The complex relation between journalism and social media explored – A new research of the Press Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina
“As the world moves online, social media represent an opportunity for journalists to promote their work and amplify their outreach. At the same time, journalists are increasingly exposed to targeted attacks by those who disagree with their views shared online,” said Dženana Burek, the Executive Director of the Press Council in Sarajevo. “As a self-regulatory body committed to protecting and enforcing journalistic standards in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we are thrilled to present this publication which we hope offers an insight into how journalists and media in the country, as well as their journalistic content, are impacted by the dynamics of social media,” she added.
Thanks to the UNESCO EU-funded project “Building Trust in Media in South East Europe and Turkey - Phase 2,” the Press Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has been able to research the complex new relationship between journalism and social media. The findings of this research are presented in this publication entitled “Social Media and Journalism in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” It will be presented to the media community at a press conference, distributed to media members and used in the future activities of the project.
Based on interviews conducted over 4 months with 60 media professionals with diverse backgrounds, age, and experiences, and ensuring gender balance, the publication explores the use of social media by journalists in the country, how the advent of social media has affected the distribution of journalistic content and its visibility, as well as the adverse impact of social media on the safety of journalists.
According to the survey, media professionals in the country mainly choose Facebook as their preferred social media platform and use it both privately and professionally. This can bring issues and is triggering the need for self-regulatory bodies to adopt new guidelines for journalists. For this reason, the Press Council in BiH is planning to revise its Press and Online Media Code to adapt it to the digital age.
“If the article isn’t on Facebook, it’s as if it doesn’t even exist at all,” a respondent to the survey explained. As the publication shows, out of 60 respondents, 59 of them view social media platforms as an important tool for determining how visible their content will be online, even more so when the target audience is younger generations. Yet, some journalists interviewed in this research share concerns as their accounts are being blocked or their articles removed when they report on issues of violence, suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, child pornography, and hate speech, although those are issues of public interest.
Apart from blocking and censorship, a major issue for journalists online is in relation to hate speech. Media that open their articles to comments are faced with inflows of hate speech.
The lack of responsiveness of the social platforms was often raised as an important issue in the interviews with journalists operating in the country “I used to report such comments to Facebook, but I did not receive any feedback, nor were such comments removed.” This is not true just for hate speech issues, but also for cases of threats and harassments of journalists.
Recommendations of the survey highlight the need to make journalistic content produced by media belonging to press councils recognisable and more visible, as well as to ensure higher levels of transparency and understanding of local peculiarities and conflict sensitivities of countries in the process of content moderation. Finally, the survey warns against not paying special attention to illegal content, especially hate speech, targeting journalists. “Not prioritising the removal of illegal content against journalists could lead to self-censorship and ultimately have chilling effects on press freedom,” concluded Dženana Burek.
Understanding the perils of the overwhelming amount of potentially harmful content on social media, UNESCO has established a new partnership with the EU in the project “Social Media 4 Peace” addressing these issues in three countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina.
UNESCO and the European Union, DG Near, launched the second phase of the project “Building Trust in Media in South East Europe and Turkey” in November 2019. In consideration of the clear decline in the civil society’s trust in media in the region and the recommendations from the European Union in combating disinformation online, the three years project is supporting press councils in the region to increase their functioning and visibility and thereby improve professional journalistic standards.