Report Launch: Bosnia and Herzegovina: Media Freedom in Survival Mode

ECPMF

25 January 2024

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Today the partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) launch their report from a recent international press freedom fact-finding mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In its report published in November 2023, the European Commission expressed concerns about the key priority of freedom of expression, freedom of the media, as well as the protection of journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It points out a “backsliding” in media freedom, noting that legislative and political pressure have increased and intimidation and harassment towards journalists continued without appropriate institutional follow-up.

 

The international press freedom mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina in September 2023 broadly confirmed these observations. Overall, journalists in the country continue to operate in a suffocating environment and poor working conditions. The situation is particularly alarming in Republika Srpska (RS), Bosnia’s Serb entity, where President Milorad Dodik is steadily tightening the screws on independent media, using hostile rhetoric to denigrate journalists and stigmatise critical reporting.

 

What prompted the mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina was the reintroduction of criminal penalties for defamation in August 2023 in Republika Srpska, which caused an outcry among media freedom and journalists’ organisations. More problematic legislation was discussed in RS around the same time, including the so-called “foreign agent” law and a media law, although the content of the latter is yet to be revealed.

 

Meanwhile in the Sarajevo canton, a proposal of a regulation that would allow sanctions for the dissemination of “fake news” is currently pending. The ongoing financial crisis in the country’s public service broadcasters was also closely scrutinised.

 

These issues were discussed in detail with the MFRR partners and the different stakeholders met during the delegation’s visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This report presents the main findings of the mission in three key areas: the legislative initiatives, the safety of journalists, and the
public service media. It then outlines a set of recommendations to national and entity level authorities and the international community.

 

The mission was composed of ARTICLE 19 Europe, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the International Press Institute (IPI), the Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT), as well as South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) and was supported by the journalists’ association BH Journalist Association. The delegation started its visit in Banja Luka on 22-23 October 2023 before travelling to Sarajevo on 23-24 October.

This mission report was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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