I . Introduction
III. The Bosnian Political Context
IV. Pressure on Media in BiH: Dimensions of the Problem
V. Measuring the Pressure
A. Perspective: Not All Anger Is Intimidation
B. Threat and Vulnerability: Two Sides of the Same Problem
C. The Ultimate Vulnerability: Poor Job Security
VI. Consequences: The Net Effect on Journalism in BiH
Appendix I: Cases: Political Pressure at Work
Appendix II: Taxation: A Political Weapon
On the morning of 22 October 1999, a car-bomb in Banja Luka shattered
the legs of Zeljko Kopanja, the editor-in-chief of one of Bosnia and Herzegovina's
leading independent publications, Nezavisne Novine. The bomb very
nearly killed him.
Had it done so, it would probably have ended the effective life of his
newspaper as well, and thus would have measurably diminished freedom of
expression in the country as a whole. In the event, the bombing sent a
chill through Bosnia's three still largely separate media communities,
underscoring the shared vulnerability of all journalists here to politically
One year later, a remarkably tenacious Zeljko Kopanja is walking on prostheses
and still in full command of his newspaper, his determination undiminished.
His assailants and their motive remain unidentified, though the bombing
is widely presumed to have been in retaliation for one of the first detailed
exposures in a Bosnian Serb newspaper of Bosnian Serb war crimes.
This attack, and a mounting list of other acts of violence, threats and
official pressure directed against journalists and their news organizations
in Bosnia. Go to footnote 1 over the
past 18 months, have given new visibility to the long-standing problem
of the protection of journalists, within Bosnia and worldwide, thanks
to the work of the Committee to Protect Journalists in the United States
and other organizations.
In Bosnia, as in Russia and other post-authoritarian or transition states,
the purpose of political pressure on media is to deny citizens information
about corruption, mismanagement of government, war-crimes and other wrong-doing
that would enable citizens to act as informed voters at the polls. In
short, the pressures on journalists from Bosnia's dominant nationalist
political parties are meant to keep alive the old journalistic habit of
self-censorship--so that these political parties may preserve themselves.
Yet there continues to be little comprehension among the Bosnian public,
police and other local officials that an attack on a journalist is in
reality an attack on all people and their right to uncensored news and
information about the society in which they live.
Bosnian officials and the public in general continue to perceive journalists
and their media as little more than players in a rough game of nationalist
politics, whose troubles are of no special consequence to society. As
Nesib Mandzic, the mayor of Srebrenica told an OSCE-sponsored meeting
of journalists and municipal officials last February, "I cannot accept
[the idea] that an attack on a journalist is an attack on everyone."
Such attitudes are regrettably reinforced by partisan media whose work
more resembles political propaganda than journalism aimed at producing
an informed electorate. Genuinely independent news media represent only
a small, but growing, fraction of the country's roughly 300 newspapers,
news magazines and radio and television stations. Given the relatively
low profile of independent journalism in Bosnia until recently, it should
not be surprising that so few understand how the intimidation of journalists
weakens the processes of democracy and erodes the freedom of every citizen.
This report summarizes a five-month study by IREX ProMedia--assisted by
the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)--of the nature and sources
of pressures experienced by journalists in BiH, the impact of these pressures
on news and information available to the Bosnian public, and the remedies
open to the international community, civil society and to the journalism
While all forms of pressure on media, most especially physical attacks
on journalists, are to be deplored, they are not all of equal significance.
Media leaders in BiH increasingly believe that a primary threat to the
independence and professionalism of journalism is a crushing burden of
excessive taxation, compounded by a variety of other economic pressures
directed against them by the dominant nationalist political parties. These
pressures include political control of advertising to favored outlets
and away from independent media--often but not exclusively from state
enterprises such as postal, telephone and telecommunications systems (PTTs)
and electric utilities--and the abuse of the power of taxation and financial
inspection. This report concludes that while such economic pressures have
so far attracted little attention from the international community in
BiH they comprise an insidious and effective form of intimidation of media
that would be amenable to remedy through the combined efforts of the international
community, authentic democrats among public officials in BiH and journalists
By selectively applying economic pressures to media enterprises that are
already weakened by excessive employee taxes, the nationalist parties
threaten the livelihood of journalists and the welfare of their families
by threatening the very existence of the media for which they work. There
is no stronger incentive for practicing self-censorship than the threat
of poverty. With few individual exceptions, independent newspapers, news
magazines and radio and television stations in BiH live constantly on
the edge of financial extinction. Political forces have worked effectively
to keep them there.
The absence of structural economic reform in BiH thus far is partly responsible
for the precarious condition of media, as well as other businesses. Living
on the margin, often unable to pay staff salaries, independent media remain
highly vulnerable to political pressures from advertisers and to the selective
deployment of tax police. Abuse of tax and financial inspections appears
to be a particular problem in the Federation entity of BiH.
In these conditions, controlled, partisan media benefit from advertising,
investment and other forms of subsidy directed their way by political
powers. They also appear to enjoy immunity from tax authorities as long
as they follow the prescribed political line.
Although "protection of journalists" has become a high priority of the
international community over the past year, this term obscures the larger
problem of protection of media as business organizations. Moreover, there
are two distinct and complimentary parts of this larger problem: The pressures
applied on journalists and their media and the vulnerability of
media to these pressures.
Harassment, intimidation, physical attacks and even economic pressures
are not unique to Bosnia or other emerging democracies. They can be found
in the United States and other mature democracies. These pressures are
generally far less frequent and intense than in Bosnia. More important,
media in strong democracies and enormously diverse market economies are
far less vulnerable to such pressures.
