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May 30, 2018, 8:22 a.m.
Reporting & Production

How an online satire magazine in Bosnia and Herzegovina ends up reporting the news and fact-checking its peers

“The other day there was big news in Bosnia. They said a Hooters had opened up in Sarajevo…But we didn’t even get the chance to mock the sexist business model of the place — first we had to correct the facts. Which is, that it wasn’t a real Hooters at all.”

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories on how online satirical outlets around the world develop their shows and sites under difficult national conditions and repressive, authoritarian governments.

Effective satire can shake power and can speak truth to power, and in some countries, humor is one of the remaining avenues through which those things are possible, María Teresa Ronderos, director of the Program on Independent Journalism at Open Society Foundations, pointed out at an ISOJ 2018 panel she convened on these issues. Satire and humor, Ronderos said, offer “the last resort in many ways,” and can become incredibly high stakes when the work ends up offending those in power. (Disclosure: Nieman Lab has received OSF support.)

This series highlights several of the organizations that gathered at ISOJ, including material from their presentations and from additional follow-up interviews with presenters and with additional writers and producers of the efforts profiled. The text that follows is in the humorists’ own words.

Check in each day this week to see how the Middle East’s Al-Hudood, Zimbabwe’s Magamba TV, Venezuela’s El Chigüire Bipolar, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Satro Info, and Kenya’s The XYZ Show develop new audiences, how they’re thinking about the humorist gender gap among in their countries, and how they work journalistically, in many ways achieving the types of impact often associated with journalism. Up today: Šatro Info.

I’m Haris Dedovic, the editor of an online-only satire magazine in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I’m frustrated by being here at ISOJ: After seeing all these numbers presented about the industry before us, we feel really depressed! We actually have an audience of a significant percent of our country’s population, and it’s about half of the audience on a BuzzFeed video.

So our platform is called Šatro Info. We do political satire, economical satire, media satire, and what not. We believe we criticize the society in a way it should be criticized, through true humor, but we also do a lot of fact-checking through humor. We are now about 17 months old. There are seven people all together on the team, three full-time and four part-time. We have published almost 2,000 articles already, and we’ve had more than 700,000 visits to our site. We also had a significant amount of our content distributed widely on the website of BiH. We have had a number of copycats as well.

At the moment, we are 100 percent foundation funded. Even though we have respectable numbers on our website and more on our Facebook page (and somewhat on Instagram), companies are not willing to take part in our media space. The explanation for this lies in Bosnian “smallness.” We are fully ignored by commercial advertising, since we deal a lot with politics on a daily basis and we are 100 percent independent. Hence, we deal with all political parties — ruling parties and opposition. The majority of businesses here are either owned by people from those parties or they are very close to them. And international corporations are not willing to “step on any toes,” since they can easily get negative publicity and even suffer some consequences, such as intentional inspections or investigations on their work. This is not the case with only our work; no satirical show here that covers politics as a major part of their content is funded through advertising with corporate funds.

This year, we redesigned our website. We are proud to say that we are now probably one of the fastest web platforms in the country, if not the fastest. Another thing we are planning is a video show in a format of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. We will, of course, add some sections of our own style. We will test that on our Facebook page — actually, we have already started, with our announcement of Turkish president Recep Tayip Erdogan’s visit to Sarajevo. We will continue with the presidential candidates’ announcements in the same format (it is an election year in Bosnia and Herzegovina). We will try to offer it to commercial TV stations, to buy the show from us, but if that doesn’t work, we will execute the first season on our own, since we have received the money from Open Society Foundations for this.

We check our sources as well. Even if it doesn’t appear in the news, we sometimes report on it — in our way, of course. Sometimes we call our sources in our major political parties in the country, just to check on stuff.

For example, the other day there was big news in Bosnia. They said a Hooters had opened up in Sarajevo. Haha, Hooters, rock on, right?! No, that’s gross. But the point is, we didn’t even get the chance to mock the sexist business model of the place — first we had to correct the facts. Which is, that it wasn’t a real Hooters at all — it was a fake Hooters. And it was only us who checked that first, and then a fact-checking organization did as well. Then we published this news. But we are an Onion-type organization, so our take was that we published a fact-checked story that Sarajevo had opened an “almost-Hooters.”

We got different reactions — like how was it that we were the only media outfit in the country at first that got the information correct? This was really widespread — even a local CNN affiliate published it. What we do is try to mock something that is now in mainstream media, and we try to point our readers in the right direction. We believe that we’re able to do so especially with the younger people.

That’s just one example of where we were the first or the only ones who fact-checked a story. We fact-check the majority of our stories that are about politics or economy. One other example was where we wrote that one municipal mayor in Sarajevo is holding a referendum to be the mayor until the end of his life. It was a story that featured two things. First of all, this municipality has a very strong influence from Turkey, and it was around the time that Erdoğan held a referendum to expand president powers. We had two sources — eyewitnesses — confirming that this guy is selling land and building permits to Arabs in Bosnia and Herzegovina through his son’s company.

Also there was a story that we published that Sebija Izetbegović, a spouse of a current president, is changing the family name to Underwood [a reference to the Netflix series House of Cards], since we received information from within the party that they are now working on announcing her as a candidate for next elections. This is happening pretty much all right now, and she is probably the one who will be the candidate for president.

We feel a little bit more free than other media in Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially in the realm of politics. We can say what nobody can say. For instance, we did a story where we “translated” the conclusions of an EU commission into “Bosnian.” But they were actually already translated — we just translated it in a tone and way that none of the news media here could’ve done because of professionalism. Basically, we translated it to what we thought was what the conclusions of the EU Commission actually said but had wrapped around in a very diplomatic, blah-blah-blah way.

POSTED     May 30, 2018, 8:22 a.m.
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