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: The RS government continued to discourage political expression. In June during a several month-long protest of citizens in Banja Luka who were not satisfied with a decision by Banja Luka and RS authorities to allow a development project in a public park, there were incidents of physical contact between RS Police and demonstrators, intimidating police interviews, and denial of access to the Banja Luka Administration Building to citizens who wanted to submit protest letters. Although RS authorities found legal justification for most police actions, human rights activists regarded the authorities’ behavior as an example of efforts to discourage even peaceful demonstrations. These demonstrations steadily lost their energy during summer holidays and completely stopped after the country’s local elections in the fall.
Federation law prohibits hate speech. RS law 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 the continuing tendency of politicians and other leaders to label unwanted criticism as hate speech. The country’s Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA) registered one case of hate speech by year’s end. During a program shown on TV Pink in June, hate speech was found in a text message from an audience member that was broadcast on the show; the station was fined 2,000 convertible marks ($1,350). The Press Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina registered 20 cases of incitement and spreading of hate speech from January to November.
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 political and ethnic lines. Public broadcasters at the state and entity levels faced strong political pressure that sometimes resulted in a lack of objectivity and impartiality.
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 online media from May to October.
For the fourth 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 the money was available to all, the outlets receiving financial support were far more likely to take a progovernment line and report less on--and even ignore--opposition activities.
Private media outlets in the RS received funding for individual projects, while funding for public media outlets was directed to the entity news agency, Radio and Television of the Republika Srpska (RTRS), which was regularly financed from the RS budget and during the year received approximately 130,000 convertible marks ($87,700) a month from the government budget. The RTRS continued to reflect the views of the dominant party in the RS.
Two daily newspapers based in Banja Luka received approximately 207,340 convertible marks ($140,000) each for individual projects, while a private television station was awarded approximately 148,100 convertible marks ($100,000).
Both the Federation and RS governments financially supported the news agencies in their respective entities, the Federation News Agency and the Republika Srpska News Agency.
The CRA is charged with regulating all aspects of the country’s electronic media (television and radio). Political pressures on the CRA continued. The failure of the Council of Ministers to confirm the appointment of a new CRA general manager and other legal hurdles continued to undermine the CRA’s independence and effectiveness. A December 2011 agreement among the six political parties to form a state-level coalition stated that the position of CRA general manager should belong to a specific ethnic group. It was widely acknowledged that a specific political party should make the selection, which observers believed directly undercut the selection process defined in law, as well as the independence of the position and the agency should the selection go forward. Proceedings to select the new general manager did not begin by year’s end.
Efforts continued that apparently were aimed at influencing the content of the Federation public broadcaster via political pressure. In June the Federation parliament made temporary appointments to Federation Radio and Television’s (FTV) steering board contrary to existing legislation, which contains no provisions for a temporary steering board and prescribes that only one member of the steering board can be appointed in any given calendar year.
After numerous negative reactions from professional organizations and international organizations, and a ruling by the Federation Constitutional Court that the parliamentary session was not properly organized, this decision on the appointment of the temporary steering board was not implemented. However, the Federation parliament later issued a public advertisement for all three vacancies on the steering board. This decision did not follow the requirements of the law on the FTV for issuing such an advertisement and again ignored the law’s requirement that only one member of the steering board can be appointed in any one calendar year. The advertisement was published in October despite the fact that the decision was not signed by the president of the Federation or published in the official gazette. Throughout this period, the BiH Journalists Association and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights sent several letters to the Federation parliament warning of the many irregularities in this process.
On July 5, Dunja Mijatovic, the representative on freedom of the media of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), called on the Federation parliament to “ensure full transparency, respect for rule of law principles, and adherence to international standards when appointing members to public institutions, including the public service broadcasters.” She repeated this call in September.
The steering boards of all three public broadcasters again failed to establish a single steering board to oversee a unified public broadcasting system, as required by a 2005 law.
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 and authorities. The Free Media Help Line (a part of the BiH Journalists Association) registered 47 cases involving violations of journalists’ rights and freedoms or pressure from government and law enforcement officials, and there were 17 cases of pressure on and threats against journalists, including one death threat and five physical attacks. Other cases involved denial of access to information.
