Media Plan, an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to freedom of expression and the media, has been systematically monitoring the media coverage of the October general elections. Media Plan has sought to evaluate the monitored media’s performance in providing objective and balanced coverage of the contestants and their platforms so the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina can make well-informed choices at the ballot box. The main objective of the project is to inform the public about the conduct of media during the pre-election campaign and to initiate a discussion about the objectivity and quality of the media reporting. The project is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the UK Government, the Embassy of the Kingdom of Norway, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and the European Union.
The methodology was developed by the Slovak media-monitoring organization MEMO 98. The first monitoring report covered the period 1-14 September and the second monitoring report covered the period 15-28 September – both reports can be found at: http://www.mediaplan.ba/en/?ID=142. Following is the summary of the main monitoring findings covering the period 15 – 28 September:
- The media as a whole provided voters with a diverse range of views, especially through televised debates and special election programs, on the basis of which it was possible to make a more informed choice. However, voters could form an objective view of the campaign only if they followed several media outlets.
- Despite the diverse media environment, most outlets are divided along political, ethnic and territorial lines and remain under strong influence from their owners and political patrons. For election coverage, this meant that a number of media outlets were under some influence from candidates and political parties.
- Regular televised debates and talk show programes enabled candidates to convey their messages to the electorate and allowed voters to form opinions of the candidates. However, the rigid format of most debates compounded with the fact that some incumbent politicians decided not to participate in the debates resulted in the general absence of genuine debate on substantive issues.
- Moreover, there was a general lack of in-depth and analytical coverage as well as of investigative reporting that could help the voters to better assess the qualities and programs of electoral contestants.
- Restrictive interpretation of legal provisions on the part of the broadcast media limited the news coverage of the campaign, as the broadcast media were hesitant to provide more informative news coverage. The CRA’s failure to adjudicate the complaints alleging preferential treatment of certain political subjects by some media during the campaign prevented the complainants from having an effective remedy.
- Most of monitored broadcast media covered daily campaign developments in special election programs which, however, have smaller viewership than news programs.
- News programs focused on coverage of governments and state officials, many of whom were also candidates in the elections. This gave them an advantage over their opponents who did not receive comparable coverage in the news programs.
- Critical and independent opinions on the performance of the authorities were generally absent from the news coverage.
- Open sympathies towards certain political parties and blocks were observed in some monitored media outlets.
- Newspapers offered a wide range of views, often showing bias in favor or against particular political option. Contestants’ appearance in some articles appeared to have been based not on newsworthiness, but based on some other factors.
- The monitored online media provided voters with a wide array of portrayals of political opinions and generally more substantial information of the campaign than other monitored media outlets.