Fewer and fewer people are interested in having a dialogue and confrontation of views
During these very difficult times for journalism and the truth in general, thanks to his balanced and professional approach, one man has earned the respect of all parties in the eternally divided Serbian playing field. Gorislav Papić, journalist of the Serbian Broadcasting Corporation (RTS) and winner of the Diplomacy&Commerce award for the most professional media personality, talked to our magazine about his experiences and challenges he faces on today’s journalistic scene in Serbia.
How do you feel now, as one of the most recognized faces of RTS, about your earliest work for the Serbian public broadcaster? How much did that experience change you professionally?
I came to this television after working for NIN weekly for eight years. I was lucky enough to experience what it’s like to work in a weekly that was created with the ambition to be the best such publication, from Athens to Vienna. I came to RTS with such great confidence, even though I only now realize how little I did I know about that medium. However, the RTS director at the time, Aleksandar Tijanić, as well as the editor of the News programme, Nenad Lj. Stefanović, and the then editor of Oko, Zoran Stanojević, also came to work for RTS from print media, so I had the best possible advisors when it came to adapting to the new medium. I was 30 years old when started working for the public broadcaster and I think it was an ideal moment for such a change.
I hoped that the time when journalists were killed because of their work was long gone and never to return, but unfortunately, in these polarized circumstances, this is not the case when even media outlets are drawing figurative targets on each other’s foreheads
At the recently held celebration of our magazine’s 7th anniversary, you won the award for the most professional media personality, and a few years ago, you became the laureate of the Aleksandar Tijanić Award. How much do these recognitions mean to you?
Borislav Mihajlović Mihiz once said that it is better to win awards and then despise them than to just despise them. I’m joking, of course, but I’m very proud of both of the awards you mentioned. I am proud of being the recipient of the Aleksandar Tijanić Award because Tijanić was one of the best Serbian journalists of all time, but also a man whom I personally liked and who had a decisive influence on my professional path by inviting me to make a move from newspapers to television. Also, I am glad that a respected magazine like yours has recognized how important professionalism in the media is for our society, and I am especially glad that I am recognized as someone who can carry the recognition of the most professional media personality.
How much have the media circumstances changed in that same period? In which way is the present situation in the Serbian media space different?
Circumstances in the media are changing extremely quickly. We had a magazine called Duga, which had the slogan “a newspaper for like-minded people of all colours”. It was an interesting and witty provocation at the time, and today all media have actually become media for like-minded people. This is a trend that first emerged in more important and larger countries than Serbia, and like all bad trends, it was completely adopted in our country. So now it’s enough to know which media someone works for and you can immediately conclude which political option they belong to. The Serbian Broadcasting Corporation, and especially the editorial department of Oko, which I helm, strives to be an exception on the Serbian media scene in this regard. I hope that we are at least partially successful in this.
The trial for the murder of Slavko Ćuruvija is still going on, and we are witnessing incredible pressure being exerted on the media, as well as threats and attacks that are forcing journalists to flee abroad. And yet your parent company, RTS, is mum about all this. What is your take on that?
I don’t think that RTS is silent about everything you have mentioned. In the Oko programme, this year as well as almost all the previous ones, we covered the murder of Slavko Ćuruvija. I hoped that the time when journalists were killed because of their work was long gone and never to return, but unfortunately, in these polarized circumstances, this is not the case when even media outlets are drawing figurative targets on each other’s foreheads. I would just like to remind you that a column was recently published in a liberal-oriented daily newspaper in which the author writes that the 1999 bombing of the RTS building was legitimate because, as he says, RTS at that time produced a lot of media garbage. Although as a journalist, I don’t think that RTS reporting was the most professional in 1999, but to say, in 2023, that someone should be bombed because you disagree with the editorial policy of that particular media outlet is completely unacceptable. And that unfortunately best reflects our media situation today.
The media have always had a role to play in the formation of a narrative
You are known for fostering a culture of dialogue, and such journalists are few and far between today. In your programme, Oko, you often feature opposing views. How important is that today, when society is polarized and dialogue practically does not exist?
This, in my opinion, is absolutely valuable, especially at a time when there is an ongoing media trend for journalists to wear figurative colours of a certain political option. In the past, the shows were judged on what was being said in them, while most of the comments today are focused on who was a guest on the show and not what was said in it. So today, those people who favour civic political options are usually bothered when I invite someone from the nationally-oriented provenance to talk and vice versa provenance. There are fewer and fewer people who are interested in having a dialogue and confrontation of views.
Do the media today have too much influence on the formation of narratives about significant socio-political topics?
The media have always had a role to play in the formation of a narrative. This is the case even now, but today the traditional media are somewhat on the defensive, particularly in relation to the unrestrained and often irresponsible position of social media. So I would say that, unfortunately, today social media have too much influence in the formation of narratives about significant socio-political topics.
A few years ago, you launched the Oko website, with the aim of, as you said, “filling the media gap with quality literary journalism.” Did you succeed in that?
I hope we did. I think that the Oko website features the best so-called long-read articles and that our standing contributors, such as Enes Halilović, Vesna Knežević, Vule Žurić, Dragan Bisenić or Muharem Bazdulj, bring a quality that is not found in other media. We, on the Oko website, try to play with “white chess figures” and to act actively instead of reactively. I am confident that we have succeeded in this. After all, some media outlets copying our concept is, I hope, proof that we did the right thing.
How much of a professional burden is the fact that you, as an editor of a programme on a public broadcasting station, have also become a TV celebrity? How different is this relative to your work in print media?
There isn’t much difference between these two types of journalism and the fact that my shows have a far greater reach today than articles back in the day is a privilege which also carries greater responsibility. The fact that I am more recognized in the public and sometimes get a better piece of meat at the butcher’s or better fruit at a farmer’s market is a lovely perk of my job. Although I love to stop and chat with those people, I try to discuss only professional matters when I am appearing publicly.