The migration odyssey along the media & a conversation on media with Elvira Jukić-Mujkić

Appealing to their responsibilities and ethics, the media has a huge responsibility in contributing to the image of refugees and migrants as criminals of refugees by creating a confusion between “Knowledge” and “Opinion”, fact and rumors. Is an ethics of media discourse possible? Fortunately some organizations such as the Media Centar Sarajevo and Raskrinkavanje try to prevent the phenomena, by imposing a time for a deeper analysis of the information for a reconstruction of reflection. Elvira Jukić-Mujkić, editor at Media Centar Sarajevo, will share a part of this reflection.

Migrants Odyssey

Mainstream media have an important role to play, not only because they can serve as platforms for presenting a story of change, but also because they are one of the vectors of misinformation. In addition to conservative editors, who are more likely to present migration issues in a negative light, more sensationalist media outlets are often the source of misinformation in the mainstream media.

In fact, “Across the Margins'' a report from the researchers of Raskrinkavanje, a local fact-checking organization from Bosnia Herzegovina, underlined that the people on the move are the most targeted marginalized group in Bosnia. The figures are impressive: 213 fake reports while over 700 articles contained negative speech where most of the time it refers to the term “criminal”, “violent”, ‘terrorist’, or ‘radical’. Women and LGBTQI arrived in the second and third most targeted group.

Today people on the move remain a vulnerable minority population. In the current media and political context, this population see their vulnerability used in order to transform them into a common enemy on which all the problems of society are rejected: economic, social crisis, crimes, security problems, covid-19 contagion bias. Hate speech through political rhetoric is broadcast without setbacks and spreading in the society and migration events presented without any perspective and even less context.

Many alternative narratives exist to talk about the migration, but the unique approach adopted by many media inevitably leads us towards a total polarisation of the public debate by pushing the “public opinion” to think in terms of “for” or “against”.

The result of the polarization is terrible, on the field, while a solidarity local network comes to support refugees, local anti-refugee militias are organizing to prevent this population from existing in this territory. Part of the society is also tolerant and is reaching out as much as they can while the other part protest to express their dissatisfaction. Some are to blame on the refugees, others on the canton, others on Sarajevo. On the other hand, what remains extraordinary is that the EU remains protected from all accusations in the public debate. The irony of the situation is that the European Commission has gone so far in this strategy as to explain to Bosnia and Herzegovina how to improve the reception of migrants on its soil. Otherwise, the situation could have negative consequences on the country's EU accession process. This perpetual mechanism of domination is really present in each of the strata of this pattern. The refugees guilty in the eyes of the dominant population, the Una-Sana Canton guilty in the eyes of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina guilty in the eyes of the European Union. One problem would be the lack of preparation of journalists and the media to face this type of event; another would be a political will to establish a single point of view. In each case the stream of the information, the omnipresence of the criminalization process and the repetition of a negative rhetoric form a process of colonisation of our imaginations and points of view.

Moreover, the consequence is not only that we move away from the subject under discussion, but it prevents any construction of a positive political strategy from emerging. It is therefore essential to propose alternative narratives that could be the anti-corp to the virus of disinformation and criminalisation.

Participating in this development Elvira Jukić-Mujkić as editor-in-chief at Media Centar Sarajevo , from media analysis to writing and promoting professional and ethical journalism, Elvira is also the author of the documentary “ Canard ”. This documentary proposes an analysis of unprofessional media reporting, incitement, creating panic and unconfirmed information.


Elvira Jukić-Mujkić

Idriss Moussaoui: What about an introduction of Elvira Jukić by Elvira Jukić?

Elvira Jukić : Over the past 13 years, I have been working as a journalist, editor, researcher and media analyst in the field of politics, society, human rights, ethics and media. For the past five years I have worked as editor in Media Centar Sarajevo, on media analysis, writing and promoting professional and ethical journalism. Previously I worked as a journalist at the Balkan Insight in BIRN and as a TV journalist at the Federation TV news department. Over the years, I also collaborated with many international organizations and media as a journalist, researcher, media trainer and communications consultant. I graduated at the MA Communication master programme at the University of Westminster in 2020 and previously at the Department of Journalism at the Faculty of Political Science in University of Sarajevo in 2010.

