What the LGBTIQ Community Thinks about Bosnian and Herzegovinian Media Coverage

Media on LGBTIQ Topics: What the LGBTIQ Community Thinks about Bosnian and Herzegovinian Media Coverage

What the LGBTIQ Community Thinks about Bosnian and Herzegovinian Media Coverage

Ilustration: Hana Kevilj

Between September and November this year, Mediacentar Sarajevo conducted a mini-survey on media coverage of LGBTIQ topics in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We first picked out and analyzed published media content related to the first Pride Parade in Bosnia and Herzegovina and then asked LGBTIQ community members what they thought of it.

Our intention was to test whether the Bosnian and Herzegovinian media through its reporting influences the views and decisions of LGBTIQ community members on whether they decide to stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina or leave. We also wanted to identify the need for media and information literacy training among community members.

In the article titled “Media on the Pride Parade: After how many repeats does a lie become the truth?”, published on Media.ba on September 6th, we analyzed some of the news that the Bosnian and Herzegovinian media had published since the first Bosnian and Herzegovinian Pride Parade was announced on April 1st. Among it, as we established, misinformation and speculations were reported and sensationalism and one-sided stories dominated.

Some examples, such as the case of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian Police Academy, which was analyzed in this text, pointed to a chronic lack of habit among journalists to verify the information they convey, the media's tendency towards sensationalism, as well as pronounced general media illiteracy of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian population.

Such circumstances contribute to creating a sense of insecurity and fear within the LGBTIQ community and among those who support it. This was one of the conclusions of the analysis. To test this thesis, we created an online questionnaire for LGBTIQ activists and members of the LGBTIQ. Through the questionnaire, we wanted to test how they evaluate media coverage of LGBTIQ topics and whether isolated examples of media coverage affect their attitudes and life decisions. We also wanted to see if there was any interest in media literacy training within the community.

The questionnaire, which was created using Google Forms, was open from November 23rd to December 1st 2019. A total of 43 responses were collected from persons who identify as lesbian (14), gay (12), bisexual (11), intersex (1), queer (2) and other (3). Among them, 27 respondents identified themselves as female, 15 as male and one as different/intersex. Such a questionnaire does not allow an in-depth examination of attitudes and opinions and the questions are somewhat generalized. Nevertheless, despite its limitations, it provides insight into the perception of the role of the media in reporting on LGBTIQ topics that LGBTIQ persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina have and starting points for further research.

What the community thinks about the media

The views of persons who filled out the questionnaire and belong to the LGBTIQ community on general media coverage of LGBTIQ topics in Bosnia and Herzegovina are as follows:

9.3% agree with the statement that "the media in Bosnia and Herzegovina objectively report on LGBTIQ topics"; 55.8% of them neither agree nor disagree; and 34.9% disagree with this statement.

Among those who chose the answer "I disagree", some of the explanations for this choice are listed below (respondents' answers are neither linguistically nor stylistically edited – author’s note):

  • The media is biased, adhering to the opinions of various political parties or outdated ideologies;
  • They write about these topics in a pestering, sensationalist and homophobic manner;
  • I find that LGBTIQ topics are not talked about enough in most media, especially the mainstream ones, which contributes to maintaining a hetero-normative (in the most optimistic case);
  • A predominantly negative, pathetic and sensationalist media image of LGBT people in the Balkans;
  • As long as there are anti-LGBT reports and various media giving space to the discourse that LGBTIQ+ is a sin without any explanation;
  • I think it is often distorted in a religious context;
  • Enough of hate speech and incitement to violence;
  • I think that through all media coverage, our LGBTI population is tacitly ridiculed;
  • I think that the media in Bosnia and Herzegovina, if they report on LGBTIQ topics at all, they report on them in a sensational way most often.

9.3% agree with the statement that "media reports on LGBTIQ topics are professional and un-biased"; 55.8% of them neither agree nor disagree; and 34.9% disagree with this statement.

Those who chose the "disagree" answer explained their choice as follows:

  • Media reports often lack scientific or social facts;
  • Almost every public media report was homophobic or borderline homophobic, none (except those published by various organizations) were queer-friendly;
  • A lot of media influences are not gender sensitive;
  • Biased, depending on the medium;
  • The media report very sensationally, if not in the text itself, then they are using sensationalist images and headlines;
  • Mostly they are either restrained or negative;
  • In my opinion, the tendency of the domestic media in such reports is to present the individuals they speak of as distinctly different from the rest of the population, even when the reports are generally positive;
  • Very often, even if some medium tries to report on LGBTQ topics objectively, they lack professionalism and knowledge about the topic.

7% agree with the statement that “LGBTIQ persons in the Bosnian and Herzegovinian media are presented in an affirmative manner”; 62.8% of them neither agree nor disagree; and 30.2% disagree with this statement.

These are some of the explanations for the "disagree" answer:

  • LGBT people have never been portrayed as ordinary citizens equal in society. Most news is borderline controversial, in order to induce different reactions from the audience;
  • The media, if followed by political shadows, are generally national-religious, with the result that LGBTIQ persons are negatively represented. On the other hand, if it is more objective media, they try to remain as neutral as possible. LGBTIQ persons are represented here exclusively in a diplomatically neutral manner. By no means do we see affirmative news;
  • I think there is no affirmation, the media only informs. There is a lack of exploratory texts, columns and an educational character;
  • Examples of positive stories are rare;
  • It is rare to come across such an affirmative way, the approach is often in a mocking manner.

33% agree with the statement that "the Bosnian and Herzegovinian media professionally reported on the first Bosnia and Herzegovina Pride Parade held in September this year"; 51% of them neither agree nor disagree; and 16% disagree with this statement.

