By Calvin Lescault
In September, 2012, the Democratic National Convention gave Charlotte an opportunity to host hundreds of political leaders in our city. In addition, thousands of journalists, broadcasters, analysts and commentators covered this massive political event. The convention also gave Charlotte's residents an opportunity to directly interact with these media sources and hold them truthful and accountable.
Last May, Queens' John Belk International Program gave me and eight other students a wonderful opportunity to study in Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. While in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, we learned about Bosnian politics, the history of the war during 1992-1995, and the status of Bosnian media from a professor at the University of Sarajevo.
We learned that if a journalist runs a story uncovering a crime or corrupt politician, the politician has the power to remove funding from the newspaper. No journalist will risk that. In addition, newspapers are paid to not report on certain stories, and most journalists work part-time on half-salary. They and their families can be threatened and lose their livelihood if they write negative stories.
The Internet has only recently become available to citizens. They are unsure of how to effectively use social media, blogging, or find accurate news sources online.
The government of Bosnia does not allow for negative or alternative opinions on how the government actually works. This has affected Internet use, and people are afraid to speak their minds online for fear of government consequences. Bosnians have heard of the Arab Spring, where corrupt governments were toppled, a process supported through with the use of Facebook and Twitter. They don't believe this can happen in Bosnia.
While there I realized that I was still in Europe, one of the most highly advanced and democratized areas of the world. If a nation in Europe faces this much turmoil and corruption, what is stopping it from happening in the United States?
One of Bosnia's biggest problems is that political leaders gained a hold over the media. Newspapers and TV stations are only allowed to show the government in a positive light. One of the biggest successes of the United States is that the media is independent and free from the government. Journalists are allowed to investigate any story or lead they choose. Citizens can speak freely online, state our opinions and have debates with those who don't agree. The media is a contributing factor that helps hold the government accountable and honest.
The convention earlier this month provided Charlotteans with an opportunity to interact with media sources. We were able to hold the media to a high standard of truthful reporting, and in turn, the media holds the government accountable for its actions. None of this can now happen in Bosnia, and my experience reminds us of the value of an independent media. Let us hope and work to ensure that news media survive and thrive in the West, despite the challenges they confront.
Calvin Lescault is a senior communication and political science major at Queens.