The study "Journalists' Views and Perceptions of Judicial Transparency: A Comparative Study in Three Western Balkan Countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Serbia" presents the findings from the regional research project conducted among journalists from three Western Balkans countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Serbia. The author of this study is Dr Snežana Trpevska, from the Research Institute on Social Development – RESIS.
The main objective of the study was to gain insight and identify means of facilitating dialogue and cooperation between journalists and judicial authorities in these countries and to establish priority areas and actions for transforming the current “antagonistic” relationship into a partnership for the benefit of the public. At a regional level, this is the first comprehensive study that comparatively examines the various aspects and causes of the tense relationship between these two professions, both of which are exceptionally important for a democratic society.
According to most interviewed journalists, despite some positive exceptions, the courts are not sufficiently open and responsive to their requests for information and the judiciary–media relationship is dominated by secrecy and fear. The use of communication tools by courts is very limited and largely reduced to press releases, information published on the websites and communication with the spokespersons, while judges and court presidents are rarely available to journalists. In addition to that, the documents and information from prosecution offices and courts as well as the minutes from the hearings are difficult to access. Journalists do not feel protected by the judicial system because the impunity for attacks against journalists remains very high in the region. Therefore, a climate of fear and self-censorship prevails in the journalistic community, which ultimately prevents the free circulation of information.
In her research, Dr Snežana Trpevska delves into the reasons for such tension and argues that both the media and the judiciary to be held accountable for it. Under the pressure of the competition in the digitalized market environment, to attract more audiences, the media increasingly opt for easy-to-sell sensationalist or tabloid stories instead of producing costly in-depth journalistic pieces. The judiciary, on the other hand, is often reluctant to cooperate with journalists, unjustifiably preventing recording during court hearings, nor providing them with sufficient commentary after the hearings. This inevitably results
in a serious information gap, which has often been filled with incorrect interpretations of the court’s decisions and therefore leads to the public’s distrust in both the media and the judicial system.
The study also examines deficiencies in journalists’ knowledge regarding the basic principles and standards of reporting on court proceedings and the judiciary in general and addresses also the problems in the newsrooms themselves. Due to lack of staff and financial resources, none of the interviewed journalists works exclusively on topics related to the judicial system; the majority only occasionally report on court matters.
The relationship between the media and the judiciary is a puzzle that cannot be solved in two or three months (or even in a few years). It is a systemic problem influenced by many factors, but mostly by the constellation of power in the political system and by the constant pressures from the market environment. In order to lay a healthy foundation for dialogue and successful communication, a key factor are the journalists’ associations that should initiate, strengthen and maintain effective cooperation with the judiciary.
The findings of the study were presented at the Regional Conference “Judicial Communication and Journalists’ Safety” held in Belgrade, Serbia on October 13-14 2022 and co-organised by Free Press Unlimited and Netherlands Helsinki Committee.
The study „Journalists’ Views and Perceptions on Judicial Transparency: A Comparative Study in Three Western Balkans Countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Serbia” is part of the regional project “Strengthening Media Freedom in Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Serbia” that is funded by the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The study can be downloaded HERE.