During the year several incidents involving violence against journalists or possible attempts to intimidate the media based on ethnic positions were reported. In some cases these pressures resulted in self-censorship by the media.
On July 18, two days after a local screening of a documentary film about Nedjeljko Galic, a man who had aided his Muslim neighbors during the war, a group of men and a woman angrily berated Galic’s widow, Stefica Galic, alleging that Nedjeljko Galic had collaborated with Muslims, and then accosted her. Galic and the woman eventually came to blows. International observers, including the OSCE, criticized the incident and subsequent threats against Stefica Galic as a violation of her freedom of expression and called on authorities to secure her safety, investigate the incident, and prosecute those responsible. The police originally described the attack as a minor offense against the peace. After requests by the international community, including the OSCE and the BiH Association of Journalists, the police invited Galic to give a new statement about the incident. The investigation remained open but did not yield any results by year’s end. A month after the incident, and with the assistance of the BiH Association of Journalists, Galic filed criminal charges for assault related to the incident and a lawsuit for libel against several Web portals.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some political parties, through the companies they controlled, indirectly censored the media and influenced the editorial polices of some media outlets that published items contrary to their interests through advertising and other mechanisms. As a result some media outlets practiced self-censorship.
In some instances media sources reported that officials threatened outlets with loss of advertising or limited their access to official information. At least three times during the year, RS President Milorad Dodik criticized reporters at press conferences and refused to take their questions. In one instance he attempted to have a journalist from the Beta news agency who he claimed was biased removed from a briefing and threatened to bar her from RS government buildings. Later in the year authorities denied the same journalist a press accreditation. In September Dodik verbally attacked and insulted Oslobodjenje journalist Gordana Katana during a press conference devoted to the code of behavior for political parties during the election campaign. He accused Katana of political bias and called her a liar. The BiH Journalists Association criticized the verbal attack.
Libel Laws/National Security: Defamation laws exist at the entity level. However, the government, including the courts, did not fully implement the laws in practice.
During the year the Press Council considered 176 complaints alleging inaccurate or libelous reporting by print and online media (103 for print and 73 for online media), accepting 35 as valid and rejecting 19 as unfounded. In 75 cases media outlets published a refutation or a retraction, in accordance with the council’s policy of self-regulation and mediation. Several complaints alleged violations of the law regarding editorial responsibility and privacy rights. A number of complaints accused media outlets of denying persons the right to respond to reports considered false or defamatory.
In March key Web portals posted a video clip showing the foreign minister, who was also president of the Social Democratic Party, the largest party in the Federation government, instructing a journalist from the FTV on how to report a press conference he had held with another foreign minister. Following the video’s release media outlets noted that the journalist reported the story exactly as the minister had demanded.
In October Mile Radisic, a Banja Luka businessman and close friend of RS President Dodik, threatened ATV journalist Sinisa Vukelic, who asked Radisic over the telephone to comment on the fact that the RS Supreme Court reversed Radisic’s acquittal in an illegal privatization case in the Banja Luka District Court. Instead of commenting, Radisic allegedly verbally attacked Vukelic and threatened to kill him. Vukelic reported the incident to RS police, who interviewed Radisic. During the interview Radisic confirmed that he had a telephone call with the journalist, but he rejected the allegations. The BiH Journalists Association and the RS Association of Journalists strongly criticized the incident. RS National Assembly Speaker Igor Radojicic also reacted, saying that journalists in the RS should enjoy freedom of expression and that no threats were allowed.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. According to the 2011 Annual Communications Regulatory Agency report published in April, an estimated 55 percent of the population used the Internet in 2011.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
In Sarajevo, Serbs and Croats complained that Bosniaks received preferential treatment in appointments and promotions at the University of Sarajevo. The University of Banja Luka and the University of East Sarajevo continued to limit faculty appointments almost exclusively to Serbs, although some colleges expanded cooperation and exchanges of faculty members with their Federation counterparts during the year.