Listed below are some clarifications of the answers of those who opted for "I disagree":

  • Some media have reported about the parade very sensationally, using it to collect views.
  • I was not there unfortunately, but I think such events are often characterized as negative;
  • I would generally disagree, as there were many unprofessional comments in the reports, such as whether it was a Pride Parade or a shame parade.

How community members understand and experience media content

In addition to examining views on general media coverage, we were also interested in how the LGBTIQ community understands media content on LGBTIQ topics. To make a tentative assessment, in the questionnaire we included screenshots of headlines and/or sections of text extracted from three examples of media content on LGBTIQ topics published in Bosnian and Herzegovinian media. These examples, previously analyzed in the texts of Mediacentar Sarajevo and the Raskrinkavanje portal, contain misinformation and speculation and are written tendentiously. We asked the respondents to describe how they felt reading them, without the explanation given below.

These were the examples:

Without going into whether, and to what extent, they understand that the examples are sensational and tendentiously written, we asked the respondents what emotions the statements in these texts arouse in them. Some of the emotions listed are: anger, fear, anxiety, helplessness and sadness. Some respondents said that they did not feel emotions at all and some stated that the "facts" listed in Example no. 2 were "taken out of context" (such as the news of a possible ban on the Parade – see the explanation below).

To questions about whether such media coverage affects the public's views on the LGBTIQ community, their own views on the perspective of life in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the respondents' decisions about staying in/leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina, we got the following answers:

  • 81.4% of respondents believe that these and similar examples of media coverage influence the creation of negative views about the LGBTIQ community;
  • 55.8% of respondents stated that these and similar examples of media coverage influence their views on the perspective of life in Bosnia and Herzegovina;
  • 60.5% of respondents stated that these and similar examples of media coverage influence their decisions on staying in/leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In order to present the context of the news we selected and to reveal it, we will explain here in what way it is incorrect:

Example no. 1: On the Facebook page titled "Bosnian and Herzegovinian Police Academy", on April 1st this year (on the day the Pride Parade in Sarajevo was announced), a poll question was posted that read: "Should the police guard or detain LGBT people?". Numerous local and regional media, including Klix, reported the news of the publication of the poll by treating the Bosnian and Herzegovinian Police Academy website as the official site of the State Police Academy, that is, the police training institution.

However, no such institution exists. Jurisdiction for the Bosnian and Herzegovinian police forces is divided among the cantons, entities and state. The “Bosnian and Herzegovinian Police Academy” Facebook page (and its related website www.policija.ba and Instagram profile) is run by anonymous private individuals.

Example no. 2: The text, published two weeks before the Pride Parade in Sarajevo, implies that the Parade may be banned, as some political parties have opposed its holding. The Raskrinkavanje portal analyzed the news, which was reported by the media in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region, that the Cantonal Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP KS) may decide to ban the public gathering.

The facts, however, are different. The MUP KS does not issue licenses for public meetings. A ban on public meetings is defined by legal assessments of the characteristics and goals of the meeting. Among them, the only possible reason that could have led to a ban on the holding of the Parade could have been an assessed threat of violence, that is, an attack on the Parade participants. The organizers of the Parade had been cooperating with the police forces since April to prevent this risk, and its holding had not been called into question, as all the conditions stipulated by the Law on Public Assembly of Sarajevo Canton for holding a peaceful rally were fulfilled.

Example no. 3: The day after the Parade, Source portal posted a Facebook status of Effendi Muhamed Velić, transmitting hate speech. This Facebook status, in which it is stated that the Pride Parade was "a disgrace to Sarajevo", was not accompanied by any critical remark, comment or condemnation of such a statement.

Source portal acted against journalist ethics and principles and ignored a report by the BH Journalists Association, which responded on August 31st to tendentious, uncritical and one-sided media coverage of the Parade. “It is particularly unacceptable to divert public attention from the key motive of organizing this event – based on the protected human rights of LGBTQ people and all other members of minority groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina – to reporting on counter protests, intolerance, dangers of this event for the values ​​of Bosnian and Herzegovinian society as a whole or for certain parts of it, as well as conjecturing who is for or against the Pride Parade”, the reaction states.

Unfortunately, through the online questionnaire we could not investigate the level of understanding of the media manipulation in these examples and this might be the subject of some future analysis. But the findings show that such media content evokes negative emotions among members of the community and work should be put into raising media and information literacy within the community, respectively into recognizing and understanding manipulation.

What are the media habits of the community

Regarding media habits, the respondents stated that of domestic media, among others, they follow Al Jazeera Balkans, N1, Žurnal, Radio Sarajevo and Klix. On the other hand, some respondents stated that they avoid following Klix because of its sensationalist approach (together with Dnevni Avaz, Saff.ba and others).

Regarding training in media and information literacy, 46.5% of respondents said they were interested in it; 30.2% were not interested; and 23.3% responded that they may be interested.

In societies where citizens are insufficiently media literate and where the issues that are reported about are sensitive, such as LGBTIQ rights issues, journalists are the ones who have to verify their sources and report carefully and responsibly. News such as, for example, that police forces are putting the issue of protecting LGBTIQ people on a referendum may be interpreted by right-wingers as encouragement to violence. On the other hand, the LGBTIQ community may lose trust in government institutions and feel discouraged to fight for their rights. And ultimately decide to leave Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In addition to working with the media, it is very important to work on raising the media and information literacy of the community itself so that it can better understand the news that is being marketed and its background. The fact that there is interest in such programs within the community is encouraging.

This article was made in cooperation with partners from the organization Schüler Helfen Leben from Berlin.