Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Written by Tamara Skrozza
Journalist, "Vreme" weekly magazine, Belgrade

A few days ago, commenting one of the blogs, someone asked: Why are media people not reacting when they see that they are being used by the politicians?

The question, asked numerous times in various debates, has never been properly answered. Or, to be more precise, it has been answered by posing another question: What exactly should ‘media people’ do when they see that their media is being misused by politicians?

But the first problem is deciding how to react.

1. Do we boycott politicians?
Serbian journalists tried that in 2000, boycotting Serbian radical party, but the results were quite poor. Some media simply refused to boycott radicals and many politicians did not notice that they were being ignored.

2. Do we make public statement that they are misusing our media?
It sounds nice, but none of the editors would agree to do something like that. Not because they want to be misused, but because it would ruin their political contacts, and therefore future reporting.

3. How can we prove that we are being misused?
That is probably the trickiest problem, as political misuse is usually organized very ‘elegantly’. No witnesses, no tape recorders, no ‘paper’. Nothing. Just a quiet ‘agreement’...And, as we all know, quiet ‘agreements’ can’t be proven. At least, not easily.

Another problem is defining the main character – the person who, in a specific moment, is representing your media and is being misused by a politician.

In most cases, that person is an editor in chief, a general manager or other high ranking figure. He or she will most often want to keep quiet about it. They depend on politician – for information, or needs the money that political party wants to give,...

For ‘ordinary’ journalists there are even more problems. A reporter has no means of going into battle with politicians – especially if their editors don’t want to fight with the political parties, and their colleagues don’t care for other journalists’ problems. Ultimately, their families depend on whether they will keep the job or not.

There are, of course, many other issues around the reaction of ‘media people’. The points made here are only something to think about.

But whenever you ask “Why?”, try asking “How?” as well.

“How?” is a question rarely asked in this context, but it is the most important one. When we solve the “How?” problem, “Why?” will be answered in no time.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Power and/or Choice? Politics and/or Media?

Written by Aleksandra Krstic,
Journalist, Mreza Production Group, Belgrade

According to one of the definitions in political science, power is "the ability of one person to cause another to do what the first wishes, by whatever means." Politics really involves this. But, does the power involve choice? If I don't have any power, do I have a right to choose? Journalism is all about making choices: what makes the news, what is newsworthy, this or that interlocutor, what’s the angle of the story, etc. In that sense, both politics and the media posses power and choice.

Despite some critical views, good political reporting is one of the corner stones of democracy. Fair political reporting explains how politics affects everyday lives. It helps all of us getting an objective and fair insight in politicians, their parties, programs and the most important plans, their real faces and personalities.

But why has a good political reporting almost disappeared in our modern societies?

Probably because the trivialization of news has weakened the democratic process and devalued the trust in politics, especially in the countries of South East Europe. The media has started to deliver "scandal" stories rather than objective reports on some important decision making processes. At the other hand, politicians begun to use media for trivial purpose: their statements look like free advertisements which nobody understands. Politics has lost the tool of communicating with “ordinary” people. Once upon a time, the best tool of all was the media: strong, powerful, objective, fair, truthful, balanced instrument which has been making and shaping public opinion. Power instead of choice?

I’d like to hear your opinion about the breakdown of communication between politics and the media. Is there any good solution for bringing them together again as keystones of democracy? Can we discuss bad and good practice of political reporting? Is the collision between politics and the media maybe useful? How all this affects the public opinion?

Friday, January 12, 2007

"Would I lie to you? Getting at the truth about politics and political reporting"

written by Greg Power
Director, Global Partners

In democracies, old and new, across the world people seem to be losing faith in politics. Fewer people are voting, fewer people are joining political parties and trust in political institutions is declining. Voters think most of their politicians aren’t very good and, quite simply, don’t trust them.

Of course, public trust in politicians has never been very high. A Gallup opinion poll during the Second World War found that only a third of the British public believed that politicians were motivated by the nation’s interests. In other words, at the height of the war effort, when patriotism was at its peak, two thirds thought that most MPs were either in it for themselves or their political party’s interests.

Democracy relies on some public scepticism. It is right that voters question the motives of their representatives rather than offer them blind trust. In the long-term, the best guard against political corruption or misuse of power is a vigilant and watchful electorate.

