in Romania today?

Deprofessionalization, underpayment, or even non-payment of salaries, which make the journalist a very convenient tool. It makes it easy to corrupt.

The depopulation of newsrooms is obvious, and the level of training of employees in the media is extremely low, precisely because of this vicious circle, the working conditions offered by employers. Main problems for the media today: the lack of funding for quality journalism, but also the lack of unions, associations, and organizations eager and able to help journalists in need.

Intreview with Samra Lučkin (Aug 2021)

September 1, 2021 disabled comments

SAMRA LUČKIN WAS BORN IN SARAJEVO ON 20 SEPTEMBER, 1963. GRADUATED FROM THE FACULTY OF JOURNALISM IN SARAJEVO ON 1986.

She holds diploma from professional development program, US department of state, centre for strategy communication, London, BBC world service training, London. Samra is one of the co-authors of White book on media in BiH

Samra is a cofounder of South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO); former chairwoman, of the Stability pact media working group for BiH, member of Board of directors ABC (media research association), member Board of directors Balkan Youth Foundation , director of the SECEPRO (South East Central Europe PR organisation for 30 countries in the region ); was a president of IAA BiH- international advertising/media and PR;

Started in Omladinski program than in Oslobođenje in Sarajevo, Samra spent war working with international media mainly with Yomiuri Shimbun. After the war worked as a Senior media officer in the OSCE working on Development of Press Code, Press Council, FreeMedia Helpline for journalists, Small grants for media, Freedom of Access to Information Law, Defamation Law,

In 2000 she started in own company BORAM. Actively works on media project as a consultant for the Association Jabih u EU. With over 33 years of professional experience in project implementation; in supervision of experts and staff, in strategic communication management, Samra keeps working with media across BiH and the WB.

Samra Lučkin is married and has two children.

 

How and when did you start your career?

I started on 1987 in Omladinski program, Radio Sarajevo, contributing to the grassroots of the most popular radio program in former Yugoslavia. It was designed to provide sharp interpretation of the events and environment at that time.

Where you worked after Radio Sarajevo?

I worked later in Oslobođenje and in the war with many international media including Yomiuri Shimbun, a newspaper with, I believe, the largest circulation in the world at that time (1993-1996). It was a great but very dangerous time for me. I travelled to the area of BiH in war time. Sometimes I had to hide my name. But the work was great, exciting.

Later I joined OSCE and on 2000 I started my own business.

Tell us more about the work in OSCE in BIH?

As a Senior Media Officer, I worked on many important media projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina: on Development of Press Code, Press Council, FreeMedia Helpline for journalists, Small grants for media, Freedom of Access to Information Law, Defamation Law, etc. It was a time when the OSCE had a strong mandate in support to media in BiH and in creating better environment for freedom of speech. None of these tasks was easy to achieve. We had good partners, journalists associations, civil society and professional community- engaged and enthusiastic. It was a period between 1996 and 2000, a post-war period with lots of hard work but optimism as well. The kind of optimism I don’t see now. I do not want to say that we did not have obstacles, we did. Lots of people did not want to see or accept changes coming. But there were many people in media and among professionals who were positive and determined to make changes for the benefit of journalists and entire media community.

The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was part of your life. Can you tell us a little more about this period – especially also private -how it changed your life?

When the war began my daughter was 4. On 1995. I gave a birth to my son during one of the heaviest shelling of the city. When I get out the hospital listening to the remote sounds of bombs, I took a look into my new-born baby and ask myself: My God, what did I do?
Nonetheless, I was aware that I did it on purpose- I did not want war to influence my life any more. Even with two small kids but thanks to the mama-service I worked on three jobs. Since there were not many people who spoke English, I was invited to teach English in school in the morning. After the lessons I went to the Press centre where I worked as a journalist and later in the afternoon I had again English classes for adults. Occasionally I worked with international media by the time I started with Yomiuri Shimbun.

For the local Press centre, I wrote many stories about people in the city, visiting many locations at the front line. I was scared all the time but I kept going. My father was killed at the beginning of the war and I witness it. So I was scared to go out but I went out and did three jobs. I was running all the time even during a peaceful day (entertaining on that way people who were looking at me with surprise). When war stopped, it took me 6 month to stop running. The good thing about that was that I was fit- 40 kilos in total (with or without shoes I cannot remember now).

How it was for media and journalists during the war?

There were radio and television stations Television Sarajevo, later RTV BIH and print media outlets Oslobođenje, Slobodna Bosna, Dani, Walter, Vox. Journalists worked under extreme conditions, often with no food and basic supplies, electricity, water. The media houses were bombed. When the electricity was cut out and we were cut out of the news, relying on remaining batteries in radio. That is why Oslobođenje was important symbol of journalism in the sieged city. Its journalists worked in the basement, 40 meters from the front line. They also were distributing newspapers throughout the city. That was our window to the world. Oslobođenje building was bombed and knocked down while the journalists were working in the basement. My husband was there so for me it was a terrible time.