By contrast, the fragility of democracy and the weakness of the economy
in Bosnia (and in similar transition states in Eastern Europe and the
former Soviet Union) combine to greatly magnify the vulnerability of media
to politically motivated pressures. Weak or politicized institutions in
Bosnia--courts and tax authorities, to name two--render journalists exceptionally
vulnerable to intimidation. It follows that free journalism would be
an important collateral benefit of the major institution-building and
economic reforms that are already high on the international community's
priority list, including tax and judicial reform and privatization of
We offer recommendations to address the dual problem of political pressures
on media and the vulnerability of media to those pressures. Some steps,
we believe, could improve the current situation almost literally overnight.
We appreciate the assistance of the Independent Media Commission (IMC)
and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as
well as the cooperation of the Committee to Protect Journalists in New
York, whose European coordinator, Emma Gray, took part in interviews in
Sarajevo, Mostar and Banja Luka. This report was written by Robert Gillette,
the director of IREX ProMedia in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Research was
conducted by Isabella Eisenberg, Elena Drozdik and Robert Gillette.
Politically motivated pressure on journalists is pervasive in Bosnia and
Herzegovina. It hinders international and indigenous efforts to build
a democratic civil society and a free-market economy on the post-communist
wreckage of the 1992-95 war. The exercise of pressure on individual journalists
and their news media by Bosnian political organizations, elected officials,
and the managers of some state enterprises--as well as, in some instances,
by Yugoslav (and until recently, Croatian) government officials across
international borders--has a direct, negative effect on the pace and quality
of the development of democracy and a market economy in this country.
Go to footnote 2
This pressure stifles journalistic inquiry and the publication of information
primarily relating to official corruption, human rights violations and
war crimes. It emanates almost entirely from the nationalist political
movements that prosecuted the war and that to a large extent still dominate
Bosnia. By stimulating deeply rooted instincts of self-censorship among
journalists, the nationalist parties insulate themselves from reporting
that might call into question their legitimacy in the eyes of their constituents.
For these parties, intimidation of media is a method of survival.
Data gathered over the past two years by the Independent Media Commission
and the OSCE, the Helsinki Committees in Sarajevo and Bijeljina and in
interviews by IREX researchers since February, indicate that media in
Bosnia are subject to nearly the full range of methods of intimidation
monitored by international organizations such as the U.S.-based CPJ and
Freedom House, France's Reporters San Frontieres and the International
Federation of Journalists in Brussels.
These methods include:
- Anonymous phone calls to journalists or members of their families,
suggesting violence or eviction from one's apartment, loss of a spouse's
job, problems for children in school or other oppressive action;
- Threatening encounters on the street;
- Beatings and attempted murder;
- Exclusion from public buildings, meetings or news events;
- Multiple harassing libel suits filed in politicized courts;
- Economic pressures on media considered by dominant political parties
as unfriendly or working against their interests. Go
to footnote 3
On 27 and 28 July, at the invitation of IREX and CPJ, 47 journalists from
print and broadcast media throughout Bosnia met in Sarajevo with educators
and legal experts in a two-day roundtable to discuss a draft version of
The meeting was also attended by representatives of the international
community, including U.S. Ambassador Thomas Miller and representatives
from the Office of the High Representative, Go to footnote
4 OSCE, the European Commission, Helsinki Committee
and the international community's broadcast regulator in Bosnia, the Independent
Media Commission. (This final version incorporates comments and suggestions
from that meeting.)
It was agreed that the roundtable would be off the record. Discussion
was intense and constructive. The group clearly relished the opportunity
to debate the difficulties they live with as journalists in Bosnia, and
to search for solutions. Many of the participants expressed satisfaction
at the evident willingness of participants to openly share their experiences
of intimidation and saw this as an hopeful sign of developing solidarity
in a media community still in many ways divided along ethnic lines.
A consensus emerged at the end of the two days that supported remedies
outlined at the conclusion of this report and emphasized the following
1. Professional Solidarity: The lack of an even elementary level
of solidarity, the group agreed, encourages an atmosphere in which intimidation
thrives. Those present at the roundtable recognized the strength that
could be drawn from journalists supporting one another in difficult times
and reporting about pressures or threats to media. As one reporter from
the Bosnian Serb capital of Banja Luka put it: "We will have professional
solidarity only when we understand that an attack on one of us is an attack
on all of us."
2. Need for an Organization to Foster Press Freedom in Bosnia: It
was agreed that an organization devoted to the protection of journalists
is essential. The function of monitoring, it was felt, is already provided
by the OSCE and the Helsinki Committee Ð though both organizations said
their work was hampered by under-reporting and urged journalists to speak
out when they felt threatened. Journalists said that a Bosnian organization
promoting press freedom could help to create a sense of solidarity, to
document the kinds of threats journalists experience, and to lobby on
3. Urgent Need for Legal Support: Roundtable participants repeatedly
emphasized the lack of an independent judiciary in Bosnia and the need
for a legal defense fund for journalists and media outlets subject to
harassment from libel suits and other abuse of the instruments of law.
As one radio journalist put it, discussion of protection of journalists
without a legal framework was "like trying to build a house without a
A leading Sarajevo human rights lawyer, while agreeing with the need for
a media defense fund, stressed the parallel need for preventive action,
beginning with training in ethics and law for reporters and editors, so
that they better understand how to protect themselves against libel charges.
