The law provides for freedom of speech and press, but governmental respect for these rights continued to deteriorate during the year. Intimidation, harassment, and threats against journalists and media outlets intensified, while media coverage continued to reflect ethnic and political allegiances. Deterioration of the political situation further encouraged reporting that incited political and ethnic intolerance. Absence of transparency in media ownership remained a problem. In the RS, authorities sporadically implemented a law enacted in 2015 restricting internet speech critical of officials and other individuals.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance, to include “hate speech,” but authorities did not enforce these restrictions. There were no new legal or administrative measures restricting freedom of speech adopted during the first nine months of the year.
According to data from the BiH Journalists’ Association covering 2006 to 2015, authorities prosecuted only 15 percent of reported criminal acts committed against journalists and investigated less than one-third of all cases alleging violation of journalists’ rights. In response, the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees and relevant state-level parliamentary committees began documenting violations of freedom of expression. The BiH Journalists’ Association subsequently noted increased readiness on the part of law enforcement agencies and prosecutors’ offices to address violations of press freedom.
Independent analysts noted the continuing tendency of politicians and other leaders to label unwanted criticism as hate speech or national treason. As of August, the official Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA) registered one complaint alleging hate speech, which it rejected. By the end of August, the self-regulatory BiH Press Council received 118 complaints related to hate speech. The council determined that, in the first eight months of the year, there were 39 cases of incitement and speech spreading hate. Most instances occurred in online media.
Press and Media Freedoms: The law prohibiting expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance applies to print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals but was not enforced. Laws delegate responsibility for safeguarding freedom of the press in most instances to the cantons in the Federation and to the entity-level authorities in the RS. Numerous outlets continued to express a wide variety of views, but coverage diverged along political and ethnic lines, and media outlets continued to be subject to excessive influence from governments, political parties, and private interest groups. A number of independent print-media outlets continued to encounter financial problems that endangered their operations.
Authorities continued to exert pressure on media outlets to discourage some forms of expression, and party and governmental control over the major information outlets narrowed the range of opinions represented in both entities. Public broadcasters remained under strong pressure from government and political forces due to a lack of long-term financial stability and dependence on politically controlled funding sources. These factors limited their independence and resulted in news that was consistently subjective and politically biased.
The public broadcasters Radio and Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BHRT), Radio and Television of the Republika Srpska (RTRS), and Federation Radio and Television (FTV) faced continued financial instability due to the loss of dedicated tax revenue. The nationwide public broadcaster BHRT, whose content was assessed as being the most balanced and politically neutral, announced on May 30 that it may be forced to suspend programming due to lack of funds. Institutional instability within the governing structures of the FTV continued, leaving the Federation entity public broadcaster vulnerable to political pressure. While the FTV continued to demonstrate layers of political bias, the RS government directly controlled the RTRS, using it as a mouthpiece for the RS political establishment. The entity governments further undercut the independence of their respective broadcasters by excluding the CRA from the process of appointing governing boards for the broadcasters. Remaining subject to competing political interests, the various authorities failed to establish a public broadcasting service corporation to oversee the operations of all public broadcasters in the country as the law requires.
Violence and Harassment: Intimidation and threats against journalists continued during the year. There were instances of intimidation and politically motivated litigation against journalists for unfavorable reporting on government leaders and authorities. As of December, the Free Media Help Line recorded 58 cases involving violations of journalists’ rights and freedoms or pressure from government and law enforcement officials.
On March 13, several participants of a Serbian ultranationalist rally in Ravna Gora near the city of Visegrad verbally and physically assaulted an N1 television news crew and forced an FTV crew to cease filming. The N1 crew notified police, who arrested one assailant several hours later. The vice president of the Federation, the Sarajevo Canton prime minister, the chairman of the state-level Council of Ministers, the Association of BiH Journalists, the FTV and N1 editorial boards, and many political parties and NGOs condemned the attack.
On May 14, while reporting on simultaneous opposition and ruling party political rallies in Banja Luka, a BNTV crew was verbally assaulted by a group that called them traitors and demanded they leave the site of the rally. At the same event, an unidentified assailant physically assaulted RTL Croatia reporter Petar Panjikota, punching him in the head during a live broadcast. BNTV journalist Vladimir Kovacevic later received written threats via Facebook from Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) activist Brane Covickovic, who was dissatisfied with Kovacevic’s coverage of the event. The Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the OSCE, the Association of BiH Journalists, the Banja Luka Club of Journalists, and the Croatian Journalists’ Association, among others, condemned the attacks and urged authorities to investigate.
On May 25, Luka Petrovic, the general secretary of the SNSD and member of the RS National Assembly, allegedly threatened Dragisa Sikimic, the editor in chief of the web portal MojaHercegovina.info. Dissatisfied with the portal’s reporting, Pertrovic reportedly told Sikimic that “those who play with fire would get burned” and threatened a lawsuit intended to bankrupt the online daily. He allegedly also insulted Sikimic because of a physical disability. In response the Association of BiH Journalists sent a written warning to Petrovic and demanded a public apology. The OSCE representative for freedom of the media also condemned the incident.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some political parties attempted to influence editorial policies and media content through legal and financial measures. 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. Prevailing practices indicated that close connections between major advertisers and political circles allowed for biased distribution of advertising time. Public companies, most of which were under the control of political parties, remained the key advertisers. Outlets critical of ruling parties claimed they faced difficulties in obtaining advertising.
The state government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that it monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law prohibits expression provoking racial, ethnic, or other intolerance, to include hate speech. Authorities did not enforce these prohibitions for online media.
In the RS, authorities sporadically implemented a controversial 2015 law that declared that internet-based social networks were part of the public domain and provided fines for “insulting or disturbing” content, not clearly defined, published on the internet. In April 2015 authorities detained Sanel Menzil from Kotor Varos for a comment posted on his Facebook account regarding an attack on a police station in Zvornik several days earlier. According to media reports, Menzil condemned the attack but criticized the decision by Federation authorities to declare a day of mourning. In May 2015 Adis Kusmic from Banja Luka was among 31 arrested in a RS Police operation after posting a Facebook comment critical of the RS president, Milorad Dodik. Both Menzil and Kusmic were interviewed by police but never arrested. Media reports in August asserted that authorities had invoked the RS law on 11 different occasions in the preceding 18 months, mostly for insults and threats posted on Facebook; in most instances, the perpetrators reportedly were fined.
Adoption of the law initially met negative and strong reaction from journalists, NGOs, opposition political parties, and the international community in the country. In late June, the RS Constitutional Court rejected as unfounded an appeal submitted jointly by Transparency International, the BiH Journalists’ Association, and the Banja Luka Club of Journalists that challenged the legality and constitutionality of the legislation.
According to the CRA’s annual report for 2015, approximately 72 percent of the population used the internet that year.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no major government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The country’s eight public universities remained segregated along ethnic lines, including their curriculums, diplomas, and relevant school activities. Professors sometimes used prejudicial language in their lectures. The selection of textbooks and school materials reinforced discrimination and prejudice.