You are today working in a marketing agency. How you started your business?

I own a communication agency for 20 years. Our expertise is strategic communication including public relations, advertising. We also work with mainstream and digital media. The agency started as a radio network so it had and still has a strong infrastructure and work not only in BiH but also in the region of WB. Although it has a status of an ad agency, our projects are related to high profile communication of themes of importance for citizens: democracy, rule of law, public administration, ecology, socio economic developments, and social inclusion. We build communication on a way to introduce public with these themes, and to present them with European union and UN standards in these sectors. It is not an easy job since sometimes we need to communicate highly complex issues on a very simple way. From that perspective my experience in journalism was helpful especially when it comes to reliability and accuracy of the placed content, checking the sources and when it comes to responsibility over the placed contents.

According to some experts, advertising and PR means often motivating journalists not to be professional. How you see it?

Responsible journalism and responsible PR lays on the same principals. As said, both need reliable sources, truthful and accurate content. Journalist’s job is to report on facts,PR’s job is to present facts. None of them cannot afford misinterpretation and false presentations. None of those who want to stay professional. The problem starts when journalist start to act as a PR or vice versa. These are two different professions, two different styles- bot equally responsible toward the public. Unfortunately, in past several years, there is a growing trend of presenting the PR content as a native media content. Audience does not often see the difference. In addition, due to lack of staff many media just publish press releases of PR and ad agencies. The percentage of PR generated content in all media is extremely high. It will not decline as long as media outlets are in such difficult financial situation.

How you see the general media situation in your country?

BiH media represent a West Balkan average: difficult financial situation, lack of staff in the newsrooms, constant downsizing of media market. Journalists’ salaries are very low; many of them work without contract. In addition, media are under political and economic pressures. Public broadcasters are in difficult position and overall situation in the country is very hectic. This is old- new story that has not changed so far. Professional community worked a lot on Law on media ownership’s transparency that is important for media community, maybe now more important than before.As far as professional associations and bodies are concerned: BH Journalists maintain Helpline for journalists among other activities, providing legal help and support to journalists whereas Press Council keeps monitoring implementation of the Press code in print and online media. Self- regulatory bodies are in place and Regulatory Agency for Communication monitors work of broadcasters.

Despite all these problems, very few media outlets shut down. Some of them adapted to the new markets, by changing the formats, downsizing the newsrooms or by becoming part of the larger network. Howeverand fortunately most media survived.

How professional are the media and journalists in Bosnia and
Herzegovina? Do you see problems?

Interesting issue has recently arisen between media and fact checkers. The statement of one of leading politicians that was published by several digital and broadcast media contained some false information (not obviously false). The fact checkers tagged these articles as false information and consequently the published articles were tagged as such. Consequence was that ratings of these media outlets on social media decline causing them financial damage. That become matter of dispute between fact checkers and media. The fact checkers claimed that media should have checked the statement of the politician before publishing whereas media claimed that they could not distort or change statement from its originality.

Why this example is important? In the era of digital media, disinformation, fake news, fact checking where everybody is a media content creator, journalism is changing. Do we want journalism to change to comply or to challenge these phenomena? This may be the question for one of the SEEMO conferences.

When we talk about the safety of journalists, what are the biggest
problems in 2021?

For a long time we see how the Defamation Law has been used to raise the pressure on journalists and media. Now I am concerned to see that many of these who press the charges against journalists believe that Defamation law does not offer sufficient financial compensation. Therefore, they press the charges based on the Law on obligations where they may ask very high financial compensations. I see it as raising trends and believe that is going to become a huge problem for journalists and their media outlets.

Has Covid19 influence on your work?

Of course, COVID-19 had an impact on my work. We changed the operational platforms and introduced new services. In addition, we adapted the new protocols and worked harder than before to have all changes simultaneously adopted. It was challenging but communications as a business is always challenging. In the pandemic, it became even more important to know how to cope with these challenges. I learnt it.

Amidst escalating crackdown, international community must stand with the people of Belarus

August 19, 2021 disabled comments

Amidst escalating crackdown, international community must stand with the people of Belarus

We, the organisations, firmly condemn the Belarusian government’s rapidly escalating crackdown on Belarusian civil society and its increasingly brazen abuses of the Belarusian people’s right to freedom of expression and information.

We further call on officials of the European Union, Council of Europe, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the United Nations to step up their use of diplomatic and economic levers to pressure the Belarusian authorities to reverse course and to respect the Belarusian people’s human right to freedom of expression and information, including freedom of the press and cultural freedoms.