4. Tax Issues: The group agreed that excessive taxation contributes
to the economic weakness of Bosnian media and thus heightens vulnerability
to political intimidation, including the abusive enforcement of tax regulations.
The group agreed that the country's journalism associations should organize
a study of tax issues and prepare recommendations to domestic governments
and the international community for equitable tax relief. (See Appendix
II: Taxation Ð A Political Weapon.)
5. Initiatives in Journalism Schools: Media and educators bear
a responsibility to raise and enforce standards of professionalism. To
this end, it was agreed that Bosnia's university journalism departments
in Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla and Mostar should coordinate their programs
with a new emphasis on media law and the ethics of journalism.
III. The Bosnian Political Context:
Nearly five years after the end of the war, Bosnia's media remain largely
divided along ethnic lines into three separate media communities. The
multiplicity of associations claiming to represent the professional journalists
reflects these polarizations within the media: With the appearance in
recent months of a second Croat association clearly linked to the HDZ,
there are now six journalists' associations altogether, only two of which
can claim real independence from government and party politics.
For nearly two years now, these associations have met regularly through
the mediation of the international community's broadcast regulator, the
Independent Media Commission and with support from the OSCE. They have
agreed on a country-wide press code and--after months of wrangling--on
the basic structure of a voluntary press council that would implement
the press code (but not yet on its operating rules.)
These steps symbolize a fragile and tentative start toward professional
solidarity. It remains to be seen whether politicized journalism associations
can find common ground to confront the range of political pressures media
now experience and begin at last to separate themselves from partisan
politics. With a new surge toward democracy in Bosnia's two neighbors,
Croatia and Yugoslavia, material support for Croat and Serb nationalist
parties should diminish sharply. Combined with an ongoing erosion in popular
support for the Bosniak nationalist party, the SDA, there are reasons
for optimism that nationalist power in Bosnia is waning. Many Bosnian
journalists, however, remain concerned that the nominally more democratic
forces waiting in the wings--notably the Social Democratic Party--may
be no less inclined to manipulate or control media than the present array
of ethnic parties.
Like other countries of Central and Eastern Europe (Belarus and the Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia are leading exceptions)--Bosnia is struggling to
make the transition from an authoritarian political system and a loose
command economy to a democratic, free-market state. Simultaneously, it
is struggling to heal the divisions of a war in which politicized media
(primarily Serb and Croatian) played a central role in fomenting and sustaining
interethnic suspicion, hatred and violence. The healing process has been
slow largely because the three nationalist political groups that prosecuted
the war from 1992 through 1995, or their immediate successors, have remained
in power. (A weak ruling Bosnian Serb coalition is led by a comparatively
moderate spin-off of the wartime SDS party founded by Radovan Karadzic.)
With nationalists still largely in place, peace in Bosnia has in many
ways meant a continuation of war by other means. Media remain a strategic
political asset to the nationalist parties--one the Serb SDS, the Bosniak
SDA and the Croat HDZ exploit to preserve themselves by preserving the
myth of threat from other ethnic groups and by extension the myth of their
own indispensability as protectors. While the main nationalist parties
may not actually conspire together, they do share common strategic aims
and interests that conflict with the Dayton Accords of 1995 and the international
community's vision of a multi-ethnic country founded on a market economy.
The dominant parties continue to profit from state enterprises they control,
skimming revenues and awarding patronage. They have succeeded in obstructing
privatization--which would separate them from their assets--and in delaying
the creation of a transparent, regulated banking and financial system
over the whole of Bosnia, which might reveal how lucrative these assets
are and where the money goes.
Local elections in Bosnia in April saw a marked erosion in the vote-gathering
power of the nationalist parties, particularly of the SDA. The collapse
of the HDZ in Croatian elections clearly dealt a blow to the Bosnian HDZ's
heroic myth (as well as to its covert finances), and independent media
are also helping to erode the nationalists' popularity simply by presenting
a more truthful and balanced view of life in Bosnia.
The limits of "acceptable" journalism have followed ethnic lines in Bosnia
since the end of the war. In general these limits would preclude coverage
of any substantive allegation of corruption, war-crimes or incompetence
that would undermine the legitimacy of the dominant nationalist parties
or their leading figures at any level. In practice, this means that a
predominately Bosniak news outlet's allegations of corruption or war-crimes
on the part of Serbs or Croats would attract little concern from its targets,
as it could easily be dismissed as Muslim propaganda. Similarly, Bosniaks
attach little credibility to allegations by "other" media.
For a predominately Serb, Bosniak or Croat news organization to allege
corruption or war-crimes within its "own" ethnic community is a very different
matter. Allegations of this kind are likely to carry greater credibility
and thus touch directly on the legitimacy of hard-line nationalist political
forces. What nationalist politicians can no longer define as propaganda
from another--implicitly enemy--ethnic group, they must define as treason
within their own clan.
This may explain the attack on Kopanja, and also the attack on the two
Croatian journalists in Croat-dominated West Mostar last year, Robert
Frank and Ronald Brmalj, which is detailed in Appendix I: Cases: Political
Pressure at Work, [Delete: detailing cases of] with other examples of
attacks on the press.
IV. Pressure on Media in BiH: Dimensions of the Problem
A. Measuring the Pressure
The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Bosnia and Herzegovina was
among the first organizations to draw attention to the growing breadth
and seriousness of physical, judicial and economic attacks on journalists.
In a December 1999 report, the committee noted that media found themselves
in a "very difficult" situation in which threats were becoming "an everyday
appearance in media life." It also noted that a number of media had achieved,
or were approaching, professional journalistic standards, and that their
work is of "extraordinary importance for the implementation of the Dayton
Peace Agreement and [the] overall democratic transformation of the country."
