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World Press Freedom Review
Bosnia and Herzegovina
2004 World Press Freedom Review
By South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO)
Most media analysts warn of a poor media environment in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), characterised by a lack of media professionalism, low quality self-produced media contents, strong politicisation of certain (mostly stronger) media outlets, and tremendous journalistic animosities culminating in media wars. The bleak media situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina developed after many years of wartime and post-war chaos.
The greatest success of the Communication Regulatory Agency (RAK) in 2004 was completion of the so-called Phase 2 of broadcasting regulations, thus ending the process of issuing long-term broadcasting licenses. All private radio and TV stations in BiH now have licenses to operate for a period of approximately 10 years, while public stations received licenses for two years.
The intention is to privatise a majority of local public radio and television stations in the coming period, after which, following assessment of a particular station's new concept, RAK would issue it a long-term license. Of course, the national public service will not be privatised - it draws its broadcasting legitimacy from the Law on Public Service.
In late July 2004, Bosnian politics and public media were thrown into turmoil due to a request made by delegates of the strongest Bosnian Croat party in BiH, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), and its coalition partner, the Croat Demo-Christians, to separate the country's public broadcasting service into three channels - one for each of the Bosniak, Serbian and Croatian languages. It was initiated by the Canton of Livno and supported by Bosnian Croat politicians. The request was made in the form of an amendment at a BiH parliamentary session, during discussion of a new broadcasting law, but was rejected by delegates of all other parties.
At its 12 October session, BiH Parliament House of Representative delegates did not accept a draft law on the public broadcasting system in BiH. The law was proposed by the BiH Council of Ministers, with strong support from the international community. The essential point of the law was to join the three current public broadcasters, namely RTV Republika Srpska, RTV Federation BiH and nation-wide PBS BiH, into a single legal entity with a single steering board. The three entities still remain completely separate.
According to Deputy Federal Ombudsmen on Media Mehmed Halilovic close to 300 lawsuits were filed in canton and district courts in both parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the two years prior to August 2004. He said that in 2004 the number of defamation suits against the media has declined.
Between 1 March 2004, when it was reactivated after an interruption, and 1 October 2004, the Journalist Help-Line, an organisation operating within the Independent Union of Journalists in Sarajevo, processed some 20 complaints by journalists and media outlets in BiH. The help-line recorded the following instances of pressure: threat - 4 cases, physical assault - 1 case, seizure of equipment - 1 case, political pressure - 4 cases, employment dispute (providing legal advice on the exercise of employment rights) - 4 cases. In addition there were 5 other unclassified cases.
Slobodan Vaskovic, editor-in-chief of the Banja Luka weekly Patriot, received telephone threats on 29 May. An unidentified voice allegedly said, "You and your family, and your paper will fly up in the air in the next 24 hours if you don't leave the Republika Srpska instantly." The Co-ordination of Journalists' Associations and Journalist Help-Line announced, "Authorities and police must not ignore such threats against journalists and media outlets who criticise the work of government institutions." What is interesting is that Patriot supports Bosnian Serb hard-liners, and such media outlets have only rarely received threats.
In the early morning of 3 July, a yet unidentified person or persons activated an explosive device outside the house of publicist and journalist Šeki Radoncic in Sarajevo's Grbavica neighbourhood. Based on available information, the device was a hand grenade, activated at around 5 a.m., and the detonation shattered the windowpanes in Radoncic's house. His mother was at home at the time and, fortunately, was not injured. Right after the explosion, Sarajevo police arrived and carried out an on-site investigation for more than four hours.
The motivation behind the attack has not been officially announced yet. The evening before, Radoncic had taken part in TV Montenegro's programme "Otvoreno" (Open), where he spoke about the unlawful deportation and liquidation of Bosnia-Herzegovinian refugees arrested on Montenegro territory in May 1992. Citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina were able to watch the programme on satellite and cable television.
During the programme, State Prosecutor Vesna Medenica said she would launch an investigation and examine the entire case of unlawful deportation of refugees. "I don't believe the grenade accidentally dropped from someone's pocket and exploded right outside my house", Radoncic said on the Montenegrin news programme "Vijesti," without speculating about motives. Seki Radoncic is the brother of Fahrudin Radoncic, owner of BiH's most successful daily paper, Dnevni Avaz.
