Today is exactly ten years since Al Jazeera Balkans started broadcasting. It seems to me that the media scene in the region (which is an easier term for many than “space of the former Yugoslavia”) was much different then, especially when we talk about the informative segment or the news.
Traditional media were still the most dominant, internet portals were on an upward trajectory, and social networks were not yet perceived as a “source of news and information.” In 2011, the effects of the 2008/2009 economic crisis were still being felt, and thus the media picture looked rather pale. At that time, the state media were the most stable and dominant, but also the most boring and unambitious. Nova TV in Croatia, for example, worked solidly, but the legendary B92 was already in an unenviable situation.
In addition, news from other countries had little or no presence on these national channels. Maybe I experienced it that way, but it was unnatural for me to know less and less about the situation in countries that until recently were “ours.” And where we all use the same language, or, if the Puritans so desire, we all understand the language of the other. The turnover of people and goods was at an enviable level even then, but not information and news. That is when Al Jazeera Balkans started, announced enough, although not present enough. We failed to position ourselves in many cable operators at first, but we still sparked an interest. Even the reviews during the first year of broadcasting were excellent, although many were very skeptical about the concept where the news was prioritized based on relevance and importance rather than ethnic or national code and equality. And how on earth will they listen to ekavica in Croatia or ijekavica in Serbia.
The atmosphere in the newsroom was great, although unanimous decisions were rare. Colleagues came from all countries in the region and quickly fit in, and it is important to point out that the confidence was instilled in the employees, daily, by the director Tarik Đođić and the great journalist Goran Milić. We went slowly, expanding the market with an increasing number of operators carrying Al Jazeera Balkans and insisting on quality before anything. We didn’t want a sensation and we didn’t have to be the first. But we had to be accurate and verified, and that responsibility towards the spectators, but also the events, made us stand out from everyone who had any contact with Al Jazeera. Everyone respected that responsible journalism. At the same time, we did not give up on anyone or make compromises. We were the first (at that time the only) television that broadcast a great film by Dario Juričan “Boss” about Ivica Todorić. We received ugly comments and even pressure from all the ruling structures in the region and we never withdrew a single contribution.
Over time, we have noticed an increase in standards on other televisions in the region. Some told us that directly, others asked for support and training, and we tried to meet everyone’s needs. And we noticed an increasing presence of news from the region and the world and in other media and we felt that we had contributed, at least to a small extent, to that. Over time, N1, BBC radio and online service, Euronews, Newsmax, and many others entered the region, and the media picture became very dynamic, especially the “regional” one.
Al Jazeera Balkans has remained consistent with itself. Journalists reported around the world, more precisely from hundreds of countries around our planet. There was no room on the portal for any yellow press or irrelevant information. We screened the world’s best documentaries related to political and social events, and I believe that we have contributed at least a little to the awakening of the market in the field of documentary film as well. Early on, we were among the first to start producing videos that go directly and exclusively to social networks. We never even thought of making a compromise and we have different reports for different markets. If anyone had a problem in Serbia hearing about the genocide in Srebrenica, or Croatia about the crimes committed during the “Storm”, that was not our problem. We have not and will not suck up to anyone, and I think there is no need because I believe that the majority is the one who rationally looks at things and accepts the truth (although, as far as I can see, they are quiet and inefficient in elections).
Today we are where we are, after ten years. We have contracts with more than 200 cable and IPTV operators not only in the region but also in the Scandinavian countries or Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, the USA, Bulgaria, Albania, etc. I think we are a channel from the region that has by far the largest or widest distribution and reach. We have more than 1,250,000 followers on social networks, at least 700 million video views on 3 platforms (Youtube, Facebook, and Brightcove), and a constant and solid viewership in all countries of the region, we do not monitor that viewing through commercial contracts with rating agencies, rather we take more detailed, “raw” information from friendly IPTV and digital cable operators). We plan to build a new headquarters of Al Jazeera Balkans and will continue to monitor world standards and trends as much as we can.
One public figure once commented, “I’m watching you, because I know I’m not going to get a stress ulcer.” I would like us to remain a medium that will not cause stress, but form a more educated and wider generation of viewers and readers.
And I hope to write another review about Al Jazeera Balkans again in the next ten years.