National Report on media freedom and safety of journalists presented as part of regional EU project

Media freedoms are increasingly jeopardised in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the region and it is therefore  necessary to encourage solidarity among journalists and develop a systematic approach towards improvement of journalists’ rights and media freedoms. This was emphasised at the presentation of the National Report on media freedoms and safety of journalists for Bosnia and Herzegovina on 10 April 2017 in Sarajevo.

The presentation was organised by the BH Journalists Association within the EU-funded project “Western Balkans Regional Platform for Advocating Media Freedom and Journalists’ Safety”, worth EUR 1.3 million. This is the first project aiming at improving the capacities of journalists’ associations and media unions for more efficient protection of journalists and media.

At the beginning of the presentation, Borka Rudić, the Secretary General of the BH Journalists Association, said the project aimed to strengthen the capacities of journalists’ associations and trade unions in the region in a way that would enable professional monitoring of media freedoms, advocacy regarding improvement of media legislations and legal protection of journalists in the region.

The research presented in the Report indicated that work of journalists was mostly influenced by media owners/directors and senior editors, even 76%, whereas 48% of respondents believed that government officials only partly affected journalists’ work. At the same time, 44% of responding journalists said politicians did partly affect their work, which corresponded with other results of the same research indicating that more than 51% of the journalists claimed that censorship impacted their work. Only 15% of the responding journalists believe that their work is “very much” affected by personal values and believes.

A number of unresolved cases of attacks and threats toward journalists (45%) indicates that public officials, politicians, the judiciary and others do not believe that these cases are important, the report finds. The needed actions of investigation and prosecution of these cases are not implemented in a systematic and efficient way. The study also states that court procedures take too long to be resolved, and while only 28% of respondents believe that the judiciary is transparent and effective, only 4% of them believe in the transparency of the Government.

Presenting the results of the Report, professor at the Faculty of Political Science in Sarajevo Nermina Mujagić said that in BiH there were “too many reasons to stand for journalism and media freedom”. According to professor Mujagić, there are too many obstacles to before freedom of the press which is why the confrontation with the establishment is inevitable. She pointed out that the biggest problems were censorship and self-censorship, media politicization and non-transparent media financing.

There are pressures imposed by politics, market and ownership. Political clientelism is visible, there is a lack of infrastructure. Journalists work with outdated equipment and there are no unions. I invite all journalists and professional organizations to prevent nationalistic despots’ domination “, said professor Mujagić.

Siniša Vukelić, Chair of the Journalists Club Banja Luka and editor of the portal, personally experienced a lot of threats, including death threats, through his work. He said that shortly after the war it seemed like a better time for media was coming, but now the environment for media freedom is worse than ever.

„As a result of these pressures, journalists leave their jobs, which is harmful for society and the profession. In Republika Srpska the pressures on journalists continue from the highest level. The journalist Ljiljana Kovačević is still prevented to enter the Palace of RS, and there are serious problems in the field of free access to information. The hardest thing is when the newsroom abandons you. But, in these cases, the Association of Journalists still stands behind the journalist, and this is very important“, Vukelić said.

Jasna Jelisić, Political Adviser at the Office of the EU Special Representative in BiH, said that the space for media freedom in BiH is shrinking. „If you do not have free media, you can kiss democracy goodbye. Recognising the importance of media freedom for the entire EU integration process of the Western Balkans, the EC developed Guidelines for EU support to media freedom and media integrity in enlargement countries 2014-2020. This document now directs EU’s financial assistance to the key areas of intervention. When it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the situation in the area of freedom of expression and media has been backsliding for two years in a row which raises the warning red flag. Attacks on media are happening but only the non-government sector, BiH Journalists’ Association and their Media Freedom Helpline is registering them. Establishing an official institutional register of attacks on journalists and media would be useful for any systemic institutional dealing with these attacks, especially by the law enforcement agencies. The good news is that the CoM recently adopted the Action plan for the implementation of the priorities from the EC report on Bosnia 2016. The key media freedom priorities are in that document, which is encouraging“, said Jelisić.

During the one-hour debate that followed the presentation of the Report, it was pointed out that important EU funded projects aimed at improving media freedoms and safety of journalists are being implemented in BiH and in the region. One of them is „Media and Public Credibility“ implemented by a group of media organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, led by BH Journalists Association. Worth EUR 250,000, the Project aims to improve legislation and procedures for transparency of media ownership and of media financing, particularly regarding financing from public budgets.

All these projects are part of a single strategy to strengthen democratic environment for work of media in BiH and in the region. There are many projects in this area. Synchronization of these projects and correspondence of their activities as well as added value they generate contribute to fulfilling the political and other criteria for BiH in the process of joining EU.

The project „Western Balkans Regional Platform for advocating media freedom and journalists’ safety“ is led by the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia and implemented by the regional network of journalists’ associations  in BiH, Croatia, Kosovo*, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, and will last until the end of 2018.

*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.