Freedom of the Press - Bosnia-Herzegovina (2007)

Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 8 (of 30)
Political Environment: 21 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 16 (of 30)
Total Score: 45 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Freedom of the press in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is guaranteed by the constitution as well as the human rights annex to the Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the country's 1992-1995 civil war. Bosnia has one of the most liberal legal environments in the world for media freedom, but effective enforcement of these laws is largely absent owing to an overburdened judiciary. Libel and defamation were decriminalized in 2003, but individuals and institutions can still bring civil suits for such claims. Government officials often file lawsuits against journalists, but instances of journalists suing their colleagues are also common. New legislation that would reorganize and unify the country's public broadcasting system – the first element of which had passed the BiH Parliament in October 2005 – was blocked by the Federation Constitutional Court in July 2006 amid complaints that the new system would violate Croats' vital interests.

Journalism in both of the country's state entities – the Federation, made up of Bosniak (Muslim) and Croat cantons; and the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska – continues to be plagued by a relatively low standard of professionalism and the fact that most media outlets appeal only to narrow ethnic constituencies. During the 2006 general election campaigns, the media respected legal requirements guaranteeing candidates free airtime on public broadcasters. However, according to the October 2006 election-monitoring report published by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, most of the media devoted a disproportionately large amount of time to the activities of the authorities, thus creating an environment more favorable to incumbents.

Journalists throughout BiH remain subject to violent threats and political pressure, and there is growing concern over the influence of organized crime on the media. From January through June 2006, the Free Media Help Line documented 41 reported violations of journalists' freedoms, including instances of pressure by politicians and law enforcement officials. A journalist from the public broadcaster BH1-TV received over 100 intimidating telephone calls in November after airing an investigative report about an alleged prostitution ring involving a number of public officials whose names were not revealed. Some media analysts argue that the current prime minister of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, has tightened control over the media in the entity, citing in part his government's July 2006 decision to replace the managing director of the state news agency, the SRNA, with one of Dodik's party colleagues.

Numerous independent electronic and print media organizations operate in BiH, but most are closely aligned to either economic or political interests. Some media owners perceive that their economic well-being depends on their good relationships with various political figures, and the government also strongly influences media coverage through its advertising subsidies. This most likely explains the lack of editorials critical of influential politicians among certain media holdings. Overtly critical media outlets tend to have difficulty attracting advertising revenue, which has led to self-censorship. Many journalists are inadequately paid and face challenging economic conditions. Managers at privately owned media outlets were responsible for the bulk of violations of journalists' employee rights in 2006; a number of journalists reported working without legally mandated contracts and health benefits. Internet access is unrestricted, and although the number of users in BiH has increased dramatically in recent years, it remains low for the region at 17 percent of the population.

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