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Vicinities a breath of fresh air amid alarming trends

13December

Vicinities a breath of fresh air amid alarming trends

December 4, 2013, Brussels – Despite the success of the cross-Balkans current affairs talk show Vicinities, the alarming trend in the region’s media is to feed prejudices and ignore opposing opinions, making support for Vicinities even more important, Fabrice de Kerchove, Project Manager at King Baudouin Foundation, told Members of the European Parliament and other dignitaries.

Speaking at an event organised by six Parliamentarians to highlight the importance and impact of Vicinities, Mr de Kerchove praised the show, the Balkan’s first to bring together guests from across the region to discuss sensitive and sometimes difficult issues. He called the talk show “a welcome breath of fresh air in TV news programmes”.

“Contrary to many programmes, Vicinities has no hidden agenda. In its own dynamic and creative way, it just manages to resume ties among neighbouring countries on the basis of a still common language, albeit increasingly nationalised,” Mr de Kerchove said, adding, “and this without falling into the trap of Yugonostalgia.”

Sadly, Vicinities is far from the norm. “On the contrary, it is striking to see how fragmented and inward-looking media audiences still are,” he said. “There is an ongoing trend to feed this attitude by fuelling prejudice and by highlighting (negative) incidents or simply by ignoring opinions from over the border.”

This highlights the importance of Vicinities, which is produced by the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe and the European Fund for the Balkans, with funding from the German Federal Foreign Office.

Hedvig Morvai, Executive Director of the EFB, called Vicinities a very important first-attempt at mending old wounds.

“The direct short-term results of Vicinities are visible: discourse on sensitive issues has begun on a regional level, and so far, to large acclaim,” she said.

The comments were made as part of a panel discussion at an event at the European Parliament in Brussels, organised as an exposé of Vicinities. Vicinities has just wrapped up its second season, and plans for the third are already underway. Seven television stations across the region carried the series, and others, in the Balkans and beyond, are interested as well.

“Vicinities is based on a return to classic journalistic values, to things that matter, to civilised dialogue, to crossing words not swords,” added Nenad Sebek, Executive Director of CDRSEE.
(To see others' talking points, click here)

Mr de Kerchove laid out two main reasons for the issues that are plaguing the media in the Balkans. First, legacy of the past, and second, politicisation.

In referring to the legacy of the past, Mr de Kerchove said the legacy of the previous state control of the media still applies to public TV stations. He added that the media is still affected by the legacy of the wars, and he cited Polish historian and newspaper editor Adam Michnik who said the wars in the Balkans “started in the newspapers, radio and TV stations”.

More recently, the media is influenced by politics. “Today, most of Balkan press is more an extension of politics than a representative of public opinion,” he added.  “Media, and especially public TV stations, are more shaped by politics than politics are shaped by the media.”

And this is why supporting shows like Vicinities is so important. The King Baudouin Foundation, for example, is supporting a Brussels-based media NGO called SEE-TV Exchanges, which produced seven short films, all highly regarded as balanced, about issues in Kosovo such as border management, energy provisions and education, and the impact of these issues at the community level. But, Mr de Kerchove said, NGOs can do just so much with their efforts to seed reconciliation.

“More is needed, especially on behalf of the EU institutions,” Mr de Kerchove said.

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