Reuters Institute: Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria with highly polarised media

June 15, 2018 | Legislation and Regulatory Frameworks

Media in Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria are highly diverse but suffer from polarisation, financial dependence on oligarchs and high levels of public mistrust, a survey by the Reuters Institute says.

Source: BalkanInsight

Balkan Media Vibrant But Polarised, Report Says

By Sinisa Jakov Marusic | BIRN Skopje

A new report, Digital News Report 2018, a comparative study of news consumption in 37 countries, 25 in Europe, says the media in the Balkan countries it studied face political pressures, are sharply polarised and generally lack public trust.

Bulgaria: battlefield between Russia and West

In Bulgaria, the report says the mainstream media prefer to remain witness to events rather than hold those in power to account over various misdeeds. This results in a low overall public trust level in the news of just 38 per cent, one of the lower scores in the survey.

With falling advertising revenues, many news organisations also increasingly rely on oligarchs or foreign foundations for cash, the survey said.

“This in turn has reduced independence and trust, with the media increasingly becoming something of a battlefield between Russia and the West,” it said.

Television remains an important source of news in Bulgaria, with the online sites of leading commercial broadcasters such as NovaTV, ABV, and BTV, most heavily used.

The public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, BNT, is less popular in terms of reach than its commercial rivals, but remains the most trusted for news in the survey.

However, the TV service has recently been accused of underplaying the size of anti-government protests.

The broadcasting regulator, the Council for Electronic Media, CEM, is politically dominated by supporters of the ruling party. Newspapers in Bulgaria have come under financial pressure in recent years, the report noted.

Romania: polarised media but also more public debate

The troubled political environment in Romania in 2017 generated high levels of debate online and sustained public interest in the news. But polarisation in newsrooms has led to continued scepticism, frustration, and low trust levels in the media, the survey reported.

The year 2017 saw a radical shift in Romanian politics and a 180-degree turn also in media coverage, the Reuters survey said.

The government’s controversial proposal to decriminalise corruption in public offices caught the attention of the media and generated a huge public reaction, with street demonstrations in support of democracy and the rule of law.

“After this, newsrooms managed to stimulate and sustain widespread public discussion about the proposed laws, and also about the judiciary, the economy, poverty, and public investment. The coalition government changed prime minister three times between January 2017 and January 2018, which further encouraged the appetite for public debate,” the report said.

However, it said the polarisation of Romanian newsrooms had increased further, as had the public’s demands, via social media, for accountability: “The focus was not only on what journalists covered, but also how they did it.”

Commercial broadcasting companies, like ProTV and Digi Communications, dominate Romania’s news market, on TV and online.

Meanwhile, Romania’s public television, TVR, is maintaining a historical low in terms of market share, although it retains some historic trust.

Most mainstream online news brands’ figures rose slightly and news portals like Yahoo! News and Ziare.com – a local aggregator that also produces its own content – performed strongly.

“This shows the appetite among the Romanian public for multiple sources of news, as well as the lack of loyalty to specific brands. The average consumer in our survey says they use almost six of the top ten sources each week, including TV, radio, local newspapers, and news sites,” the report said.

Croatia: vibrant mix and a rise in right-wing portals

Croatia's media are characterised by strong commercial television providers, a declining print sector, and a vibrant mix of traditional and alternative online websites, the report states.

Television remains a critical source of news, with private Nova TV being the top source of news, followed by the television branch of the Croatian RTL in second place.

“In recent years the editorial independence of the public service HRT has been negatively influenced by the editorial changes implemented by the conservative Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ government,” the report noted.

Digital-born Index.hr remains the leading news website followed by the website of the daily tabloid extension 24sata.hr. In the third place is again the online portal of the most popular non-tabloid daily, Jutarnji list.

The report noted the increased popularity of right-leaning, conservative portals. “Dnevno.hr is a radical website which reached a fifth (21%) of our sample despite having the lowest trust of all the brands we surveyed. Direktno.hr, another right-wing portal, increased its reach to 14% (+3),” it said.

“These websites illustrate the growth in recent years of radical social and political conservative voices organised by NGOs, and linked to the more conservative parts of the ruling HDZ party and the Catholic Church. There are no comparable media on the left side of the spectrum, and the left-leaning online media in general have a much smaller following”, the study observed.

The study was commissioned by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism to understand how news is consumed in a range of countries. Research was conducted by YouGov using an online questionnaire at the end of January and the beginning of February 2018.

The study did not include extensive research on other Balkan countries.

http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/report-balkan-countries- marred-by-polarised-media-06-15-2018