Al Jazeera’s Balkan service has commenced test transmissions across Bosnia and Herzegovina following the issue of a broadcast license by the Bosnian Regulatory Agency for Communications (RAK).

The satellite broadcaster, which is headquartered in Qatar, hopes to launch Al Jazeera Balkans in September and establish itself as a regional news hub from its base in Sarajevo. It will be broadcasting to an area of central and south east Europe which has not had a region-wide TV news service since the 1990s when the former Yugoslavia broke up into the six separate states of Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia, plus the disputed territory of Kosovo.

Seasoned Croatian journalist Goran Milic has been appointed to head the Al Jazeera Balkans operation, which will reportedly employ around 170 journalists, technical and administrative staff, and be high definition (HD) capable.

Mr Milic has spent the past 13 years working at Croatian national TV station HTV, and previously held positions as correspondent and editor in New York, Sarajevo and Zagreb for ex-Yugoslav national TV based in Belgrade.

Qatar newspaper The Peninsular, quoted Mr Milic as explaining: “In the region there are currently more than 100 stations that broadcast news. We cannot compete with them on the level of local news and won’t be able to for a long time.

“But,” he added, people “are still interested in what is going on the other side of the border. No local television dares to make a regional programme treating topics relating to bordering countries, for fear of being accused of ‘Yugo-nostalgia,’” said Mr Milic.

“Our advantage will be also to compare information on an event in one country with a similar situation in another.”

Al Jazeera developed its new channel after buying the Bosnian NTV 99 television station last year. The Doha-based network has reportedly invested US$20 million in the venture, which will have correspondents throughout the Balkans, reporting and broadcasting in their local languages.

During the current test phase, Bosnian viewers can see promotional spots for Al Jazeera Balkans, as well as Al Jazeera’s English news channel at certain times of day, according to TeVe. Currently the test signal can be picked up in Bosnia via terrestrial TV, IPTV, and cable networks - the local portal reports.

At launch, Al Jazeera Balkans will be widely available via Eutelsat’s 16° east position.

Rebecca Hawkes | 07-07-2011