The Federation entity's Ombudsman has also called attention to the abuse
of outmoded libel law to harass independent journalists, and to a growing
maze of contradictory and often restrictive media legislation being adopted
by the Federation's cantons, the equivalent of counties. Like the Helsinki
Committee, however, the Federation Ombudsman--there is no comparable institution
in Republika Srpska--can only advise and publicize. The office has no
legal power to address the problems it identifies.
As of April, the OSCE, the international community's primary monitor of
freedom of expression, had logged 56 verified cases or allegations of
pressures on journalists throughout Bosnia, most of which originated in
1999. OSCE considered half of these cases still active and unresolved.
Among them are the attempted murder of the editor of Nezavisne Novine,
Zeljko Kopanja, last October; the abduction and beating of the two Croatian
journalists in Mostar; and the destruction of Radio Osvit studios in
Zvornik by an organized mob. By 1 July, the OSCE list of verified cases
had grown to 94, a near-doubling in four months. OSCE officials believe
the increase reflects both an absolute increase in pressures on media
and a growing willingness of journalists to report incidents as the international
community has begun responding to complaints more forcefully. More than
90 percent of all cases were attributable to elected or appointed government
officials or party officials.
OSCE officials also see consistent geographic patterns to pressures on
journalists: In Republika Srpska, intimidation tends to take the form
of direct threats or physical attacks; in the Federation entity of BiH,
the pressures are more subtle and more likely to involve abuse of government
powers such as taxation. Overall, twice as many cases are reported in
the Federation as in Republika Srpska .
The cases logged by OSCE, however, represent only a sampling of the incidents
of intimidation experienced by Bosnian media and do not appear to indicate
the full scope of the problem. As a largely self-selected sample, based
mainly on reports to a telephone hotline, the OSCE list probably is not
fully representative of either the scale or the character of journalists'
problems; on the other hand, it benefits from a high degree of follow-up
inquiry and verification.
In May, the BiH office of Internews, a media support organization working
under a subcontract to IREX, surveyed 116 radio and television stations
that belong to the Association of Electronic Media in BiH to determine
which among them had experienced any of 10 categories of intimidation.
A total of 86 stations responded, of which 30 said they had experienced
no such problems.
The other 56 stations reported a total of 1,102 separate incidents between
January and June of this year, including 840 threatening phone calls and
letters to 45 stations, as well as lawsuits, attacks on equipment or staff,
denial of advertising on political grounds and financial inspections by
Thirty-one stations reported 49 financial inspections in the first five
months of this year. Four of the 31 reported three separate audits, or
roughly one every seven weeks. All but five of the 31 stations, including
those experiencing multiple inspections, are located in the Federation
entity of BiH.
This sample, while more random and thus potentially more representative
than the OSCE list, suffers from an absence of verification. One Sarajevo
station--radio and TV Studio 99--accounts for more than half (460) of
the claims of threatening calls and letters. The station attracts only
a small audience and is not taken seriously by political powers, but is
engaged in a long-running series of disputes with former employees claiming
back pay. Subtracting this anomaly, the Internews list appears to genuinely
reflect a significantly larger scale of harassment than does the formal
OSCE case list, amounting to some 600 incidents in five months from a
sample that covered less than half of Bosnia's approximately 280 radio
and television stations.
There was almost no overlap between the OSCE and Internews lists of stations
reporting harassment: Only six of Internews' 56 stations appears on OSCE's
list of media that reported harassment of any kind as of the end of April.
Others may be recorded in OSCE's confidential files, but it appears likely
that many of the incidents claimed in the Internews survey have never
been reported to the international community.
It is possible--even likely--that some stations have exaggerated or invented
some of their complaints. But it is also certain that some stations--as
several made clear to IREX in interviews--prefer not to disclose or discuss
their problems with international organizations for fear of only making
matters worse with local political authorities or extremist groups.
For these reasons, it is not possible to compile a fully accurate statistical
picture of the intimidation of media in Bosnia and Herzegovina, yet there
may be no need for an encyclopedic record. The available indicators, including
interviews that IREX has conducted with media around the country since
February, point to a problem of great dimension, and of great consequence
for democracy in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Whatever the precise scale of incidents--be it dozens or hundreds--it
is clear that the breadth and frequency of intimidating pressures on journalists
and the media that employ them have been sufficient to create an expectation
of threat in the minds of nearly all journalists, should they venture
into politically sensitive subject areas--chiefly corruption and war-crimes.
Even if a journalist has not personally experienced intimidation, the
expectation of threat is stimulus enough for the self-censorship that
continues to characterize the great majority of media in BiH.
Among those Bosnian media that value independence, and are not merely
the willing voices of political parties, the climate of fear makes it
hard, and even unwise, to try to distinguish between jokes, harmless emotional
outbursts and deadly threats.
In the hard-line SDA town of Kalesija, in the Federation/BiH, Fuad Halilovic
reports that his station, Radio Feral, has been exposed to a steady barrage
of threats by telephone and to its staff on the street since the station
first went on the air in May 1998 with help from the Soros Foundation
and USAID. Labeled "Chetnik Radio" (i.e., extreme Serb nationalist) and
"traitor radio" because the station cooperates with Radio Osvit in Zvornik,
a half-hour drive away, and with other civic-minded stations in Republika
Srpska, its staff say they have heard abusive remarks even from local
The bomb attack on Kopanja in October 1999 triggered a fresh wave of taunts
and threats, and it was not easy to tell the difference in a town where
the trauma of war remains painfully visible in the form of young men in
wheelchairs along the sidewalks. "Tell Fuad to buy a new car--an armored
one," became a standard greeting to Radio Feral staff.
