Media Weekly Broadcast - The ACT Newsletter
March 2015
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Zvezdana Kovac - Can television build bridges?

Vicinities: can a TV show build bridges across borders?


In previous editions of this Media Brief, we have had as our main feature examples of commercial broadcasters and media companies doing what they do best: innovating in new digital media services, and investing in great European content. These examples illustrate the importance of our sector to the EU in the global digital economy, and the vital role of the EU’s modern, flexible copyright regime.


Innovating, producing great content and providing economic growth are important aspects of the role of television. But our medium can do even more than that. So in this edition we are changing the subject somewhat, to remind ourselves and our readers of the powerful positive impact of the medium of television by featuring the extraordinary success of the show ‘Okruzenje’, or ‘Vicinities’. Produced on a shoestring budget by NGOs and volunteers, this show is now broadcast across the Balkans, facilitating a direct dialogue among peoples who, only 20 years ago, were at war with one another.


ACT: So, what is the Vicinities project?
Kovac: 12 shows and two special reports broadcast on eight TV stations across the Balkans (and we just added two more channels for next season!). The idea is that we bring together guests from around the region (four from Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, Albania, Kosovo or the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and discuss issues that affect life in the region.

ACT: But there are presumably some subjects from recent history that are too sensitive?
Kovac: No, not at all.  There are no taboos on Okruzenje – we’ve covered unemployment, gay rights, the region’s relationship with the EU and language (which is a really sensitive subject in the region). And even the history of War Crimes and the recent rise of nationalism. We can do this because there is no hidden agenda, rather we are helping restore ties among neighbouring countries who in some cases still share a common language, and in all cases, many common concerns.

ACT: How has it been received by broadcasters and audiences?
Kovac: We receive grants to produce the series and then offer it to partner broadcasters who must broadcast the show in its entirety, without any further editing. I signed a deal with an Albanian partner last month which means Okruzenje will now be broadcast in all the countries of the former Yugoslavia and in Albania. Audiences like the show and it keeps growing, up to 18 episodes this year, which means we can make a bigger impact. But already the impact on reconciliation and cross-border communication in the region has been significant, in fact very exciting! People from the region are talking with one another. And that is the point -- to get people talking. You can see our most recent promo, which has English subtitles and will give you a feel for our show, on our YouTube channel


“Working on this project, I can't help but feel motivated and inspired by the fact that countries which were in a bloody war until recently are ready to share a news TV programme!”
                                                                               Zvezdana Kovac, Editor in Chief, Okruzenje


"We have had very favourable reactions from viewers who asked when the season was over whether we would broadcast the show again." 
                                Hamid Rasiti, Programme Director, ALSAT-M Television, Skopje


“We do not have such a TV show in Europe. Vicinities contributes to reconciliation, changing people’s mindsets.” 

                  Ulrike Lunacek, MEP and lead sponsor of a Parliament event praising Okruzenje


"What you are doing is much more than we can do from the European Parliament.” 
    Eduard Kukan, MEP and Chairman of the Delegation for Albania, BiH, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo

"It is that kind of (dis)course, the sorely needed breath of fresh air in our current TV news programmes, which the Vicinities series succeeded in establishing."
                                                                     Branka Otasevic, prominent TV critic, Belgrade



Coming Soon: Vicinities Europe
Later this year, the team behind Okruzenje will produce two pilot issues of Vicinities Europe, aiming to bring the Okruzenje format to a pan-European discussion, again among guests from four different countries and typically different walks of life. These shows will be produced in English, with guests discussing important issues which transcend national borders: migration, youth unemployment, climate change, etc. The idea arose from a presentation of the original Okruzenje show to Members of the European Parliament.

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