Since the August 2020 presidential election, the authorities under President Aliaksandr Lukašenka have detained tens of thousands of peaceful protestors. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), the authorities have also blocked more than 100 news and media websites, and forced 10 publications to stop publishing.

To date, BAJ has recorded the arrests of 497 journalists and media workers; 29 are still in detention. There have also been 68 cases of physical violence against journalists resulting in injury. A recent report by Reporters Without Borders and the World Organisation Against Torture describes systematic government repression aimed at silencing journalists.

The Belarusian PEN Centre recorded 621 cases of cultural rights violations and human rights violations against cultural workers between January and June 2021. Just recently, Belarusian fantasy-folk music group Irdorath was detained for performing as part of demonstrations in 2020. To date, 39 out of more than 500 political prisoners are cultural workers.

Over the past month, the authorities’ onslaught on Belarusian civil society has dramatically intensified. In mid-July, Belarusian security forces conducted over a dozen raids on independent media outlets, human rights organisations, and think tanks. Most recently, the homes of several staff members of the independent news agency BelaPAN were searched on 18 August, and a number of their employees taken into custody for questioning. They also launched legal proceedings to liquidate dozens of organizations that work on a wide array of issues ranging from freedom of expression to disability rights to providing assistance to senior citizens.

On 9 August, the Belarus Supreme Court dissolved the Belarusian PEN Centre, one of the country’s most prominent champions of free expression and cultural freedom, and whose president is the Nobel prize-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich.

On 27 August, the Belarus Supreme Court will hold a hearing on the dissolution of another prominent freedom of expression organization, BAJ. For over 25 years, BAJ and its membership of over 1300 media workers has promoted freedom of expression and independent journalism in Belarus, facilitating the exercise of civil, social, and cultural rights.

BAJ and the Belarusian PEN Centre are among dozens of organisations targeted for liquidation, with others including environmental and heritage protection groups, the Office for the Rights of Disabled People, the National Youth Council, the Belarus Press Club, organisations focusing on gender rights, and groups that support older people.

The authorities’ use of the courts to crush its critics is cynical but unsurprising — a report published last year by Anaïs Marin, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, highlighted that “For almost three decades, Belarus has failed to ensure the independence of its judiciary, implying that the rule of law remains unguaranteed, and human rights unprotected.”

President Aliaksandr Lukašenka has openly acknowledged that “a purge is underway”, smearing the groups affected as “gangsters and foreign agents.”

These steps amount to a serious escalation of the Belarus authorities’ efforts to constrict civic space, silence critics, and deny the Belarusian people their democratic aspirations, as well as access to reliable information about the human rights violations being perpetrated by their own government since the fraudulent election just over a year ago.

We call on the Belarusian authorities to end their crackdown on civic society and immediately reverse the dissolution of NGOs and professional organisations that play an essential role in enabling Belarusian citizens to exercise their civic, cultural, economic, and political human rights.

Further, we reiterate our demand for the unconditional, immediate release of all detained journalists, activists, cultural and human rights defenders, and for an end to all harassment, detentions, and assaults directed against them.

At this critical juncture, the international community needs to urgently show solidarity with all Belarusian individuals and organisations struggling for their basic human rights, often at great cost to their own lives and livelihoods.

The government’s escalating crackdown must be met with intensified international efforts to pressure the Lukašenka administration to change course and respect the human rights of the Belarusian people.

Accordingly, we call on the international community to:

  • Condemn the government’s escalation of attacks on civic society and professional organisations, and call for the dropping of all court cases against civil society organisations, activists, journalists, and cultural and human rights defenders.
  • Call for the immediate and unconditional release of all imprisoned journalists, activists, cultural workers, and rights defenders, and all others detained for exercising their human rights.
  • Ensure that their diplomatic representatives within Belarus monitor court cases directed against civil society organisations, activists, journalists, cultural workers, and rights defenders.
  • Hold accountable the Belarusian politicians, security forces, and private, foreign and state-run entities who are responsible for abuses, through targeted sanctions and support for international efforts to document and collect evidence of rights violations, including for the purpose of eventual criminal investigation and prosecution.
  • Demonstrate firm support for the democratic aspirations of Belarusians and provide emergency visas, safe passage, and refuge and humanitarian assistance for Belarusian journalists, media workers, cultural workers, and other activists and dissidents fleeing persecution for their expression
  • Provide direct, long-term practical support to all Belarusian organisations, media workers, cultural actors, and individuals who are striving to defend their basic rights in such difficult circumstances.

Signed,

IFEX

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
European Centre for Press Media Freedom (ECPMF)
International Press Institute (IPI)
International Media Support (IMS)
PEN International
ARTICLE 19
Human Rights Watch
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
Free Press Unlimited
PEN America
Index on Censorship