In circumstances like these, only the strongest, most exceptional journalists,
those who thrive on risk and whose news organizations are financially
secure--an extreme rarity in Bosnia--are able to rise above the climate
B. Perspective: Not All Anger is Intimidation
To establish credibility in the public mind and to effectively address
the real problems of political pressure, the international community and
journalists themselves need to distinguish carefully, difficult as that
may be, between real and presumed acts of intimidation. This distinction
is well understood by CPJ, the OSCE and other international organizations
concerned with protection of journalists, but its importance is not yet
fully appreciated in Bosnia's media community.
Not every complaint or expression of anger by a Bosnian politician is
necessarily meant as a threat, although the example of Radio Feral underscores
the difficulty of telling the difference. Public figures do have a right
to complain, and sometimes--possibly often--their complaints are justified.
When media fail to check their facts, or even seek them, or fail to provide
an adequate right of reply, or publish corrections, politicians and businessmen
find an easy recourse in flawed laws on defamation and unsophisticated
or politically compliant courts.
Adversarial relations between government and at least some media
is a defining feature of most developed democracies. In the United States,
Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon tried--and generally failed-- each
in his own way to pressure troublesome journalists by intervening directly
with their publishers or network news directors. In the early 1970s, when
American media began probing corruption in the Nixon administration, Vice
President Spiro Agnew famously dismissed critical media as "nattering
nabobs of negativism" and aroused a wave of public disgust at the journalism
profession at large. (The phrase was coined by White House speechwriter
William Safire, now one of the New York Times' most acerbic and
popular nabobs.) Go to footnote 5
American public views of journalists shifted from condemnation to virtual
romance with investigative journalism after Agnew's conviction and removal
from office on bribery charges, and the resignation of President Nixon
one step ahead of impeachment in 1974.
Even in established democracies, journalists are sometimes physically
attacked or even killed as a consequence of their work, but the danger
emanates from criminal or extremist groups, not governments. On 28 June
1999, for example, a Swedish journalist and his young son were injured
in car-bomb attack near Stockholm, probably carried out by the neo-fascist
groups the journalist specialized in covering. Such attacks sometimes
prove spectacularly counterproductive, by rallying the victim's professional
colleagues and galvanizing media to pursue the very issues that the attack
was meant to suppress.
In 1976, when reporter Don Bolles was killed by a car-bombing in the U.S.
state of Arizona while investigating organized crime, news media from
around the country--many of them normally competitors with one another--converged
on Arizona to continue his work. In doing so, they turned a local corruption
scandal into a country-wide story that led eventually to conviction of
Journalists from across the country "were out to show organized crime
leaders that killing a journalist would not stop reportage about them;
it would increase 100-fold," the U.S. journalists' organization Investigative
Reporters and Editors (IRE) says in its history of the incident.
The profession's response to this long-ago bombing is a lesson in the
value of professional solidarity among diverse and competitive journalists
and their news organizations. American media, of course, suffer none of
the ethnic divisions, the financial weakness, the politicized judiciary
and the climate of intimidation that so burden the media of Bosnia and
Herzegovina. Media in BiH not only face a much greater frequency of politically
motivated pressures, but, for a variety of reasons, they are much more
vulnerable to these pressures than media operating in established, rule-of-law
democracies and healthy market economies.
C. Threat and Vulnerability: Two Sides of the Same Problem
Strengthening the independence and resilience of media in an environment
of intimidation requires an understanding of the nature and sources of
intimidation, and also the reasons why media are as vulnerable as they
are to pressure.
The international community has recognized several contributing factors
to the weakness of media in Bosnia:
The general lack of transparency in government, political party
funding and the management of state enterprises is a major factor that
increases the difficulty of accurate, credible, explanatory and investigative
The broad lack of documentary information of a kind normally open to the
public in democratic societies hinders the development of credible, factual
journalism and leaves media dependent on rumor and anonymous sources for
its investigative reporting. This in turn magnifies the vulnerability
of journalists to harassing attack through libel laws, which are in themselves
deficient and subject to easy abuse.
OSCE and OHR are attacking this source of vulnerability by drafting freedom
of information and modernized libel laws in the expectation that BiH parliaments
will adopt these measures or that the High Representative will impose
Criminal Penalties for Libel: The Committee to Protect Journalists
observes in its annual report for 1999 that, although a variety of laws
are used against journalists in Bosnia and elsewhere, "criminal libel
statutes remain the most worrisome threat to independent journalism" worldwide.
The report states: "CPJ opposes such laws; we believe that civil penalties
provide adequate remedy in cases of genuine libel, and that the threat
of jail has a chilling effect on independent, investigative journalism.
This is particularly true in countries where the judiciary has little
or no independence from the public officials who are most likely to bring
a libel suit--generally because they want to suppress uncomfortable news
The use of harassing libel suits to pressure media in BiH appears to have
fallen sharply since the High Representative suspended criminal penalties
last July. Yet officials continue to threaten libel suits in attempts
to suppress or distract attention from uncomfortable news about themselves.
Rajko Vasic, the Republika Srpska minister of information--a position
not found in democratic countries--drew sharp criticism from the international
community when he suggested on 1 June that journalists should be prosecuted
for allegedly inaccurate stories. (Vasic resigned in July and no new information
minister has been appointed.)
