Media Systems in Balkan Countries: Context and Dynamics of Changes

by Bogusława Dobek-Ostrowska (Volume editor) Jelena Kleut (Volume editor)
©2023 Edited Collection 294 Pages


We selected ten post-communist countries for this research. Eight of them are located on the Balkan Peninsula, from a geographical point of view. We added Romania and Slovenia for historical reasons. The main aim of research is to provide a model of the media system in each of them. We are interested in the political, societal, economic and technological situation, journalistic standards and media accountability. The important thing is to know how media systems evolve in each country, under the influence of political institutions and external stakeholders. We examined how political, media, economic and social systems co-work or influence each other and how they affect each other.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part I: The media systems environment in Balkan countries
  • Chapter 1: Balkan media systems in a comparative studies perspective of Central and Eastern Europe
  • Chapter 2: The historical context: The political and social modernization process in the Balkan region in the 19th and 20th century
  • Chapter 3: The political, social, economic and technological contexts of the media in the region
  • Chapter 4: Journalism standards and media accountability: Research overview for the Balkan states
  • Part II: Democratic standards in the European Union member-countries: Between Hybrid Liberal and Politicized Media models
  • Chapter 5: Bulgaria: The complex mosaic of the media system
  • Chapter 6: Croatia: Historical conditions and policies that shaped the contemporary media landscape
  • Chapter 7: Romania: Four development phases, one struggle to survive in a liberal market
  • Chapter 8: Slovenia: A paternal-commercial media environment amid the digital transformation of social communication
  • Part III: The media systems outside the European Union: democracy, semi-democracy, or undemocratic way?
  • Chapter 9: Albania: The difficult transition of the media system
  • Chapter 10: Bosnia and Herzegovina: Liberal democratic standards and ethnonationalism under the patronage of international community
  • Chapter 11: Kosovo: Political transition, digitalization and the media landscape
  • Chapter 12: Montenegro: Transformation from Communist via Transitional to Polarized Pluralist media system
  • Chapter 13: North Macedonia: Media system in a long transition period
  • Chapter 14: Serbia: One-party dominance over media market and media institutions
  • Summary: How does democracy and media work in the Balkans?
  • Notes of contributors

Bogusława Dobek-Ostrowska and Jelena Kleut


Different institutions use different names for the group of countries we have selected for this volume. The Economist Intelligence Unit, publisher of the Democracy Index, uses the very broad term of “Eastern Europe,” where all post-Soviet (European and Asian, e.g., Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan) and European post-communist countries are located. In a similar manner, the Varieties of Democracy Index (V-Dem Institute), uses the label Eastern Europe and Central Asia. On the political level, The European Union has adopted the label Western Balkans for the countries that are still in the process of EU accession and it now dominates public language. Some scholars, above all from the post-Yugoslavian area, prefer to use the term “post-socialist.” The Balkans is also, as vividly described by a famous scholar Maria Todorova, “imaginary” landscape with (some of the) shared history, culture and politics. So, what term should we use concerning our research dedicated to the Balkan region? Is it “Eastern,” “South-Eastern” or “Central and Eastern” Europe? The choice of the overarching term still remains a controversial concept among scholars.

We will start with an explanation of where the Balkans are located—is it Eastern, South-Eastern or Central Europe. Then we will observe is recent political histories—post-communist and post-Soviet. Within these axes of geography and politics, we have decided to name them post-communist countries in the Central and Eastern part of Europe.

What does “the Balkans” actually mean?

Geographically, the Balkan Peninsula includes all the nations of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia. Greece, and Serbia that are mostly Balkan, Croatia and Serbia are partially within this area, and Romania is mostly outside this region (see Map I.2). Historically, the Balkans consists of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia (for more details see Chapter 2). For this reason, Romania and Slovenia are included in this research. Greece is a part of the Balkans geographically, but was an autocratic dictatorship until 1974, and was never linked with the communist bloc. So, for this reason, Greece is excluded from our research.

Map I.1:Political map of CEE

Map I.1:Political map of CEE

Map I.2:The Balkan peninsula

Map I.2:The Balkan peninsula

Source: https://www.google.pl/search?q=map+of+europe (20.06.2017); https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balkans#/media/File:Balkan_Peninsula.svg (10.02.2023).

Finally, we selected ten countries (see Table I.1). Their total area is usually given as 666,700 km2 (6.9 percent of Europe’s territory) and a population of about 60 million (about 7.5 percent of the European population). It is a relatively small part of the continent, with a small number of citizens.

Table I.1:Balkan post-socialist countries
No. Country Area (km2) Population 2021 (million) Majority languages Dominant religion(s) Income per capita in 2021(USD)
1 Albania 28,748 3.039 Albanian Islam 4,831
2 Bosnia and Herzegovina 51,209 3.507 Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian Catholic Islam Orthodox 5,862
3 Bulgaria 110,994 6.878 Bulgarian Orthodox 8,634
4 Croatia 56,594 3.871 Croatian Catholic 15,166
5 Kosovo 10,887 1.920 Albanian Islam 4,430
6 Montenegro 13,812 0.619 Montenegrin Orthodox 5,287
7 North Macedonia 25,713 2.065 Macedonian, Albanian Orthodox Islam 5,287
8 Romania 238,397 19.120 Romanian Orthodox 11,542
9 Serbia 88,361 6.834 Serbian Orthodox 7,114
10 Slovenia 20,273 2.108 Slovenian Catholic 24,745

The analyzed region is highly diverse historically, religiously, linguistically, culturally and economically, as other parts of the European continent. It has only 7.5 percent of Europe’s population, is located in a small area, and uses nine languages (Albanian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Romanian, Serbian, and Slovenian), like nowhere else in Europe. For four of these languages (Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin and Serbian), a group of linguists and other scholars proposes a name “common language” as polycentric language with layered varieties. There are three main religions—Catholic (Slovenia, Croatia, part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia), Orthodox (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Romania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia) and Islam (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia), which has provoked many conflicts, some of which are part of the recent history, while others still shape contemporary politics.

