Media plays a crucial role in promoting gender-responsive budgeting
Media in the Western Balkans are not engaged enough in reporting on gender-responsive budgeting, while those who are reporting on this topic face challenges.
Journalists who are reporting on this topic face non-transparent institutions, lack of interlocutor, financial and editorial support.
Journalists and editors from the Western Balkans point out that the media are not focused on reporting on gender-responsive budgeting, as emphasised in the discussion during the UN Women Online Regional Dialogue “Media Reporting on Gender-Responsive Budgeting”, held on 12 September 2022. Reason for this is the lack of knowledge among journalists and editors on gender-responsive budgeting, and insufficient awareness of the importance of reporting on gender equality issues.
“Budget reporting should be more focused on what the people need and on the problems that they face on a daily basis. Media coverage can and should encourage citizens to follow processes related to public finances and budget, and show them how they can be involved and advocate for issues that matter to them; and they can generally contribute to the transparency of public spending,” says Ermira Lubani, Gender-Responsive Budeting Programme Specialist in UN Women Europe and Central Asia Regional Office.
Insufficient media coverage of gender-responsive budgeting is also caused by the non-transparent institutions that rarely base their decisions on budget allocations on the principles of gender-responsive budgeting and rarely speak about it in public.
Research conducted in Bosnia and Herzegovina by Mediacentar Sarajevo and UN Women shows that the media outlets report on budgets on a regular basis, but the coverage usually boils down to political disputes, curt indicative figures, press statements and politicians’ general statements about the budget.
„There is a lack of analytical articles about budgetary proceedings written by journalists, especially from a gender perspective. Inquiry into specific budget items, its spending and budget scrutiny in terms of whether it ensures equal and fair distribution for all, is simply not the way how the mainstream media report on budgets,” says Selma Zulić Šiljak, co-author of the research.
„Study on Media Reporting on Gender Responsive Budgeting in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2020” is the first research on this topic conducted in Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the research, 40 per cent of journalists who participated in the survey answered that they are not familiar with gender-responsive budgeting and only 10 per cent of them answered that they have already covered gender-responsive budgeting, but only on rare occasions.
Zulić Šiljak explains that the conducted research indicated the necessity of training for journalists and editors on gender-responsive budgeting. In March 2022, Mediacentar and UN Women held a training for BiH journalists to introduce them to gender-responsive budgeting, raise the journalists’ awareness on this topic and increase the volume of media reports.
Journalist Slađan Tomić, who attended the training, says that he was not familiar with gender-responsive budgeting before the training, despite seven years of journalistic experience. The knowledge he acquired during the training prompted him to report on this topic.
“By learning about budgets and how budgets can be gender-responsive, especially about the benefits, I gained basic knowledge about gender-responsive budgeting and how the media can report on it,” said Tomić.
Journalists from the region share similar experiences and challenges
Although research on media reporting on gender-responsive budgeting has not been conducted in the entire Western Balkans, the experiences show that journalists in the region face similar challenges in reporting on this topic.
Journalists and editors from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo* and Serbia who participated in the UN Women Online Regional Dialogue organized by Mediacentar Sarajevo and UN Women state that the media in the Western Balkans are generally not interested in reporting on gender-responsive budgeting. Journalists agree that the rare media coverage of this topic causes lack of knowledge of journalists about economic and gender issues.
“We don’t have many journalists who are focused on the economy and this is the problem because younger journalists have difficulties to understand and be involved in this sector. It is a challenge to explain to journalists issues in economy and the importance of gender-responsive budgeting,”,says Aurora Sulçe, executive producer for business of A2 CNN in Albania.
However, journalists who report on these topics face difficulties in accessing information and lack of transparency of institutions. Documents and data published by institutions are often insufficient for journalistic stories, while institutions do not help by enabling timely access to additional information.
“A significant number of employees in institutions do not understand what gender-responsive budgets are, and we have to make an extra effort to explain to them what we are looking for or to find those who understand the issue. Journalists who report on this topic face numerous obstacles even to get basic information on gender-responsive programmes,” explains Selma Učanbarlić, freelance journalist from Bosnia and Hercegovina.
Milica Janjatović from Novi Sad School of Journalism states that the lack of transparency of institutions is a smaller problem compared to the lack of media interest in this topic.
“There is certain information publicly available that could be a good start for media stories, but the media are the ones who need to put the pressure on the institutions, to ask them to be more transparent and to provide more information. The institutions will not do it by themselves, the media outlets have to do it,” explains Janjatović.
Journalists also say that it is difficult to find adequate interlocutors, users of public funds and experts. Sulçe explains that women often refuse to speak publicly and believes that this is the case because men are still dominant in the media environment.
„I can’t explain why they sometimes felt unsure to share their arguments and to be part of public opinion. Women must have a much more active role in society, and also be a role model in the media. Those women can help us journalists discuss more about gender equality,” emphasizes Sulçe.
Also, journalists state that newsrooms and editors do not consider it necessary to invest time and resources in order to cover this topic. Hilma Unkić, freelance journalist from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who presented her experience in reporting on gender-responsive budgeting, says that journalists need support in order to produce quality media content.
„First of all, journalists need to have editors who are familiar with the topic, who are patient to give us enough time to work on these topics, and, of course, to give us resources to do a quality story,” adds Unkić.
Mediacentar and UN Women research points out that continuous and in-depth coverage of the overall process related to budget drafting, adoption and execution is needed.
„This will make citizens aware of the importance of budgets and clarify their role and their power to influence the budget creation process, which may improve the exercise of their human rights and equality of all persons,“ the research states.
Slow but visible progress
Despite all the challenges, journalists believe that progress was made in the promotion of gender equality in the Western Balkans in the previous period, as well as in the media approach to the topic of gender-responsive budgeting.
They say the progress was influenced by the support that UN Women provides to the countries of Western Balkans as they set global standards for achieving gender equality, and works with governments and civil society to design laws, policies, programmes and services needed to ensure that the standards are effectively implemented.
Since 2020, UN Women has been implementing the program “Transformative financing for gender equality towards more transparent, inclusive and accountable governance in the Western Balkans”, supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). The programme is designed to support governments in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo* and Serbia with the overall goal to enhance the systematic integration of gender equality at all stages of national and local policymaking and budgeting processes in the Western Balkans.
Journalists and editors say that much needs to be improved in societies in order to raise awareness on gender equality and to familiarize citizens with gender-responsive budgeting. Despite the numerous inequalities that citizens face on a daily basis, they are still not familiar with the processes and mechanisms that are available to them in realizing their rights, according to journalists.
“We need to put the pressure on media to start reporting and in that way the general public will be more acquainted with what needs to be done in order to achieve gender equality,” says Janjatović.
Journalists and editors from the Western Balkans conclude that the media plays a crucial role in promoting gender equality and putting pressure on decision makers to allocate public money in a fair manner, while taking into account and respecting the needs of all citizens. In their opinion, professional and responsible work of the media maintains democracy and trust in the governing institutions and influences political responsibility.
*All references to Kosovo, whether the territory, institutions, or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.
Conversations held by journalist Selma Učanbarlić whilst reposting on gender-responsible budgeting within UNWOMEN - media partnership on the topic.