Republika Srpska Chief of Police Radomir Njeguš accused journalists of Nezavisne novine and RTV RS in August 2004 of being part of a group that is working deliberately to discredit him. The RS top policeman said journalists from these outlets should "end up in prisons or a madhouse." A couple of days after a large protest by journalists in Banja Luka, Njeguš apologised to journalism representatives for his statement and expressed regret in front of numerous journalists at a press conference, adding his statement was pulled out of context.
On 6 September 2004, Muamer Topalovic of Konjic, who faced 35 years in prison for the murder of three family members and the wounding of another, made a phone call from Zenica prison to Nevres Dedic, a journalist for the Mostar-based Dnevni list, threatening him with death. According to Dedic, Topalovic was reacting to an article published the same day in Dnevni list under the headline "Muamer Topalovic Requests Suspension of Prison to Visit Family Home."
"Topalovic called the newsroom twice and I was not in the office. At around 3 p.m. the secretary put him through and I realised it was him. After identifying himself, he requested that I publish a new article on Monday apologising for the first article. Then he started to make threats saying, 'Watch out what you write, because you might be killed. We will meet in a couple of years, and until then be careful because you might be killed. You keep writing against Muslims so be very careful when you come to face God. If we don't meet in a couple of years, we will meet before God, where you will answer for all you did'", said Dedic, adding that after these statements the line broke off. It was confirmed that Topalovic had a telephone conversation that day, but he claimed he had contacted his family.
Darko Gunjic, reporter with Banja Luka's Radio Big, was attacked outside his house in Banja Luka. Three as yet unidentified men attacked him on 22 September, inflicting upon him serious eye injuries. Fortunately, he was soon released from the Clinic so he could continue treatment at home. The attackers threatened to kill Gunjic if he continues his series, currently among the most popular, called "Blabaonica" (babbling or empty talk). They also showered insults on Ljubiša Kragulj, owner of Radio Big and (at the time) candidate for Banja Luka mayor. The station issued a press release: "No one has ever managed to intimidate Radio Big and Banja Luka.
Several days before the greatest Muslim holiday, Ramadam Bairam, the Islamic Religious Community forbade PBS RTV's broadcasting of the central Bairam celebration from Bey's Mosque in Sarajevo, something state television, and later public television, had been broadcasting for 15 years, ever since the collapse of communism. It also forbade direct broadcasts from any other mosque in BiH and emphasised the ban is also in effect for Federal TV, a public service. The highest Muslim institution explained that the reason was "discrimination exercised by these TV companies against Muslims and the traditional values of the Islamic Community in BiH."
The Communications Regulatory Agency penalised several media outlets in relation to October local elections for violating relevant rules and regulations on conduct during the campaigning. TV Simic from Banja Luka fared the worst; it was fined just over 5,000 euros for a speech by Ljubiša Kragulj. The SDS candidate's attempt at becoming mayor of Banja Luka was also suspended by the authorities. Two outlets with national concessions were also penalised, namely FTV and OBN. Both broadcast programmes in which election candidates appeared during the election blackout, not in their political capacity, but to discuss other aspects of their lives. The RAK rejected the stations' defence, explaining that even indirect appearances may influence voters.
On 9 October, a local criminal in Bosansko Grahovo attacked Todor Micic, local correspondent for the Bosniak language programme and part of German Deutsche Welle. They broke both his legs. However, there was no evidence that this attack was a result of Micic's work. Micic reported to SEEMO that the attacker "would have attacked any person who was nearby at that moment."
RTV Republika Srpska cameraman Tihomir Stolica was physically attacked on 19 October in Trebinje (Republika Srpska). He was beaten up and his camera was smashed, while a female journalist from the same station was verbally insulted. The incident occurred when they were trying to film a spot where SFOR had arrested a war crimes suspect. One of the attackers was arrested, the police commander in Trebinje was removed and three police officers were suspended.
In June 2004, SEEMO organised a meeting of editors-in-chief, media executives and leading journalists from Bosnia-Herzegovina in the country. The meeting was part of the SEEMO Dialogue Meetings and took place in the town of Neum.
For more information about media developments and press freedom in Bosnia and Herzegovina, please see the SEEMO Media Handbook 2005.
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