The Balkans are the poorest part of Europe, but significant differences are noted (for more details see Chapter 3). On the one side, Slovenia occupies 20th position in the European income rankings (only a slightly lower per capita income than Spain), and it is the richest country not only in the Balkans region but among all post-communist states in CEE. Only Croatia and Romania have a better economic situation, but other countries are very poor. Kosovo, Albania, North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are the poorest (see Table I.1).

Additionally, four countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Slovenia) are members of the European Union, and the six others are outside this organization. This has had profound implications for their development and the changes, or lack thereof, taking place there. What does this mean for the current Balkans three decades after the collapse of their undemocratic political regimes and communist/socialist media systems? What about the future of the countries located there?

The main objective and aims of the research

We selected ten countries for this research. Eight of them are located on the Balkan Peninsula, from a geographical point of view. We added two countries—Romania and Slovenia, for historical reasons (see Chapter 2).

The main object of research is to provide a model of the media system in each of them (see Chapter 1). We are interested in the political, societal, economic and technological situation in the region (see Chapter 3), journalistic standards and media accountability (see Chapter 4). The important thing is to know how media systems evolve in this region and in each country, under the influence of political institutions and external stakeholders (if there are any) (see Chapters 5–14). We examined how political, media, economic and social systems co-work or influence each other, and how they affect each other. So, the main research questions are the following:

  • Do media serve democracy, and if so, how?
  • Does political parallelism play a role in the media systems?
  • Does party logic produce a systemic parallelism of public/state broadcasters?
  • How does media logic lead to the structural bias of commercial broadcasters? What is the result of this process?
  • What is the quality of political coverage in the media?
  • How deep is the process of (de-)professionalization in the third decade of the democratic experience (or its decline)?
  • Finally, where are the countries of the Balkan region located on the media system map nowadays?

The countries that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in the period 1989–1991 more or less successfully transitioned into democracies. They present different political standards and levels of economic development. After three decades of dynamic changes in this region, we note both strong political pressure, which has led to politicization, and economic pressure, which has resulted in commercialization. The consequence of these negative influences is poor-quality media. We observe currently four models of media systems in this part of the world: the liberal-hybrid, the politicized media, the transitional (?) media model, and the authoritarian model. This volume should show this process in the Balkan region and answers the question of which models are at work there.


The authors from the countries that are EU member states took part, and in general they are involved in many international projects such as MEDIACT (2010–2012), MEDIADELCOM (2020–2023), EUMEPLAT (2020–2023) and others. They have a wealth of experience and their publications are well known.

The conference entitled “The Bridges of Media Education” in May 2022, organized by the University of Novi Sad in Serbia with the cooperation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Serbia, showed that scholars from the non-European Union member states actively analyze their media system. However, these studies mainly remain at the outskirts of Western scholarship. The publications in local languages have only a limited readership and the scarce academic resources frequently prevent scholars from the region to more actively engage internationally. Believing that the texts in English and their distribution among scholars from across the world is very important, we hope that this monograph is an important step toward understanding of the media systems in the post-communist Central and Eastern parts of Europe.

Bogusława Dobek-Ostrowska

Chapter 1: Balkan media systems in a comparative studies perspective of Central and Eastern Europe

1.1 Introduction: The concept of media systems

The category of “media system” is one of the most useful and widely applied in the field of communication studies (Dobek-Ostrowska, 2019a:13). A medium system does not exist in a vacuum. It is a product of a political system, where political parties, elites and leaders act, and where a political culture is created (a political context). In a democracy, in society, it means that the electorate, supporters or opponents, decide the fate of political actors. Their place in media systems is a consequence of society and audience culture (the society context). It decides the character of media owners and the level of journalistic culture (the media production context). These three elements form the basic structure of media systems and influence political communication (political actors—mass media—audience) (Figure 1.1). We cannot forget that political actors and the audience in each country are a result of history and tradition (the historical context).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (October)
Balkan countries Media system Quality of democracy Journalism Owners of the media Media transformation
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2023. 294 pp., 16 fig. b/w, 22 tables.

Biographical notes

Bogusława Dobek-Ostrowska (Volume editor) Jelena Kleut (Volume editor)

Bogusława Dobek-Ostrowska is a Professor at the University of Wrocław, Poland. She has published several books and articles. Her research interests include political communication, media systems and journalism in Central and Eastern Europe. She is a specialist in comparative studies. She was a founder and editor of Central European Journal of Communication and the series Studies in Communication and Politics of Peter Lang Edition. Jelena Kleut is an Associate Professor at the Department of Media Studies at the University of Novi Sad, Serbia. She is a coordinator of BA programme Communication and PR and a council member of the BA and MA programme Cultural Studies. She is a Chair of the ECREA Audience and Reception Studies Section. Her research interests include audiences and journalism in new media contexts, on which she has published several articles and one book.


Title: Media Systems in Balkan Countries: Context and Dynamics of Changes