Objective and impartial journalism is facing extermination
Text: Žikica Milošević
I heard someone say once that you can never defend yourself from Jugoslav Ćosić despite attempting to dodge questions or mince words. As soon as you catch your breath, he will uncompromisingly direct you back to his initial question that you failed to reply to. True to the best tradition in journalism, Jugoslav continued asking his deeply probing questions when he started working for N1 TV station, and is today considered one of the best informed journalists with an attitude in the region. His cool demeanor just adds fuel to the fire to opposing views about him – most people like him, while some view him as a cold-blooded executor. Still, somebody has to call things by their name, and, in our country, Jugoslav is definitely one to do that.
You were never shy of being direct and bold in searching for truth. How endangered is your ‘specie’ in today’s world brimming with fake news which openly favours one side and which is filled with commentators who are advocating a certain idea rather than objectivity?
My ‘specie’, as you call it, is very endangered. Actually, I believe that objective and impartial journalism is facing extinction in Serbia, Europe and wider. In terms of Serbia, for quite a long time now, the world has given private media the right to choose and the legitimacy to support certain political options, and I am talking primarily about print and cable media. This, however, should not be the norm in the media that use their programme for the general good and have national frequency. They belong to everybody. In the case of Serbia, owners of private TV stations with national frequency can hire and lay off workers, and devise their business policies, but they have no right to support certain political options because they broadcast their programme via national frequencies which are considered public ownership. The claim that the private media owners are given free will to support any political option is a colossal lie spread by the authorities in Serbia.
If we are speaking about the rest of the world, it is quite sad to see that the EU, which is close to us, is so bogged down by various problems that it has failed to deal with political pressures on the media. And I am talking not only about the candidate countries, but also the EU ones. Just look at the savage attacks on media freedom in Poland or Hungary. European commissioner, Johannes Hahn wants „proof“ that Serbian media are being pressured and censored. Well, I would like to use this opportunity to inform him that nobody will issue with a ‘confirmation’ that you are being pressured and censored. It is never easy to formally prove there is pressure and censorship, but once you see what is being reported in the press and on TV, you don’t need any proof. If, for instance, a state president, in one interview only, repeats ten times the phrase about a certain „American TV station“ in a negative context, than that speaks volumes.
BBC had a great show called Hard Talk, that we all religiously watched. I believe that the show’s host was similar to you – he would repeat the question over and over again until he got a straightforward answer. How influential was Hard Talk in your life?
It had crucial importance. This is the format of TV journalism that is right up my alley despite all the stress and tension that someone brings in. If you think that an interviewee has it more difficult than an interviewer in this case, you are sorely mistaken.
By default, interviewees know more about the topics they will be interviewed about than the interviewers themselves. It is not easy to prepare for such interviews. They are equally challenging and stressful for journalists and guests alike.
Now that B92 has been re-named O2, which is a purely commercial TV station, how important is N1 considering that RTS is a classic, state-run TV station, true to the Balkan fashion (unlike completely neutral BBC), and that Pink openly supports the government in power?
I think that N1 holds a great importance. N1’s reach and viewership figures are constantly growing. I think this is a question more for viewers than me. I would just like to quote poet Matija Bećković here: „The demonstrated level of resistance to a viewpoint or an idea – in this case, the idea of existence of an independent medium – will show you how important that viewpoint or idea is in the society“. Back in the day, free media were also attacked by governments, but never before have we had such brutal attacks by pro-government media on the media that dare to be critical of the government. Obviously, N1 is a very influential TV although it is a cable station. If they cannot shut you down, then they’ll try to shut information sources, discredit you, intimidate distributors and discourage investors. Hence, I think that N1 is a medium important for all people in Serbia.
Henry Kissinger said that modern-day investigative journalism and the education of today’s politicians was based on „the first 10 results of Google Search“. How much does this superficiality affect the deeper understanding of a problem and how much does it kill a chance of seeing a good TV programme?
Well, that’s not investigative journalistm. Google Search is a fantastic source if you want to be in a quiz. N1 journalists spend hours and hours, and sometimes even days, on checking the information that we broadcast in order to give our viewers something that is completely accurate. This is the basis of our editorial policy. We don’t need to be first, but we have to be accurate, and this is something that our journalists are aware of. I can tell you this too. Despite all the attacks on us and accusations that we are like this or that, nobody has ever accused us of telling lies and proved that in court.
We always hear out all relevant sides because that is our editorial policy. We are a staple at press conferences which is relatively rare today. Speaking globally, even if you are convinced that you have hidden certain state or social segments from the public, there will always be an Edward Snowden. I remember his first ever Twitter post: „Can you hear me now?“ It was spectacular!
How much did your work in the Index radio theatre help you to develop satirical approach to serious issues later on?
It has helped me a lot. If you follow the shows that I do, you will notice that I like mild irony, cynicism and satire. Apart from having personal fondness for them, I also think that it is healthy to sometimes use them in public discussions.
Have you been pressured during your career considering how uncompromising you are?
Every serious journalist has been pressured during his or her career. Pressures are constant and everywhere. The key is how you deal with them. I don’t think that I should be a role model, but I was fortunate enough to receive support for my approach and understanding of journalism from editors and media owners / investors in TV stations that I worked for. When this support completely depleted, I moved on and found another job. Our investors want to see N1 as a serious, objective and responsible TV station.
What is the situation like at the moment? Are SNS officials still banned from participating in your shows?
Of course they are. Even if this ban did not apply to the lower-ranking SNS officials, it is very clear to them that appearing on N1 is not good for their career or the benefits they receive for being in this party. Ministers from the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) are ignoring us and have not appeared on our TV despite our invitations. And we do keep records of those invitations. There have been hundreds of them, sent out for different programme segments. I guess that some of them would like to come but they are simply afraid of the „wrath of gods“ that would ensue. There is a famous autocratic narrative that goes – „I am not coming, but if you report about me without my knowledge, you are no longer considered objective“. Really? It is them that are spreading this mantra of N1 being one-sided. As I have clearly demonstrated, N1 is not stopping anyone from doing their job in line with professional standards.
REGION IS CONNECTED, LOCAL DEVELOPMENTS MORE IMPORTANT
How much are viewers in Serbia intersted in what is happening in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia and vice versa? You do have three different news segments. Which formats are most popular in all three markets?
Yes, we do cover topics and latest news from the region, but most of our content is local, i.e. we cover those topics that are most important for people in Serbia. However, I would like to mention the Agrokor scandal here. Although, Agrokor is, first and foremost, a Croatian topic, just look at how many families in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have been affected by this case. For instance, Serbs living in Croatia are very interested to see which party, the right or the centre one, will form the government, just like Serbs living in Bosnia and Herzegovina are keen to know what will be the power balance in the Parliament of the Republic of Srpska.