Okruženje

Okruženje

‘Okruženje’, the first and only regional TV current affairs talk show in the Western Balkans, awarded with the prize for ‘2016 Media Initiative of the Year’ at the European Citizenship Awards

03/02/2017 -  Saša Radović

During the Yugoslav conflicts of the nineties and in their immediate aftermath, the state media have often been a source of division and dissemination of biased messages and news, presented dogmatically and aimed at telling a single truth, the official one. After the war ended, a slow, difficult and still unfinished détente began, thus paving the way for the first regional media collaborations, albeit unfortunately confined to the sphere of the entertainment media. The idea of ​​producing a regional current affairs talk show presented a greater challenge since open debate on common and often thorny issues was still taboo.

In spite of an unfavorable climate, in 2012, the Center for Democracy and reconciliation in southeast Europe (CDRSEE) and the European Fund for the Balkans (EFB) launched ‘Okruženje (’Vicinities’ in English), a talk show with a regional dimension, to address common problems and try to find solutions through dialogue.

In 2012, in the lead up to the broadcast of the pilot season, several doubts were sparked regarding its endurance on the Balkan media scene. Five seasons and 50 episodes later, ‘Okruženje’ has instead become a brand in the regional media landscape, recognised and respected in the Balkans and abroad, and awarded the ‘Media Initiative of the Year’ Special Jury Prize in 2016 at the 'European Citizenship Awards'.

‘Okruženje’, now in its sixth season, remains the first and only regional TV current affairs talk show in the Western Balkans, broadcast on 10 national channels and 33 local TV stations, during the off-season, across the countries of the former Yugoslavia and Albania.

In August 2015, ‘Okruženje’ achieved what no one in TV history had ever done before: to bring two sitting prime ministers together at the same time in the studio of the same TV show. The success was even greater because they were not just any two prime ministers but those of Albania and Serbia - Edi Rama and Aleksandar Vučić respectively, leaders of two countries with no record of collaboration over the past several decades. This special episode was recorded on the sidelines of the Western Balkans Summit in Vienna, part of the so called ‘Berlin Process’, a five-year process marked by yearly summits aimed at strengthening the EU commitment towards enlargement in the region (this year’s summit is due to take place in July in Trieste). The two prime ministers discussed the current situation in the region, how their relations affect regional stability and the joint initiative to establish a Regional Youth Cooperation Office, an idea launched at the summit by the participating countries. In Serbia, about two million viewers tuned in to watch, while in Albania the national broadcaster drew 85% of viewers -- the channel’s highest viewership share ever, and among the highest ever posted in Europe.

In 2015, Okruženje’ expanded beyond the Yugosphere with a debut on the Albanian public television service and the production of ‘Okruženje’s’ spin off, ‘Vicinities Europe’, recorded entirely in English with a pan-European footprint.

‘Okruženje’, thanks to its transparent and impartial approach, has thus gained the trust of its guests, certain to find an arena open for dialogue and respectful debate, willing to accept different ideas even if often at odds, without condemning anyone’s positions.

The guests on each episode, experts in their respective fields, are always from four different countries and speak either a mutually understood language - Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian or Montenegrin - or Albanian (via translator). Over the course of five seasons, guests have tackled the idea of identity, problems of youth unemployment, war crimes, issues of language, the importance of history and the influence of the European Union – to name just a few topics.

In September 2016, as a result of its ever-growing success, ‘Okruženje’ received the jury award in the ‘Media Initiative of the Year’ category at the European Citizenship Awards’ 2016 ceremony in London’s City Hall. With the award, the jury recognised the achievement of the show in bringing together citizens from across the Balkans in a manner which gives substance to European values and improves the lives of communities in terms of participation, democracy, rights and social justice.

During her acceptance speech, Zvezdana Kovač, the CDRSEE’s Executive Director as well as the Editor in Chief and host of ‘Okruženje’, noted: ”we are trying to promote something which probably sounds very basic to you - the simple fact of speaking and listening to others. We are promoting the exchange of arguments supported by facts. Our guests from all over the region do not think the same — they often have quite different opinions. However, dissimilar views are always an occasion for re-examination and not hostility. There is no ’sensitive topic’ in Okruženje — we talk openly about everything.”

At the recent promotion of ‘Okruženje, held to celebrate its fifth season and the media award, Hedvig Morvai, Executive Director of the European Fund for the Balkans, remarked: ”this project is a real civil society initiative which was able to open the large doors of the media, to step through that door and establish itself in the region and beyond as something truly valuable” because, as she pointed out,” quality always finds its way.”

During its most recent season, ‘Okruženje’ reaffirmed its pivotal role in the regional media, a role supported by steadily rising viewership ratings. In the special episode of the fifth season entitled ‘Balkan states’ European Dreams’ ‘Okruženje’ repeated its prior historic success , by bringing to the same roundtable, once again, two figures that have defined the political landscape of the more recent history of the region- former Prime Minister of Montenegro, Milo Đukanović and former President of the SFRY and Croatia, Stjepan Mesić. 25 years after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the two politicians, who negotiated the breakup of the country but fostered constructive regional relations afterwards, took a look at the EU and the European aspirations of the Balkan states. More precisely, the discussion revolved around the future of the EU and whether in the following years the crisis within the bloc will deepen or whether its unity and vitality will be restored.

This media project, serves a deeper interest by fostering reconciliation in a region that is still struggling to overcome the wounds and divisions of the past. It is a success story that few thought possible, and that debunked the myth of the Balkan nations as irrational and quarrelsome. Furthermore, ‘Okruženje’ has demonstrated how mutual respect among discussants is possible even when the most confrontational topics are on the table.

 

This publication has been produced within the project European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, co-funded by the European Commission. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso and its partners and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union. The project's page


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