Migration has suddenly jumped to the top of the news agenda. During 2015, journalists reported the biggest mass movement of people along the Balkans Road as all around the world. Since 2015, have you been able to observe a change of perspective in the media treatment of the issue of migration?

For the past four years, which is when migrants and refugees started massively coming to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the media reporting on this topic consecutively increased. Early summer of 2018 was a time of some of the most problematic sensationalist stories related to migrants and refugees, reports that strongly started creating exclusively negative narratives about them. There were continuous reports in many media, especially online, about robberies, fights, how locals should be afraid of them, even claims one of them allegedly raped someone. Of course, there were quality reports in some media outlets but the sensationalist media that seemed to have an aggressive campaign against the migrants and refugees either uploaded them. Whatever, especially negative, was published about that topic, it would soon spread to online portals, which lead to fast multiplication and creation of an atmosphere of fear and reluctance to help them. Meanwhile, as usual, BiH authorities did not do enough and many issues related to accommodation of those people were problematic. That did cause their dissatisfaction as well as dissatisfaction of locals. Instead of helping out, the majority of the media actually heated up the situation.

The global media treatment concerning the people on the move seems to take sides. How the media process information to arrive to this implication?


While analyzing media reporting, I came up with the idea to actually make a short documentary about it, to show how media reporting looks like. While I was working on this, I went through many media outlets and looked for examples trying to catch up and determine what the common narrative was created. I also went to interview journalists, editors as well as migrants in a camp. I realized that some editors, unfortunately, also personally fear migrants and cannot see beyond their shallow personal beliefs based on fear of the other or refusal of people who are by any means different from us and we all know that we can call xenophobia the least. At the same time, I learned from talking to migrants that they are not that much aware of the media reporting because of the language, but that they can see that while many people are helping them, there are those who turn their back to them.

Do you think that the editors have a certain power on the public opinion? What kind of impact did you observe?

The position of editors, or in case of quasi-news portals creators of content, their personal intellectual limitations combined with will to earn popularity and thus money for their media outlet by sensationalist reporting directly impact the public opinion since they contaminated the public space with spread of often disinformation. As a result, there is reluctance, hatred and panic related to migrants and refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

How could we define the role of the media and journalist?

There are a few theories of media that we can use to explain the media models that we can recognize in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Western Balkans. So, three and more decades ago we had here a Soviet-alike or in essence an authoritarian-based model of media were their role in the society and the state apparatus was very well known it was rid of criticism to principles of the socialist rule in Yugoslavia and its federal states, the content was controlled and in essence media were there as a tool of the ruling structures, the government. With the breakup of the former country, there was a liberalization of the media and a shift to this whole profession serving the interest of citizens, or the common good, not the authorities like before. What we actually have is a still unfinished transition to this new way of understanding the role of media in our societies. Many journalists and newsrooms still in a way cater to the interests of those in positions of power and less to interests of citizens. What many initiatives and development projects in the field of media in the Western Balkans are aiming to do is to help change this understanding of the role of media into views that could be explained in social responsibility theory or even liberal theory of media, but poor economies are a big factor in that. Many media outlets still depend financially on state institutions, which are run by members of different political parties or are dependent on contracts with private companies, which buy their media space but are often aligned again with the ruling political circles. There are many journalists who are working in the best interest of citizens and they are critical towards the important issues in the country, they uncover many irregularities and point at the problems, and citizens recognize that and they appreciate that. In general, there are tendencies to improve this understanding of a journalist as a professional who will ask what other citizens would ask but do not have a chance or do not know how and this needs to be promoted and nourished, journalists need to be more trained to do this and citizens should trust the professions even more, even when they are asking about taboo topics. Despite many limitations, we are on a good path. And this is something that has been a priority for Media Centar Sarajevo all these years.

In 2016, in France Acrimed (a media observatory) and Le Monde diplomatique (Newspaper) collaborated in order to publish a research. This research is a map highlighting the relation between people of influence in the political and economic sphere and the French mainstream media. This research is a confession of the relation between the politics and the media-press system. Can we speak of the transparency of the media in BIH?