Ignoring the reaction to Vasic, the intelligence service of Republika
Srpska, which is known by the initials OBS, announced a week later that
it would "ask for a legal proceeding to be opened" against the chief editor
of Reporter magazine, Perica Vucinic, for printing allegations
that the OBS was tapping the telephones of people linked to the Belgrade
Bosnia's politicized courts are quick to act on libel cases filed
by prominent local power figures and notably slow to pursue cases of physical
attacks on journalists. Judicial reform and training, as well as modern
libel law, could eliminate a major source of media intimidation.
"The truth is that support for journalists' security in the whole
of Bosnia and Herzegovina does not exist as it does in other countries,"
Zeljko Kopanja said in an interview. "The whole judiciary system is at
fault. It does not protect journalists in their work from the kinds of
things that happen to us. But it is very quick to act against journalists
if their work touches some official."
Police-media relations remain poor. There is a general lack of
constructive, professional dialogue between police and media. There is
certainly ample basis for mutual distrust. But until there is some measure
of professional interaction, police will continue to be at a disadvantage
in understanding when and how to respond to reported threats of violence
against news media.
Not every angry phone call or letter deserves to be taken seriously, but
police in Banja Luka, for example, showed little inclination to respond
to patently serious threats that preceded the attack on Kopanja in October,
1999. In the aftermath, senior Interior Ministry officials in both entities
told IREX interviewers of their eagerness to develop working contacts
with media, but expressed uncertainty as to how they should proceed.
In separate interviews with IREX researchers, Izmet Dahic, the interior
minister of Sarajevo Canton in the Federation entity of BiH and Sinisa
Karan, a department head of the Criminal Police in Republika Srpska, stated
their desire for better professional relations with journalists. Bosnian
media should test these promises.
Skill levels remain low in an environment where most current journalists
began their work in wartime with little or no formal training and the
most experienced and skilled veterans have by and large left the profession
or the country. Few journalists understand concepts of standards of evidence
in critical reporting, and few have had training in techniques of minimizing
their exposure to libel action, not an impossibility even with the deficient
Readership of print media--by tradition and nature in most countries
the main locus of journalistic skill--is very low in BiH, even for
Central and Eastern Europe. Although there are no audited circulation
figures, sales of the country's five daily newspapers probably do not
exceed 100,000 per day. The combined circulation of its six weekly or
bi-weekly independent magazines and newspapers is probably smaller.
Politically manipulated economic pressures: While all these factors
undermine the credibility, public standing, security and ultimately the
effectiveness of media, none contributes so directly and catastrophically
to the weakness of news media--and their vulnerability to political pressures--as
the economic environment in which they work. This is discussed in the
D. Taxation and Advertising: Strategic Political Weapons
The international community has largely overlooked economic factors as a
part of the problem of protection of journalists. Media leaders in BiH are
themselves only beginning to understand how important the systemic failure
of economic reform in BiH has been to independent, professional journalism
and the development of democracy.
It is widely recognized that in nearly five years since the end of the war,
state and entity-level governments have failed to carry out fundamental
economic reforms--notably tax reform, privatization and business law reform--and
that this failure has discouraged nearly all foreign investment and stunted
the development of a market economy. In purely economic terms, this failure
of governance afflicts media businesses neither more nor less than other
sectors of the economy. It has not been widely recognized, however, that
independent, professional media are not merely businesses that employ people
and serve consumer needs. They are an essential component of a functioning
Democracy is not seriously imperiled by a weak manufacturing or consumer
economy. It does suffer when newspapers, magazines and broadcasters are
unable to meet even minimum payrolls on a regular basis and are unable afford
the most basic technical equipment and information resources they need to
ensure that the country has an informed electorate.
A detailed economic analysis of media businesses in BiH is beyond the scope
of this report. However, we underscore three economic factors that Bosnian
media themselves are beginning to recognize as undermining their ability
to serve the public:
Unreformed, communist-era tax laws: Three aspects of tax law together
create a crushing burden on media businesses with damaging effects on
the quality of journalism available to the public. These are:
1. Current rules that treat money owed to any business--accounts
receivable--as fully taxable. This conflicts with generally accepted
Western accounting practice, which permits companies to declare income,
and requires them to pay taxes on it, only when they actually receive
2. A value-added tax on sales of newspapers and other media products
of 10% in the Federation and 12% in Republika Srpska;
3. Social and income taxes on employees, payable by businesses, that
add approximately 85% to the cost of an employee.
Cross-entity registration of businesses: The inability to register
a business in one entity so that it may operate legally throughout BiH
is detrimental to the economy as whole. Businesses that choose to register
in both entities must operate essentially as two different businesses
in two separate countries and still risk double-taxation. Besides reinforcing
social and economic divisions along ethnic lines, this legal gap results
in two almost entirely separate and disconnected media markets in BiH,
neither of which is economically viable in a total population of only
about 3.5 million.
Failure of privatization: The extremely slow progress of privatization
has left much of the economy in the hands of the nationalist political
parties that run the country's local, regional and state-level governments.
As a result, state enterprises remain a major factor in a weak advertising
market and political forces are thus free to direct advertising funds
from state enterprises to their own controlled media and away from independent
newspapers and magazines and radio and television stations whose very
independence marks them as hostile.
The large scale of advertising by the state utilities calls into question
its real purpose. Much of this advertising is content-free, lacking any
public service or informational purpose and resembling instead advertising
that is meant to build name recognition. Why a state monopoly would want
to do that is not obvious, unless it simply wants to cover the flow of
hidden subsidies to favored media.
