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Weak laws a threat for journalists in Bosnia

September 10th, 2018
in:Humans
by:Katarina Panić
located in:Bosnia and Herzegovina
tags:Bosnia Herzegovina, media, press freedom, Vladimir Kovačević

It’s been weeks since journalist Vladimir Kovačević was heavily attacked in Banja Luka in Bosnia Herzegovina and police investigation still has no leads. On Sunday evening, August 26, Vladimir was going back home after he finished reporting about the latest protest rally organised by “Justice for David” – a group that calls on the authorities of Republika Srpska (Serb-dominated part of Bosnia) to properly investigate the murder of 21-year old student from Banja Luka which took place in March. In front of his house, Vladimir was beaten by two unknown assailants and left with severe injuries, for which he was hospitalised for a few days.

The case temporarily united media, political leaders, local authorities and the international community in the ethnically divided country. They all strongly condemned the brutal assault against journalist Kovačević.

“The negative rhetoric being used against the media must end, in order to prevent further such attacks against journalists. I urge the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to swiftly investigate this attack and bring its perpetrators to justice. It is of the utmost importance that the authorities increase their efforts to ensure the safety of journalists. Any attack on the media is an attack on democratic values as well as citizens’ right to be informed”, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir said in his statement.

Bosnia is ranked 62nd in the world out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom in the latest World Press Freedom Index, which is higher than the result in 2017 when it was ranked 65th. Although the authorities consider Kovačević's beating as an isolated case, many believe that a lynching atmosphere exists ahead of the country’s October general elections.

“The OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina has spoken often about the negative rhetoric and atmosphere in BiH, especially in an election year, which creates unfavorable conditions for journalists to perform their crucial function, as evidenced by this series of recent attacks. We call for the authorities to ensure that journalists enjoy safe working conditions. They must be able to do their job in an environment free of intimidation and threats, either verbal or physical”, OSCE said in its press release.

The Bosnian journalists’ association said the attack was aimed at intimidating independent media and blamed Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik for leading a campaign against some media by proclaiming their reporters “enemies, spies and foreign stooges”. By doing that, Dodik made journalists “open targets” for attackers, the association said in a statement. They noted 40 cases this year only in which journalists have reported that they were victims – including five death threats and 14 assaults and other forms of pressures.

Vladimir himself refused to be photographed in the hospital with both Dodik and one of the opposition leaders Branislav Borenović who visited him separately. TV station which Kovačević works with started its programme day after the attack with a blank screen and message: “Open protest over the attack on a BN TV journalist. We are asking the Republika Srpska MUP [police] to reveal the attacker.” Some other TV stations blackened their screens temporarily too. The journalists gathered all over the country showing a sense of solidarity in the face of pressures that threaten them all.

A group of journalists refused to participate in live show on Republika Srpska public broadcaster with president Dodik, saying they don’t want to do it until their being fulfilled: the authorities to stop insult the journalists, the police to resolve Vladimir Kovačević’s case, the institution to have the same treatment for all media and all journalists, the authorities to adopt the laws which will guarantee a safe environment for journalists.

Late last year USAID in Bosnia launched five million dollars Independent Media Empowerment Program for the next five years, claiming Bosnian media is under heavy political influence, reporting is biased, and media laws are poorly developed, with threats to journalists on the rise. Consequently, the number of professional media and journalists is very limited, and independent media are not financially sustainable. Media outlets are often owned and controlled or harassed and otherwise penalised by political interests. Yet journalists are often the only defense against the corruption. However, political elites, driven exclusively by the narrow party and personal interests, are characterised by the general absence of responsibility or concern for the best interests of the public.

One of the projects supported by this USAID's program is created to change the media law in Republika Srpska which is adopted some 20 years ago and which allows numerous lawsuits against journalists and media.

"We don't want to be overprotected. We only want the status of 'journalist' and the media is being well regulated“, journalist Željko Raljić told local media. According to him, the other important reason for urgent amending the law is the fact that online media and web portals are not recognised by media law at all. Because of that, they are forced to be registered either the non-governmental organisation either the companies – both are far away from reality.

Asked what kind of expectations one may have from upcoming elections in Bosnia, political analyst Tanja Topić told to Banja Luka-based web portal Buka: "It is hard to expect clear, concrete visions, especially it is hard to expect program for economic and social recovery of the country. What we may expect is the increased number of people who leave the country, and we see the politicians are not worried about it“.

Article written by:
Katarina Panić
Author
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Embed from Getty Images
The negative rhetoric being used against the media must end, in order to prevent further such attacks against journalists.
Embed from Getty Images
The Bosnian journalists’ association said the attack was aimed at intimidating independent media and blamed Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik for leading a campaign against some media.
Embed from Getty Images
Bosnia is ranked 62nd in the world out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom in the latest World Press Freedom Index.

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