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Al Jazeera in the Balkans

September 22, 2010

The Arab news network Al Jazeera will begin broadcasting in Sarajevo in January 2011. Supporters see the channel as an enrichment of the media landscape; critics are skeptical of the broadcaster's intentions.

Al Jazeera news desk
The Al Jazeera network is hiring in Bosnia-HerzegovinaImage: AP

The Qatar-based media giant Al Jazeera has purchased a broadacasting station in the Bosnian capital. The operation is slated to begin January 2011 in Sarajevo and later be extended to the entire region. News of the Arab broadcaster's Bosnian expansion has produced diverse reactions.

"People aren't afraid of a new war, exactly, but rather political upheaval," said Boro Kontic, head of the journalist training institution Media Center Sarajevo.

Kontic likens the arrival of the Arab media conglomerate to the atmosphere before the start of the Bosnian war, when it was announced that Sarajevo was to become regional headquarters for the European TV channel Euronews.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, right-hand man of Osama bin Laden, on Al-Jazeera TV
Roughly 400,000 people live in the city of SarajevoImage: picture alliance / dpa

"People feel they are being monitored, if such a large international media company moves into the local market," Kontic said.

Serious competition

Al Jazeera's decision is especially interesting because Bosnia-Herzegovina does not have a strong media market, says the General Secretary of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian journalists association, Borka Rudic.

"Money is not the reason behind the network's decision to settle here," Rudic said.

If Al Jazeera broadcasts in the languages of the former Yugoslavia, it would be a serious competitor for the regional television stations, says, says Damir Simic, editor of the Information Program of the Bosnian public television.

"Al Jazeera is certainly financially well-padded and can buy good quality staff and programs, and so it will be the greatest competition for large broadcasters in this region," said Simic.

Shiulie Ghosh and Sami Zeidan of Al Jazeera
In 2006, Al Jazeera launched an English-language channelImage: AP

Boro Kontic thinks the network has the potential to become an objective and independent information channel in the Balkans.

"It could also help to overcome the petty interests that arose after the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia - be it in Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia or Montenegro," said Kontic.

Political interference

Borka Rudic, on other hand, is convinced that no TV station is completely immune to the desire for political influence. She believes Al Jazeera will affect the public opinion in Bosnia. But she doesn't fear the strengthening influence of radical Islamic forces.

"I do not think that the arrival of Al Jazeera immediately increases the influence from the East, or that this was the motive for Al Jazeera to settle in Sarajevo," said Borka Rudic.

The Head of the Media Center in Sarajevo, Boro Kontic, says that Al Jazeera's first-hand reporting shouldn't be confused with endorsement.

"I know that Al Jazeera is often the first station to broadcast the communications of Al Qaeda. However, I have not the slightest information that connects this TV channel with extreme Islamist groups," said Kontic.

According to the local land-registry office, Al Jazeera plans invest approximately 11 million euros ($14 million) in its Balkan establishment by the end of the year. Job vacancies have already been posted in Bosnia, as well as in Serbia and Croatia.

Author: Samir Huseinovic / Mirjana Dikic (smh)
Editor: Andreas Illmer