But evidence suggests that something different is happening now. Scepticism about the motives of politicians has hardened into a cynicism about politics as a whole. Whereas a generation ago young people believed that politics could change things for the better, now disillusioned citizens – especially the young - are no longer interested. And if they’re engaged at all, its in looking for alternatives to traditional politics.

In political and media circles there has been much debate in recent years about these trends. The problem is that the argument has to be about who’s most to blame – with politicians and journalists arguing it’s the others fault.

Politicians believe that journalists are more interested in scandal and gossip than in properly reporting politics. They accuse the media of sensationalising events at the expense of the truth, and in an era of increasing political complexity, relying on simple stories and easy – and misleading – headlines.

For their part journalists argue that politicians are their own worst enemy, by never giving a straight answer to a straight question. Instead political parties seek to ‘spin’ stories away from the main issues. If politicians have a reputation for dishonesty it is because there are numerous examples where the media has uncovered the facts in spite of political obstruction.

Ultimately public cynicism will be fuelled by both the hostility in some parts of the media and the dishonesty of some politicians. But what the debate has missed up until now is that the public seem to distrust politicians and journalists as much as each other.

In UK surveys of the least distrusted professions politicians and journalists are always at the bottom. And this is just as much of a problem for the media as it is for politics. If people are not interested in politics or don’t believe what they read anyway, then there is little point in political reporting. As newspaper sales and viewing audiences for TV bulletins decline, so news becomes increasingly about only sport and celebrities. And the internet now offers numerous sources of specialist and often unmediated information for those who want to find it.

While the media and politicians continue to argue about who is more to blame, the public is getting bored watching. In the arena of politics, the stadium is emptying as the public looks for interest and relevance elsewhere.

This can only be bad for democracy as a whole.

However, some on both sides of the political-media divide have started to recognise the problem and take the debate to a different level. The point of this series of events is to bring those people together for a more meaningful discussion about the causes of the problem in the first place, and then what, if anything, we might do about it.

The first event in Belgrade (20-21 February) will include John Lloyd of the Financial Times and now Director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, who will expand on the themes of his book What the media are doing to our politics. The book provides a thorough analysis and strong criticism of the worst aspects of political reporting in the UK from one of its most respected journalists.

He will be accompanied by Rt Hon Charles Clarke MP, the former Home Secretary, Education Secretary and Party Chairman in the Labour government. Clarke has a reputation as one of Labour’s most thoughtful - and abrasive - politicians. He has argued in defence of the media but also has urged for greater responsibility in political reporting.

They will be joined by politicians and journalists from the SEE in the first of several events to be held during 2007.

The point of this blog is to encourage a debate that goes beyond the participants in those events. The comments and views from here will help us to shape the agenda for the discussions and, we hope, create a continuing dialogue during the course of the project.

The increasingly sour relationship between the media and politicians has an impact on the quality of democracy. At its root there is a three-way breakdown of trust – between politicians, the media and the public. The public is too often missing from these discussions.

We would like your views on the impact that both political behaviour and political reporting have on the quality of democracy.

For example;
· Who do you trust to tell you the truth – politicians or journalists?
· Do you think that politicians could be more open, honest and direct with voters?
· Do you believe that politicians’ comments are reported fairly?
· Does political news tell you what you want to know?
· Do journalists do a better job than politicians in holding government to account?

We may not find all the answers, but with your contributions we hope at least to ask the right questions.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Welcome to the Politics & Media Blog

People seem to be losing faith in politics. Fewer people are voting, fewer people are joining political parties and levels of trust in political institutions are declining. Citizens doubt their politicians’ motives and are cynical about whether they genuinely represent voters’ concerns.

But do people trust journalists any more than they trust politicians? The public appear increasingly sceptical about their sources of news. And worries are growing about the reliability, independence and substance of many parts of the media.

The British Council project Politics & Media has been designed to stimulate debates about the role that media and politicians can play in strengthening democratic dialogue.

The projects aim is to address growing mistrust between politicians, media and citizens and to examine the influence of political spin vs political reporting on citizens’ perceptions of politics in six participating countries (UK, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Montenegro and Croatia).

This blog will cover the project activities that include debates and events in participating countries as well as the additional articles and views. Please be free to add your comments and share your views with the rest of the Politics & Media online community.

Note: We are keen to encourage lively and informed discussion on this blog but at the same time think that some comments may require a closer level of editorial oversight. Every submitted comment will be checked by a moderator before it is published on this blog.