In Other Words
The Sick Men of Europe
Centar za istrazivacko novinarstvo (Center for Investigative Reporting), January 2005, Sarajevo Ten years after the end of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s devastating war, many of the conflict’s outward scars are fading. In once besieged Sarajevo, an abundance of new construction projects have sprung up, and bulldozers are clearing away the debris and other remnants of war. Still, as ...
Centar za istrazivacko novinarstvo (Center for Investigative Reporting), January 2005, Sarajevo
Ten years after the end of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s devastating war, many of the conflict’s outward scars are fading. In once besieged Sarajevo, an abundance of new construction projects have sprung up, and bulldozers are clearing away the debris and other remnants of war.
Still, as Bosnia’s surface ruin disappears, much of its internal rot lingers. Take its news media, which remain debilitated by the same ethnic and religious divisions that have hobbled the country’s political institutions. Studies such as Mark Thompson’s classic 1994 book, Forging War, examined the local media’s key role in manufacturing the Balkan conflict. The 1995 Dayton Peace Accords that ended Bosnia’s war failed to mention media regulation. This omission has had lasting and pernicious effects on Bosnian media, despite the millions of dollars that the United States, European nations, and private foundations spent to reconstruct it. A July 2004 report on media independence and diversity by two Eastern European think tanks found that the country’s media market remains stubbornly divided along ethnic lines.
After such a dismal decade for Bosnian media, it is fair to ask just how effective a new journalism project such as the Centar za istrazivacko novinarstvo (Center for Investigative Reporting, or CIN) can be in such an environment. A joint venture between New York University’s journalism department and the Journalism Development Group, a corporation funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the center aims to provide opportunities for Bosnian journalists to tackle large-scale investigative projects.
CIN’s first effort, a multipart investigation into Bosnia’s healthcare system titled "Zdravstvo na aparatima" ("Health Care on Life Support"), shows that sometimes dogged journalism can beat the odds. In their reporting, the center’s journalists reveal how the fissures that run through every aspect of political and civil life in Bosnia — fissures made somewhat permanent when the Dayton accords split the country into two ethnically based entities — have crippled healthcare services. Today, the two entities maintain separate health insurance funds, forcing patients living away from home to either travel far for treatment or pay cash for services and wait to be reimbursed by the financially strapped system. Millions of dollars are wasted every year in Bosnia by duplication of services, rampant bribery, and doctors who send patients to ethnically sympathetic neighboring countries for help.
The thoroughness of CIN’s reporting is particularly impressive, considering the obstacles investigative journalists face in a media environment as unstable and unregulated as Bosnia’s. The main ingredients in classic investigative journalism are timely leaks from confidential sources and access to public records. Bosnia’s highly politicized media don’t lack a supply of damaging leaks, usually targeted against political opponents. But, although laws opening public documents to media scrutiny do exist in some Balkan countries, compliance is haphazard at best: In many cases, both the letter and the spirit of the law are simply nonexistent.
Such handicaps make CIN’s success all the more notable. Colored with scenes of doctors accepting bribes and health ministers toting pricey cell phones, the series relies on careful scrutiny of public health budgets and government audits of state agencies. Indeed, the strongest findings to emerge are rooted not in anonymous sources, but aggressive questioning of ministers combined with hard facts and figures.
Yet, impressive as the effort is, it will amount to little if the center’s work is not disseminated more broadly within Bosnia. Only a few publications have printed the series thus far, such as Bosnia Daily and Nezavisne novine, a newspaper published in Bosnia’s Serb Republic. Outlets such as Dnevni avaz, Bosnia’s largest paper, have largely ignored the project, as have the nation’s broadcast media.
Investigative journalism suffocates in such a vacuum. Aside from their quality, the value of new media projects ultimately will be measured by their ability to break through the static of Bosnia’s own fractious media. Strong medicine won’t do any good without someone to introduce it into Bosnia’s bloodstream.