Saturday, March 4, 2006
I won’t say that she wasn’t or couldn’t become a good reporter. (She interviewed me for a story and my local contact seemed generally pleased with the story.) Being a reporter for print or broadcast involves gathering, evaluating and conveying information. The evaluation and conveyance stages are the most difficult. The challenge is to have sufficient education and curiosity to be able to understand and evaluate the information you gather. And, strong language and written skills to report the news. Evaluation also means having an open point of view that isn’t tied to a political party or partisan cause. And, that’s one of the primary challenges facing journalists in Montenegro. Many of their media firms are owned by or allied with political parties, or owners with specific business interests. You may have an open mind but it isn’t always welcomed on the job.
Just as in the United States, journalists occupy a visible position in the community and as in the U.S., Montenegrin journalists are often young and poorly paid. As many as one-third of media employees in Montenegro at parttime workers.
How does a free press fit into a transitioning country? Experts generally say that having a democracy depends on three things: the ability to hold competitive political elections, political participation by the citizens, and political and civil liberties. It is within this last area—political and civil liberties—that we see the importance not only of free speech but also free press, both print and broadcast.
I fear this entry is getting a little long; I’ll talk in my next entry about journalism and media training and my work in this area.
Friday, March 3, 2006
BBC World. My only regularly available English language television programming comes from BBC World, the commercially supported satellite channel owned by the BBC. (In case you don’t know, typical BBC programming in the UK is commercial free.) BBC started this channel partly because it made sense—why let CNN be the world’s only satellite channel news voice? I’m happy to have the channel but BBC World has undue content repetition—a limited menu of feature programs that are repeated excessively and a limited number of news stories that receive coverage in a newscast. For my money, CNN International (which I believe is far superior to the CNN service seen in the U.S.) offers a better programming mix. Even the commercials on BBC World are repetitive. I’ve counted about a dozen individual sponsors over several consecutive days and the typical sponsor has one version of the spot that airs. A spot break contains only one or two actual commercials followed by promos and graphic/music promo bumpers. I do watch English language programming on the Montenegro channels. Sometimes it carries subtitles. Other times, it’s in English with no subtitle.
I don’t think I’m overly critical of BBC World because it’s my only English language channel. I’ve felt this way for years. I will add: they do a first rate job on the reports and programs that do air.
I’m not crazy about the orange trim color on this house and the privacy wall needs to be power washed but I just love the grape vines. Most of the private houses in Podgorica have grape vines—usually on trellises or arbors—and fig trees. The white arched frame is the arbor to support the vines once they’ve started their spring growth.
Grapes are produced on new vine growth each year and the vines require substantial pruning in late winter to ensure a good crop in the summer.
Here’s a closer look at some of the pruned vines.
This fig tree was apparently planted a little too close to the sidewalk. The property owner has cut some thorny saplings that run parallel with the top of the fence. You can’t see them well in the photo but last summer, if you’d tried to grab a ripe fig, you would have gotten pricked by the thorns. The homeowner has also used a tree limb to prop up the fence, probably done before turning to the thorns to keep people away from the fruit. The rectangular objects are salvaged sections of concrete, used to hold in the soil and add a bottom to the fence.
I've also seen olive trees, kiwi vines--they look similar to grape vines, and both lemon and orange trees, loaded with fruit. The citrus trees were on the coast.
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
Media and Political Coverage
My assignment in Montenegro comes at an especially interesting time. Montenegro will vote on whether to declare independence from Serbia on May 21. A positive vote doesn’t mean a 50.1% majority. According to a European Commission recommendation, an affirmative vote for independence will be recognized by the Europeans if 55% of voters support independence. (Imagine how you would feel if foreign powers had the ability to determine election outcomes in the U.S.? AND, do a little search in your favorite newspaper and see whether you can find even a tiny blurb about the election and 55% requirement in a U.S. newspaper.)
To an outsider, support for independence might seem a forgone conclusion. It isn’t that simple. The election pits the majority political party against various minority parties. And, support for independence is not exclusively a decision based on party membership. Some residents are native born Montenegrins; others moved here from Serbia or other parts of former Yugoslavia. Kosovo’s political future (Kosovo is now under UN protection) is a potential mitigating factor—at least for the Serbians and European Commission. Serbia’s desire to join the EU might diminish their interest in the election—but they must first turn over suspected war criminals, before the outcome of Montenegro’s independence referendum appears on their radar screen.
So a variety of groups, internal and external, will be issuing statement and jockeying for press coverage. Media outlets are not entirely independent reporters of news. Some newspapers are independent—Vijesti (pronounce the j and a y sound, for Viyesti) is good example. The most watched television channels in Montenegro appear to be the two government stations (CG1 and CG2--CG refers to Crna Gora or Black Mountain or Montenegro) and TV Pink, owned by Serbians. The other Montenegrin TV stations do air news. I will be relying on a small group of people to help me make sense of all this because I do not speak Serbian.
