The law provides for freedom of speech and press; however, the government did not always respect press freedom in practice. Laws delegated safeguarding freedom of the press to the cantons in the Federation and to the entity-level authorities in the RS. Government respect for freedom of speech and the press did not improve during the year.
Freedom of Speech: At times, the RS government used fines to dissuade political expression. In October, Banja Luka city authorities fined the NGO “Ostra nula” 1,400 convertible marks ($926) because the organization placed a banner stating “I Just Do Not Want to Leave This Place” at Banja Luka’s central square. “Ostra nula” placed the banner to protest the fact that BiH did not have a new state-level government a year after general elections.
The Federation’s criminal code prohibits hate speech. The RS criminal code does not specifically proscribe hate speech, although the law prohibits causing ethnic, racial, or religious hatred. In practice many media outlets used with impunity incendiary language, often nationalistic, on matters related to ethnicity, religion, and political affiliation. Independent analysts noted a tendency by politicians and other leaders to label unwanted criticism as hate speech. By year’s end, the country’s Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA) had not registered any cases of hate speech for the year.
Freedom of Press: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views but were subject to undue influence from government, political parties, and private interest groups. Media reporting continued to be divided along ethnic lines.
The CRA is charged with regulating all aspects of the country’s electronic media (television and radio). Political pressures on the CRA continued, with politicians often alleging that the CRA lacked impartiality. The CRA’s independence and effectiveness were further undermined by the failure of the Council of Ministers to confirm the appointment of a new CRA general manager and other legal hurdles. While the state-level public broadcaster, Bosnia and Herzegovina Radio and Television (BHRT), continued to have limited viewership, it ostensibly maintained an objective, nonpartisan editorial policy. In contrast, the two entities’ public broadcasters, the most viewed television broadcasters in the country, continued to reflect views of the ruling parties in the respective entities. The steering boards of all three public broadcasters failed to establish a single steering board to oversee a unified public broadcasting system, as required by the law.
Pressures against the BHRT continued. On December 14, the president of the RS said it should be abolished, claiming that a state-level broadcaster was not in the interest of RS citizens and they should not be required to finance the BHRT.
On April 26, the Steering Board of the BHRT, whose members are approved by parliament, amended its charter to extend its supervisory function to include full editorial and managerial control over the BHRT. The Vienna-based representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on media freedom sent a letter to the BiH parliament warning that the changes undermined the broadcaster’s editorial independence. Free Media Help Line noted in its end of year report that the new statute was being implemented since November.
In October the Steering Board replaced the BHRT’s general manager for the third time despite numerous court rulings that this action was unlawful. The general manager pressed charges against the BHRT before the state-level court, asking for a temporary decision ordering his return to work. On December 15, the court rejected the general manager’s demands for reinstatement. The case was under appeal at year’s end.
Many privately owned newspapers were available and expressed a wide variety of views. A number of independent print media outlets continued to encounter financial problems that endangered their operation. The Press Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the organization responsible for self-regulation of online and print media content, registered eight cases of hate speech in print media and on-line media from May to October.
For the third consecutive year, the RS government provided direct budgetary support to a select group of media outlets by funding special projects without public tenders or defined criteria. While the RS government claimed that the money was available to all, those outlets that received financial support were far more likely to take a progovernment line and report less on and even ignore opposition activities.
Violence and Harassment: During the year there were credible reports of intimidation of and politically motivated litigation against journalists for unfavorable reporting on government leaders. The Free Media Help Line (a part of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Journalists Association) registered 52 cases involving violations of journalists’ rights and freedoms or pressure from government and law enforcement officials, and there were 16 cases of pressure on and threats against journalists , including one death threat and four physical attacks. Other cases involved denial of access to information and violation of employees’ rights. Several incidents reported during the year involved violence against journalists or possible attempts to intimidate the media. In some cases, these pressures resulted in self-censorship by media.
As of year’s end, FTV’s former news director, Duska Jurisic, who was fired in January 2010, reached a settlement with the public broadcaster that had not complied with several court orders to reinstate her. Many media analysts asserted her firing was a response to her independent reporting on a variety of political and social topics in recent years. Jurisic moved to a different media outlet, and FTV agreed to pay her back pay in accordance with earlier court rulings.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some political parties, through public companies they control, used advertising and other mechanisms to pressure media outlets that published items counter to their interests, indirectly censoring the media and influencing the editorial polices of some media outlets. As a result, some media outlets practiced self-censorship.
In some instances media sources reported officials threatened media outlets with loss of advertising or limited their access to official information. Politicians and government officials also accused media outlets of opposing a given ethnic group or betraying their own ethnic group.
Libel Laws/National Security: Defamation laws exist at the entity-level. However, the government, including the courts, did not fully implement these laws in practice.
During the year, the Press Council considered 96 complaints related to print and online media, accepting 29 as valid and rejecting 28 as unfounded. In 32 cases, media outlets published a refutation or a retraction, in accordance with the council’s policy of self-regulation and mediation. In five cases, the Press Council gave instructions for further complaint procedures, and two cases were still ongoing. Most of the complaints accepted by the council involved allegations that print media outlets denied persons the right to respond to reports and articles that they considered false or defamatory. One lawsuit for defamation was dismissed through the Press Council’s mediation. According to local media analysts, the level of pressure against the Press Council remained unchanged during the year.
In August RS President Milorad Dodik won defamation court cases against three FTV employees in the Banja Luka Basic Court. The court ordered the employees to pay Dodik compensation of 5,000 convertible marks ($3,310) for mental anguish and damage to his reputation from a story broadcast on FTV’s show 60 Minutes in 2008.
In May the Association of BiH Journalists, the Free Media Help Line, and the BHRT’s editorial board strongly condemned alleged efforts by BHRT Steering Board Chairman Ahmed Zilic to pressure Benjamin Butkovic, acting editor of BHRT News Programs, to influence Butkovic’s story on changes to the BHRT’s Charter demanding that only his statements and position on the issue be presented in the story. Zilic denied the claims.
In October the Sarajevo Cantonal Minister of the Interior ordered a criminal investigation against the Sarajevo-based magazine Slobodna Bosna following the magazine’s reporting on the minister’s alleged involvement in questionable businesses. In his written instructions to the police, the minister justified the investigation by citing “the need to protect the reputation of the ministry and the legality of its work.” After the Association of BiH Journalists publicly protested the investigation as a misuse of the criminal code, the minister claimed that he had initiated the criminal investigation against himself and not the magazine.