LAREG Meeting in Paris: on the media situation in the Balkans countries
European Federation of Journalists Labour Rights Expert Group (LAREG+) and Freelance Expert Group (FREG) met in Paris on 15 November invited by the SNJ-CGT with the objective to make bridges and coordinate better their action and work. Representatives of 20 European journalists’ organisations exchanged good practices and knowledge about collective bargaining, social dialogue as well as freelancers’ rights. The implementation of the Copyright directive and the expected new guidelines on EU competition rules for freelancers were also discussed. Read below a summary of the situation in the Balkan region, by LAREG co-chair and President of the Croatian Union of Journalists Maja Sever.
The Covid-19 crisis brought ongoing processes to a standstill for some media but opened up opportunities for negotiations at national level.
– Negotiations on a collective agreement for the public service (HRT) have been concluded in the chapters on the financial framework, but there is still an open section on some specific requirements of the trade unions, such as working time regulation for journalists, education, protocols on journalist protection.
– Discussions between trade unions and employers in the media company “Hanza Media” about the material status and the protection of workers’ rights have started.
– At the national level, we held a meeting with the Minister for Culture and the Media and stressed that the known issues in the media sector have worsened during the Covid-19 crisis. We also underlined the fact that some of these issues can be resolved through a national collective agreement. We are planning to bring unions from the media industry together, and define the requirements needed together with experts. The process is planned to start in 2022.
– The SNH is working hard to unite freelancers, build a branch of the audio-visual industry and involve them in our work.
The authorities were given a certain amount of money to help the media (around 2.5 million euros in direct and indirect aid), but the workers did not feel the state was very helpful. Only one employer out of around 200 media companies operating in Montenegro has rewarded its employees for responsible and demanding work in times of crisis. A recent SMCG‘s survey found that 2020 – a year that employers in the media industry call the worst in their business – has been generally positive.
– The branch collective agreement regulating the rights of media workers was passed in 2004. It is now out of date and not applicable to our current digital working conditions in the media industry. In 2017, the SMCG started negotiations with employers in the media sector. Some media have collective agreements. In addition to the state public service, there are two other local public service broadcasters, while no private media have this protection.
– Freelancers are a growing community in Montenegro that has recently become more visible. The freelancers community is not recognized by any statutory regulation. Recently, an informal section of freelancers was formed at the SMCG. The Labour Code that defines their work have been affected as a result.
– The media owners’ slowness to act on labour is one of the main problems in the media industry in Montenegro. KOSOVO PSB RTK workers are the only organised unions. It is currently operating in three unions (RTK Independent Union, RTK Workers Union, Radio Workers Union). There is no organised institution working to protect the workers’ rights of journalists. Since there are no trade unions in Kosovo that represent the interests of all journalists, the KLA usually serves as the primary contact point for journalists in the event of violations of their rights, for their proper forwarding and in some cases acted as an intermediary between journalists and institutions.
– There is no national collective bargaining agreement for the media as there are no employers’ associations or general unions. The main issue is that journalists and other media professionals do not feel safe reporting cases of workplace violations because they fear losing their job and having difficulty finding a new one. There are no cases of collective bargaining in Kosovo.
– One of the problems is the influence that politics can have on certain media because of media funding. Political pluralism is regulated by law, but there are other forms of pressure that can be placed on (some) media policies.
– The legal framework for the media in Kosovo is very good, including the legal framework around labour laws, but there is a lack of implementation. The private media sector is problematic as the administration of public services tends to be more compliant with the law.
– Journalists have the right of association and the freedom to associate themselves as a trade union, as provided by the Constitution, Law No. 03 / L-212 on Labour and Law No. 04 / L-011 on Trade Union Organization in Kosovo. However, there are no comprehensive trade unions in Kosovo. We are working on modality to involve more freelance journalists in our activities. – In 2020, the number of threats and attacks against journalists increased and the number rose to 24 reported cases. Although the number of reported assaults has increased, research has shown that state institutions and political actors still lack the necessary resources to address the situation of journalists in the judiciary.