One other interesting element, there is to be a cooling off period, one week before the vote. Apparently this is customary—to avoid excessive and potentially inflammatory coverage before the election. I think this will create the most interesting time for observation. How will elements of the independence issue be subtly worked into other coverage and who will be doing it? I blogged a few days ago about the VOA newscasts. VOA will work to be balanced in its coverage—which might just mean that all sides in Montenegro will not like what they hear.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
I didn't take geology as an undergrad but I've always appreciated the sight of rock formations and the power of the earth to shift its crust. This photo from Budva shows the rock layers of the mountains that sit next to the Adriatic Sea. These rocks are close enough to the water for storms to easily pelt the rock with water. Look at the stacks of rock layers. For scale or proportion, the thinnest layers are about an inch think...the thickest about 6-8 inches.
The Budva Riviera
I've started to explore Montenegro. On my previous two brief trips, everyone asked if I had visited Budva. I have finally made the journey. It's still early in the season and not bask-in-the-sun-on-the-beach weather yet but Budva is already preparing for the tourist season. Budva, on the coast of Montenegro, is thought to be the oldest settlement in Montenegro. By the mid-2nd century BC, the area was occupied by Romans. Stari Grad (Old Town) consisted of the citadel or fortress that surrounded the inner city. You will see in these photos part of the fortress walls that stand next to the Adriatic Sea. The clock and bell tower in the photos are recent--dating to only the mid-1800s--the tower is part of St. Ivan Catholic Church.
Monday, February 27, 2006
The shoreline of Montenegro consists of both sandy beaches and jagged rocks. This photo was taken at Budva. The water is greenish-blue and amazingly clear. To get an idea of the size scale of this beach and the rocks, look closely at the photo. You will see a man in a red shirt. Also note the trees behind the buildings. The mountain juts up at about an 80 degree angle.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Saturday moring, I watched a Voice of America newscast, delivered in Serbia, on Montena Television, one of the private television stations in Montenegro. This newscast originates from VOA studios in Washington, D.C.
VOA is a U.S. funded broadcast initiative that began in 1942 to counter Nazi/Axis newscasts during World War II. VOA continues to broadcast around the world through shortwave but increasingly, in the last 15 years, through partnerships with private radio and television stations now on the air in developing or transitional nations. VOA furnishes its affiliates with video or audio segments that can be used in locally originated newscasts and VOA is a source of training for engineers, reporters, and managers. Many of the trips I have made in recent year have been through VOA sponsored training efforts.
Lead stories, based on the visuals and some words I recognize:
-Bush reaction statement to the Al Queda attempting the oil refinery bombing
-Condaleza Rice arrives for a Middle East visit
-Bombing is Israel
-Hamas march in Lebanon
-Iran nucler program…meetings
-Bird flu outbreaks in Europe
-Voice report with rolling video from Beograd (Belgrade), likely concerning Serbian General Mladic as the likelihood of his arrest.
-Nationalist rally in Belgrade??
-Slobidan Milosovic trail update from Hague
-Voice-over rolling video with references to Bosnia/Herzogovena
-Montenegro Referendum story: VOA correspondent Nebojsa Redzic reporting from Podgorica. Voice report over generic rolling video from Podgorica.
-Reader story on another aspect of the referendum
-Story on Culture. This is an extensive in-studio interview with someone from the Architecture Institute in Belgrade, Serbia but now visiting the U.S.…..w/ rolling video of old churches, some of which have clearly been refurbished as a cultural program. Others sites show buildings in need of repair. Anchor makes references to Kosovo…then cuts to soundbite of someone from Serbia making follow-up comments. Back to in-studio guest. The story runs about 8 minutes. (Personal observation: There are some beautiful churches in the Balkans, all 100+ years old. One small church I visited in Podgorica is over 500 years old.)
-Press conference story about a US/EU trade and agriculture meeting??
-Celebrity story: Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen visiting somewhere??
-Quick wrap-up from anchor.
Is VOA a propaganda source or a legitimate news provider? There were some concerns during the Reagan administration and presently under the Bush administration about efforts to influence VOA content, but VOA is an important news and training provider.
As developing and transitional nations shift to free-market economies and support of human rights, free speech/free press desires have led to licensing of private radio and television stations. It isn’t enough though to simply have a license to operate. These stations must learn to sustain their operations through effective management, including the sale of advertising.
VOA news training improves not only the factual content of the newscasts but also the “look” or production value of the product. Management and sales training helps the owners/managers improve their business operations so that the program content can continue to be made available to an audience interested in local content from a source other than the government channel.
Yes, I think VOA is a good use of U.S. taxpayer funds. You can also find text, streaming audio and video on VOA’s website—including news in about 40 languages. Visit voa.gov for a look. (By the way, by law—since its creation in 1942, VOA is prohibited from broadcasting to U.S. citizens. That’s part of the safeguard to prevent VOA from being used to influence U.S. citizens.)But what about CNN and FOX News or even BBC World--my only exclusively English language channel? (I will blog about BBC World in a few more days.) These channels are interested in low-hanging fruit: viewers who speak or understand English, which means either persons traveling from Wesern countries or wealthy viewers in diverse locations. They are commercially sponsored services--and there is NOTHING wrong with ad support for programming.
VOA or BBC World Service (BBC's radio service) are the sources for news broadcasts in local languages and their radio service is still extensive. As ubiquitous as television is in the world of Americans, radio is the leading source of news and information in true developing countries. Radio is portable....receivers are inexpensive....they run on batteries, in places where is is limited electrical service...the time and production skills needed to create radio programming are more manageable than television production.