3rd Dec 2023

EU cuts funding to Balkan press corps in Brussels

  • "Who better than us can directly and instantaneously inform people about political events concerning our countries?” argue the Balkan correspondents in Brussels. (Photo: UNMIK)

Television coverage of European Union news in the western Balkan countries is being threatened after the European Commission cut the aid to their Brussels-based correspondents in mid-November, journalists from the region have said.

Until now, Brussels has regularly supplied technical aid to TV correspondents from EU candidate or accession states in the form of cameras, editing suites and satellite transmission of their material – in order to help them cover EU-related issues.

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Long before the western Balkan programme was underway, Brussels delivered similar aid to the ten states that joined the EU in 2004, followed by Bulgaria and Romania in 2007.

But on 15 November, Brussels decided to re-direct this aid to other projects within the Balkan countries.

"Our aim is to provide this assistance to a larger number of beneficiaries on an equal footing in a more diversified manner and not to limit this aid only to Brussels-based correspondents," Krisztina Nagy, spokeswoman for EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn, told EUobserver on Wednesday (17 December).

"Given the budgetary provisions for 2008 and the need to observe equal treatment of all broadcasters, the budget allocated during 2007 to technical assistance for Brussels-based correspondents was no longer sustainable," she added.

Ms Nagy argued that the commission preferred to put more emphasis on "training journalists in the region to make a more extensive use of existing sources," or organising workshops, seminars and similar activities.

According to the spokeswoman, Brussels' "continued commitment to assist the media of the western Balkans is clear," as it has in the course of 2008 issued a call for proposals for information and communication actions in the region and in Turkey for a total amount of €650,000.

Six projects in the western Balkans - and one in Turkey - have been selected and will be implemented in 2009.

Not justified, say the correspondents

But TV correspondents from the countries concerned insist that cutting all of their funding is not justified and say that it will have a big impact on their work.

The commission's initiative to invest more in media projects on the ground "is fine, but what about the correspondents, the people that are at the centre of happenings? Who better than us can directly and instantaneously inform people about political events concerning our countries?" Tanja Milevska, the Brussels-based correspondent for Macedonian Kanal 5 television channel, wrote on the Balkan Insight blog.

"The European Commission knows very well that the media in our region simply do not have the same means as, say, CNN, the BBC, France 24 or Al Jazeera ... Simply using the camera, editing and sending a package via satellite costs between €800 and €1,500 per day, the correspondent's wage not included, of course," she said, adding that the monthly salary of an average journalist in these countries rarely tops €500.

The cut to EU funding puts "most [Balkan] televisions in serious trouble, as for all but one or two of us" keeping a correspondent in Brussels will become "unaffordable," according to Dusan Gajic, correspondent for Serbian national television RTS.

If the commission wants to re-direct money to the countries and finance projects there, "they could reduce the money [for the correspondents], but cutting it to zero is not the best option," he said.

The EU executive should understand that it is not simply "giving assistance to five or six individuals in Brussels, but to five or six television stations that have opted to send a correspondent here," and these stations are usually the most motivated and the most active in providing EU coverage to their viewers, Mr Gajic stressed.

Ernest Bunguri, from Alsat, an Albanian television station, underlined the political dimension of the problem.

The only reporters in Albania who manage to avoid political pressure are the Brussels correspondents, he told Macedonian daily Dnevnik.

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