The Communications Regulatory Agency BiH on MIL and Hate Speech
Authors: Armin Tufo & Emina Čuhara
As part of UNESCO’s South Eastern Europe Regional Conference on Media and Information Literacy, we had a unique opportunity to conduct an interview with the representatives of the Communications Regulatory Agency in BiH. We spoke with Maida Ćulahović, Head of Audiovisual Media Services Department; Azra Maslo, Director of the Programming and Complaints Division; and Lea Čengić, Head of Content and Media Literacy. Going into the interview, our impressions of the CRA were that they merely issue sanctions or punishments to those media outlets found in violation of the Agency’s Code of Ethics; however, it was revealed to us that the Agency works within a broader framework including media and information literacy. One of the examples of the importance of MIL, as recognized by the Agency, is the establishment of the Department of Content and Media Literacy in October 2019.
CRA impacts media and information literacy
In the introductory remarks, Ms. Čengić revealed to us that having a designated regulatory agency, in the first place, is a contributing factor to the media environment and greatly impacts the media literacy of individuals and society as a whole. What the work of the Agency also entails are activities focusing on the standards and regulations of media outlets and their content; what is allowed and what isn’t, tying this to our important question on media regulation.
“Thus, we have a complete prohibition of certain content or a gradation in terms of the protection of minors; airing specific content at specific time frames; or that such can be broadcast with special disclaimers; or with additional clarification within which context some content may be broadcast”, said Ms. Čengić.
In terms of MIL, Čengić clarified that the Agency offers numerous educational activities which form the bond between the children, parents, the Agency, but also the producers of content. Speaking more broadly, a nexus is formed between the public, the Agency, and producers. A multidisciplinary approach is applied and, for instance, psychologists work with TV stations in elucidating how some forms of content impact children, Čengić explains. “. . . the essence is to empower all the users of media content but what’s important is to . . . base [our] work on research. . . “
Sanctions as a final measure
Speaking further on regulation, Ms. Ćulahović reiterated the role of the Agency in regulating the media but also protecting the public interest, as the jurisdiction of the Agency allows it to come up with parts of legislation, requirements, procedures, standards and codes to manage media content and commercial broadcasting. By default, every media outlet binds itself, upon the issuance of a license, to respect such mentioned provisions. Otherwise, the Agency has the authority to issue (financial) sanctions and warnings, if a need for those measures is determined. Worthy to mention, in the context of standards and provisions, the Agency in BiH employs and follows reputable guidelines and practices set by the European Union.
Furthermore, our interviewee emphasized that, as the media environment is in constant flux, we also refer to media literacy, self-regulation and co-regulation under the umbrella term ‘regulation.’ On disinformation, Ćulahović articulated that the work of the Agency doesn’t include regulation of disinformation per se; rather, it has to be determined that certain content is harmful to the audience.
“Disinformation—if the content is harmful and, as such, is against our Code—falls under our direct jurisdiction; if not, then [we] undertake other steps which are more related to appeals, raising awareness and showcasing the negative consequences of such content on the public”, she added.
COVID-19 pandemic and media reporting
Our next interviewee, Mrs. Azra Maslo, showcased to us some of the challenges reporters and the media, in general, were faced with at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. More specifically, the editors and journalists had a difficult time in deciphering the ‘correct’ ways in which to report on the pandemic, choosing their interlocutors, and so on, considering that the pandemic was “for the whole world . . . something new.” After a short period of “adjustment,” as she called it, the outlets were able to determine their sources of information, interlocutors, governmental bodies, etc. After the Agency received an increased number of complaints regarding reporting—that a few media outlets were spreading panic unwillingly—they made a decision not to process these cases; instead, the CRA was headed towards ‘showing the way’ to the media on how not to alarm the public and to make for a pluralistic debate, in terms of speakers in shows and other forms of media.
Questionable online content and disinformation
Our former speaker, Ms. Lea Čengić, reiterated that the vast majority of viral content abundant in disinformation spreads across the ‘non-traditional’ media sources such as social and video-sharing platforms. What is crucial for these platforms is to possess mechanisms for reporting and processing such false content. She duly stated that there is a dose of responsibility placed on individual consumers of content, especially in the less-regulated, incredibly fast-paced, online domain, underlining that the youth are ever more present on online social platforms where they also obtain information. As a topic, the quality of online media content has, unfortunately, died out, with a distinct trend noticed by the Agency being that users, who have primarily a mobile phone, inform themselves through short videos shared across social media. “That’s why it is important to reach these people through various channels, whoever that channel might be, to work with and educate them,” Čengić stressed.
Agency educates on media and information literacy
In terms of working with schools, the Agency has established direct connections with public schools and teachers who engage their students through numerous creative ways. On top of that, the Agency has its informal web of partnerships with institutions and organizations, and ministries to actively work with on the creation and distribution of MIL materials. What’s more, the Agency has for its goal to dedicate long-term attention to this topic, to create a database (a website), of MIL contents and promote them widely, according to Lea Čengić. She introduced one of their future projects, starting next year, which will focus on the creation of MIL-related content tailored for children and social platforms like Instagram and YouTube.
Nearing the end of our interview, our interlocutors shared their opinion with us regarding the introduction of a separate school subject covering the topic of media and information literacy, as the incessant work on raising awareness on MIL skills should begin with our youngest—children. In the words of Ms. Ćulahović, fragments of MIL skills are already present in the existing curricula; however, it would be of great benefit to combine that and form a solid structure in the form of a school subject on MIL which would be taught in schools. Lastly, we would like to express our gratitude to our interviewees, the representatives of the Communications Regulatory Agency, for granting us the opportunity to pose questions we identified as essential for the SEE Regional Conference on MIL skills, but also for providing us key information on the state of MIL and hate speech in BiH media.