115 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 28,748 sq. km.
Languages: Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian
Head of state: Alternating presidents: Zeljko Komsic (Croatian), - Nebojsa Radmanovic (Serbian), Haris Silajdzic (Bosnian)
Keen to consolidate the first steps taken in June 2008 towards EU membership, Bosnia-Herzegovina has undertaken legal reform in the media sector. Laws now guarantee the right to access to information and protection of sources. Defamation and denigration have been decriminalised. The application of these new principles has met with little enthusiasm within the legal system itself, which does not welcome press investigations into the corruption which undermines its operation. These reforms have also found little support in the media itself which is more likely to campaign for the protection and influence of its own communities than for its essential investigative work.
The Dayton accord signed in 1995 put an end to the war but it did not do away with the community and nationalist splits which are frequently echoed in the written and broadcast media. Very few media have a national audience. Most titles are limited to serving a particular community or one or two federal entities.
The continuing ethnic and religious divide also still impacts on the viability and financial development of the media that can only rely on the resources of its own community. Growing competition from media in neighbouring Serbia and Croatia also deprives national media of advertising revenue. In such a restricted market, the viability of the 145 radio stations and 43 TV stations depends on funding linked either to political groups or to criminal gangs who are more than willing to trade funding for influence.
There are no taboo subjects as such, but issues such as corruption and organised crime are handled with a good deal of caution. Investigations into religious communities also carry risks. A film crew working for investigative programme 60 minutes on Federal TV (FTV) was physically attacked in February 2009 while investigating a case of paedophilia within the Muslim community. The programme’s editor Bakir Hadziomerovic also received death threats after the report went out on air.
Another crew from 60 minutes was attacked by two men while filming at an orthodox Serbian church in the city of Trebinje in March 2009. The journalists had to leave the city under police escort. The crew’s chief Slobodan Vaskovic, had received phone threats before leaving for Trebinje. Political control over the public news agencies Fena (Bosnian Federation) and Srna (Republic Srpska) remains in effect. The only privately owned agency Onasa has not yet managed to provide a genuine alternative. Even though the conditions are now right, radio and TV privatisation have not yet got off the ground. Local government is also often reluctant to lose the “communications tools” that allow them to maintain their influence or to promote their nationalist propaganda.
Finally, the uncertain social status of journalists and the absence of a legal framework for the exercise of the profession tend to foster self-censorship. Frequent incidents of late payments for work also opens the door to corruption which is still very much present within a section of the profession.