West to set up 'balanced' TV news service for Bosnia

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The Independent Online
An Anglo-American team is to establish a new independent television service in Bosnia-Herzegovina in advance of national elections next month. The current affairs and news programming is intended to ensure "balanced, multi-party coverage" for key areas of the country.

The service, which will be made available via satellite to local television stations in Bosnia, will compete with existing networks, which in most cases are associated with one or other of the ethnic groups, and which have been accused of bias in the coverage of political events. So far, local stations in Sarajevo, Mostar and Vitez have agreed to take the feed, which will be broadcast terrestrially to the local population. Other sites will be added, provided local stations agree, although there is no sign yet that stations in Serb-occupied areas will support the initiative.

The project was developed by the Washington-based Open Society Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research organisation backed by the financier George Soros. The initiative has support from the International Federation of Journalists and is financed by the World Bank.

Staff will be drawn in part from neighbouring Slovenia, and will be supplemented by local journalists from the Muslim and Croat communities in Bosnia. The project's backers are aware of the need to recruit independent journalists, given the state of ethnic relations in the country.

"The intention is to ensure broadcast pluralism in the crucial lead-up to the elections on 14 September," said a source close to the project. A source at one of the companies supplying logistical support said: "Everyone on the ground is aware of how important the media will be in these elections.".

A Russian cargo aircraft is scheduled to leave Stansted Airport, near London, today, carrying pounds 3m-worth of transmission, editing and production equipment supplied by NTL, the British television transmission company. A team of six technicians will help set up the channel. Also on hand will be personnel from Harris, a leading US manufacturer, which has agreed to install a new transmitter at Banja Luka, site of the British military contingent in Bosnia.

Ifor, the United Nations peace implementation force, is to ensure that there is no interference with the service. It is expected that it would continue after the elections, and could form the embryo of a new national channel.

The news service is expected to go on air within a few weeks. "This has been a difficult exercise, involving many people, and will have taken only 10 weeks from start to finish," said a British source.