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country of three million people and hundreds of media outlets. There is no law on transparency of media ownership and there is a lack of transparency of financing of media and this is a field where Media Centar Sarajevo has been working for years now to research these needs and existing models and propose solutions. Some other non-governmental organizations have been doing the same, trying to bring more transparency into media ownership, financing and thus reveal the influences to media reporting. What happens in Bosnia and Herzegovina is that when you observe or analyse the media content, you can see political and other biases, but you often cannot really get to the sources of that. Sometimes the owners are suspected to be connected to political parties or influential individuals who have their specific interests, also regarding the whole migrant and refugee situation. So one problem I see there is that the media are sometimes turned too narrow looking into matters, they only see and pass over what suits their financier and this can be extremely dangerous.

I would like to go further with “Canard”, your documentary presents the Local – Bosnian-Herzegovina media treatment of migration.  What wanted you to find through this analysis?

The documentary “Canard” showed examples of sensationalist reporting of mainly mainstream media in Bosnia and Herzegovina, those media that reach the highest audiences and influence the debates. Some media even created their reports that ignited and spread fear from people on the move, sometimes just by reporting on masses of people being present somewhere and sometimes just generalising from a few incidents. It was so clear; it was directly visible, what the media reporting can do what damage it can unfortunately cause. Meanwhile, it was still possible to see heart-warming support and help the citizens and organizations were providing to people who were in need, despite this entire predominantly negative media reporting in the beginning. Nothing can stop the people who want to help other people.

We observed that the perspective proposing by the media — in BiH— as in France and other countries is always the same perspective. There is a kind of effort by the media to present the refugee as a criminal or scapegoat for the ills of society, Why?

A scapegoat: individual, group, organisation, etc., chosen to take responsibility for a fault for which they are, totally or partially, innocent. The phenomenon of scapegoating can emanate from multiple motivations, either deliberate (such as evasion of responsibility) or unconscious (such as internal defence mechanisms).

Perhaps this is easy, in both Bosnia and Herzegovina, France and elsewhere, it is easy to be critical of those who are in a bad place, or weak in some way, or those who need your help. It is easy to use them as a quick alibi for all the problems in your society that you pretended not to see for years. Yes, now the migrants are to blame for robberies but in fact the percentage of robberies they committed is extremely small in comparison to the criminals committed regularly by domestic people. Or that migrants are there to take over some jobs which by the way maybe the locals did not want in the first place or actually did not know how to do. On the other hand, it is easy to blame migrants and refugees for virtually anything else that is pressuring your society. I agree that it is not easy when you have tens of thousands of new people coming from far away all of the sudden, and with different needs that Bosnia and Herzegovina or even France or another EU country cannot cater at once, but it is really easy to be mean and spread criticism and fear. The hard and the good thing is to think hard and work hard to organize help and control the situation. This can be one of the explanations.

Within the migration context, the gap between the information processing in the media and the reality of the facts is growing up. What about the ethics and duty of journalism?

There are several problems concerning the journalists and editors and their duty. Firstly, not everyone understands their “duty” the same way and, as I earlier explained, there are still very much different views on what is the role of professional media in our society. Secondly, not all journalists and editors are sufficiently trained and sensitized for all matters, and especially not the migrants and refugees. And thirdly, the new models of financing, or “survival” in the digital era, has made many media outlets lower their standards and run for sensation in order to be clicked or read, no matter the quality of content. And another very serious problem to add to this is that there are hundreds of news-alike portals run by people who are not journalists but just took advantage of the possibility to buy a domain, a design, and pump up any kind of written content and earn from that, careless of the damage to people’s lives.

Finally, what about the freedom of the press and the right as a citizen to be informed?

There is freedom of media in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Western Balkans. It is just that it is not on the level on which it should be. In comparison to some other corners of the world, we can consider our freedom of media good journalists do face a lot of pressures, they are even beaten and insulted, but there are a few taboos that are not tackled. Of course, in comparison to strong democracies, there are still many aspects to improve. Freedom is not free to take; one should always fight for it. There is still much freedom we as journalists from Bosnia and Herzegovina should fight for but I think we are on a good path, we have bright, strong, and smart people in the media and I believe they will make many more important steps towards more freedom. It is perhaps slow, but those important changes cannot be made overnight.

"CANARD", a documentary film about media reporting on refugees and migrants in BiH (February, 2019)