OHR and OSCE have only recently begun forcing elected officials either
to give up their elected posts or the management positions they still
occupy in state enterprises. Party influence over the appointment of enterprise
managers, however, is far from broken.
E. The ultimate vulnerability: Poor job security
Bosnian journalists themselves frequently cite the absence of normal,
contract-based labor relations with their employers as a leading contributor
to their sense of vulnerability to political pressures. With no contract,
a journalist has no job security, no health care, no pension, and thus
little incentive to practice the kind of probing reporting that risks
arousing the anger of political forces that can respond with pressures
on their employer.
The widespread absence of employment contracts in media may partly result
from the general failure to update labor law from the days of a command
economy. But the main reason is an unbearably high burden of social and
employer-paid income taxes--currently equal to about 76 percent of an
employee's base salary--compounded by a weak economy, politically manipulated
tax enforcement and other forms of economic pressure.
With few exceptions, Bosnia's most professional, independent media are
private companies (though by no means all private media are independent)
living the same hand-to-mouth existence as other private businesses. As
OSCE's Ambassador Barry has commented, "You've got to be crazy to invest
in this country where it is a given that if you obey the law you're going
to lose money."
Few businesses here, including media, could survive if they operated completely
legally--reporting to tax authorities all their income and all their employment
and all the pay of the employees they do claim. Operating partly underground
or "off the books," independent media, like other private businesses,
are often reluctant to establish normal contractual relations with employees
who, as far as tax filings are concerned, do not exist. And when a newspaper,
radio or television story makes local officials unhappy, sacrificing the
journalist who wrote the story is a quick and easy remedy when the journalist
is technically not employed in the first place.
Tax relief, besides almost certainly increasing Bosnia's overall tax revenues,
would allow media businesses (among all others) to operate legally and
with a greater chance of profitability. With nothing to hide, media outlets
would be free to establish normal contractual relationships with staff.
In this environment, trade unions could play a constructive role in pressing
for modern labor law, including normal safeguards against unfair dismissal.
With greater confidence in their job security, journalists would feel
freer to be journalists and less vulnerable to the spectrum of threats
they now endure. Even limited tax reform would improve the quality of
journalism and the democracy it is meant to support. Without it and other
structural reforms required to stimulate a market economy, the continued
survival of the relatively small number of independent, professional print
and broadcast media in Bosnia and Herzegovina will continue to depend
on international aid. Oblivious to these issues, the Federation entity
parliament on 26 September imposed an additional sales tax of 12 percent
on daily newspapers. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Dragan
Covic justified the new tax by claiming that the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund had urged it. However, no evidence has emerged to support
his claim, according to the Federation Ombudsman's media adviser, Mehmed
Halilovic, a respected former editor of the newspaper Oslobodjenje.
The impact of an unreformed, politicized tax system and politically directed
advertising is documented in Appendix II, Taxation: A Political Weapon.
V. The Net Effect on Journalism in Bosnia and Herzegovina
The boldest, most independent and professional journalism is practiced
in the two cities under the closest scrutiny of the international community--Sarajevo
and Banja Luka. Elsewhere, particularly in eastern Republika Srpska, the
Bihac region and Herzegovina, one encounters a deep sense of isolation,
vulnerability and discouragement among journalists who want nothing more
than the freedom to practice their profession.
We feel alone here," says a journalist in Herzegovina, where hard-line
nationalist parties, chiefly the Croat HDZ, prevail over all aspects of
life, including most media. "I am too weak to confront the forces of darkness
myself. All I can do is make jokes."
Journalists throughout the country--including those who may not have personally
experienced any of the constellation of intimidating pressures--clearly
understand its purpose: To stake out limits to reporting beyond which
journalists' livelihood, and in some instances their lives, stand in jeopardy.
Those who seek to intimidate journalists rarely if ever make the limits
of the permissible explicit to publishers or broadcast directors. Media
managers rarely are explicit with their staff. As in former times across
the former communist world, journalists are meant to equate self-censorship
with self-preservation. Most of them do in Bosnia today, in both entities:
In Banja Luke, more than a month before local elections in April, a journalist
at NTV Banja Luka said, "We are already feeling the pre-election pressures
in subtle ways. No one says what we cannot do. But everyone is busy working
on stories that no one, including themselves, will be interested in watching."
In an SDA-dominated town on the Federation side of the Inter-Entity Boundary
Line, the editor-in-chief of a local radio station frankly acknowledged
that he and his staff practice self-censorship as a matter of personal
necessity. "We never give names when we write about people. Otherwise
we would face libel charges or, worse, death threats," the journalist
said in an interview in March. "If I could, I'd write about, and against,
the abuse of religion for political purposes, the local [Islamic leader],
the local government and the SDA."
In Zenica, a senior journalist at RTV Zenica, a municipal station that
has clashed with the SDA mayor, said the station's news staff have no
choice but to restrict the topics they pursue: "They fear eviction from
their apartments, dismissal from their jobs, all kinds of other things."
With the exceptions of a few singularly determined journalists and the
media outlets they lead, pressures on journalists and their media achieve
their desired effect on most of Bosnia's two dozen newspapers and news
magazines and its 280 radio and television stations. Many of these media
face no risk at all of intimidation. A significant number are already
controlled and financed by nationalist political organizations. As noted
earlier, half of radio and television stations are licensed to municipal
or cantonal governments, and almost none of them have gained a reputation
for bold journalism. Arguably the many politicized media are not actually
engaged in journalism. Their staffs know their employer's political line
and accept it, either out of ideological commitment or need of a job.