– There is no national collective agreement for the media in Serbia.
– There is no employers’ organization that would negotiate with the unions. Unfortunately, there is no will of employers to start negotiations on a better position for workers.
– Three media unions have not shown a willingness to cooperate and work together to force employers to negotiate
– There are four collective agreements in the media in Serbia. Radio Television of Serbia, Radio Television of Vojvodina, RTV Kragujevac and the daily Vecernje Novosti have contracts.
– The political influence on the media and freedom of speech in Serbia can be very good or extremely worrying. Politicians publicly say that journalists who criticize the government are the enemies of the state, traitors and agents of foreign services. There are several televisions and newspapers in Serbia that are fighting on behalf of the state against independent media, as well as media organisations such as NUNS, BIRN, CINS. A striking example is that their using of hate speech is not punished.
– The biggest problem is the ban on unions, and open persecution of workers in the media who want to join the union.
– In Serbia, there is a Labour Law that regulates the area of collective agreement. However, after two waves of media privatization in Serbia, the new owners first closed the unions and there are no conditions for negotiations there. The Labour Law does not allow liberal professions to be unionised.
– Freelancers are not covered by collective agreements that have been signed. They are also not considered when determining union representativeness.
– A significant number of journalists and media workers are employed through agencies that are hired by the media.
– There is no collective bargaining, but there is a socio-economic dialogue that includes branch unions and employers’ organizations. In that dialogue, there is one representative trade union from the ranks, but there is no representative organization that represents employers in the media within that social dialogue, so even in this process the issue of labour rights of media workers does not move from the deadlock. This problem has been identified in the Media Strategy, but small steps are currently being taken to create space for dialogue on this topic. The Union of Journalists of Serbia raised this issue within the Working Group for Amendments to the Law on Public Information and proposed certain changes, but there is little chance that they will come to life because these changes must begin primarily in the Labour Law, and only later can be implemented in some other laws such as the Law on Public Information.
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
Only 16% of media in BiH have organised trade union organisations dealing with the protection of workers and the position of journalists and other media workers. Another smaller number has formed what is called an Employees Council, but that is not enough for the media to engage in social dialogue and negotiate the lowest price of labour. The BHJA (BH Journalists’ Association) partially conducts trade union activities, protects the labour rights of media workers through the Free Media Help Line, but again, this is not enough – the BHJA cannot be a negotiator with the RS Government and the FBiH Government, nor with employers, because it has no legal authority. Labour recognises only trade unions as negotiators in social dialogue
In the RS, the existing union is active, participating in social dialogue, while in the Federation of BiH the situation is completely unclear because of the recent retirement of the president. It is also worth noting that labour legislation is divided by entities and the Brcko District. This leads to trade unions being divided, as well as instruments for protecting the working status of journalists and all other media workers. The situation is especially difficult in the local media, in local RTV stations. There is no publishers’ association in BiH or its entities, nor are media owners organized in any way to allow journalists to negotiate their status – this is especially true for journalists and other media workers in the print and online media, of which there are more than 650. in BiH. There is no overall data on the number of freelance journalists. The BHJA (Association of BH Journalists) counts 62 freelance journalists/bloggers in its membership. These journalists and bloggers also do not have any protection. The fact that there is no legal provision that would protect freelancers (work, health, pension, etc) that are regulated is an important issue that has to be looked into. The coronavirus pandemic has left significant economic consequences on the work of media and journalists in BiH’s part-time workers.
In addition to collective bargaining, we could implement a series of other useful measures. A few examples follow: strengthen work on protection against abuse, fight against SLAPP, defend workers’ rights of young journalists and women’s equality.
Employers generally do not want or pretend not to recognise the importance of collective bargaining. The government generally has better relationships with publishers than with journalists.
After a brief overview of the situation, we concluded that many issues are common to all countries discussed and that it is important to connect, exchange experiences, ideas, documents that we have worked on with our media experts. German union lawyer Dennis Amour gave us a lecture on collective bargaining, and Italian trade unionist Anna Del Freo shared her experiences of negotiating for an Italian collective agreement that covers all media.