Many journalists at other news outlets, however, would engage in more
active inquiry into the competence and honesty of elected officials and
the immense social problems that surround them if they felt safe and secure
in doing so. But they do not. The number of journalists and news organizations
that consistently and aggressively pursue stories in the "no-go" areas
of war-crimes, official corruption, abuse of power and government mismanagement
is small--altogether perhaps no more than a dozen low-circulation newspapers
and magazines and local or regional radio and television stations. Collectively,
they form a small target of large importance to nationalists set on clinging
Apart from the work of these determined and courageous media, the net
effect of self-censorship in Bosnia is that the great majority of the
Bosnian population--the electorate--is denied access to substantive information
by which it might judge the honesty, competence and overall quality of
governance by their elected officials and the managers of state enterprises
at all levels.
The Sarajevo-based research organization Media Plan has astutely noted
that government and international community press releases and press conferences
have come to almost wholly dominate what passes for news in Bosnia. While
both are legitimate starting points for news stories, they are also the
end point of reporting by most news media. Press conferences tend to be
one-way events, with officials speaking to journalists, and journalists
taking notes but asking few if any productive questions. Newspapers commonly
publish press releases verbatim, without follow-up questions, without
essential background information and without letting readers know how
little work they are doing.
A general lack of transparency in government and ingrained habits of working
as the conduits of messages from government to the people are certainly
part of the explanation for this passivity. Another part would appear
to be an extreme state of caution--of automatic sensitivity to the preferences
of any authority figure (including the international community.)
Reporters are not entirely responsible for the absence of inquiring, explanatory,
useful journalism. Many editors, who are often older and learned their
profession in the communist era, actively discourage inquiry, routinely
instructing their reporters not to ask questions at press conferences
or make follow-up inquiries, lest it appear that they have an independent
political agenda. If questions are to be asked at all, editors often specify
what the questions should be. The end result is something less than journalism.
With all its problems, Bosnia has been denied the foreign investment and
the sharp competition in a booming media market that has energized and
transformed journalism from Prague to Warsaw to Moscow and beyond. In
the development of media, as in so many other areas, by standing still
Bosnia is falling rapidly behind the rest of Europe.
Where the rule of law and a market economy are weak and the risk of intimidation
is high, as in Bosnia, there are no easy remedies to political intimidation.
But a number of avenues are open to dissuade public officials from the
worst forms of abuse and to reduce journalists' vulnerability to pressure.
The international community as well as advocates of independent media
in Bosnia itself need to:
1. Monitor, rigorously investigate and publicize authentic examples of
intimidation whenever possible and penalize officials who can be identified
2. Raise public awareness of the crucial importance of media to the development
of democracy and a successful market economy and educate public officials
in their rights and obligations with regard to media. Such awareness,
along with public support and solidarity within the profession, are vital.
3. Attack the main instruments of pressure: abuse of libel law, political
manipulation of advertising by state enterprises and abuse of tax enforcement
and the financial police.
4. Reduce the institutional vulnerability of journalists through judicial
reform and training, and the privatization of state enterprises. Privatization
of media outlets poses special implications for the quality of democracy.
Media privatization will not in all cases lead to greater media independence.
5. Establish mechanisms for the self-regulation by the journalism profession
(not self-censorship) that can raise professional standards, reduce vulnerability
to libel charges even under existing law and provide out-of-court safety
valves for voicing and arbitrating complaints.
6. Reduce the physical vulnerability of journalists to violent attack
through training in basic techniques of personal security and by developing
working professional relations between media and police.
These avenues are explored in more detail below:
1. Monitor, rigorously investigate and publicize authentic examples
of intimidation whenever possible and penalize officials who can be identified
A. The OSCE:
The OSCE is the principal international agency that monitors freedom of
expression. A "hotline" established by the IMC and now operated by the
OSCE is available for journalists to report incidents of intimidation.
In recent months, OSCE and OHR have been more aggressive in identifying
and verifying incidents of harassment of journalists and publicizing them
through statements and press releases. There may be further room for improvement,
OSCE's April tabulation of 56 cases contains a number that were rejected
as unverifiable or as trivial personal grievances that the complaining
journalist sought to magnify as a human rights violation. Authentic
protection-of-journalist cases could be more effectively winnowed out
of this data base and publicized in periodic reports, with their resolution.
The OSCE case list demonstrates the drawbacks of relying on a system of
self-reporting: Some journalists exaggerate incidents in an attempt to
use the international community to resolve personal grievances, thus trivializing
the protection of journalists, while others, genuinely intimidated, are
afraid to escalate their troubles by calling on an international agency
in the first place. It may be possible for OSCE to use its two dozen
field offices more systematically and proactively to identify and remedy
the more serious "silent" cases of intimidation.
Experience indicates that concerted counter-pressure by the international
community can be effective in defending the independence of local media.
The removal in May of two public officials in Livno by OHR and OSCE in
May, partly in response to the officials' implicit support of attacks
on Radio N in Livno, was a positive step. Similar coordinated responses
by the international community to verified instances of pressure may help
public officials understand that there is a price to be paid for interference
in the editorial policies and staffing of local media.
The international community should identify and address economic threats
to media more systematically than in the past.
B. The Helsinki Committee:
The Helsinki Committees based in Sarajevo and Bijeljina have made commendable
efforts to compile reports of harassment of journalists. The Committees,
however, lack the skills and resources to carry out the kind of critical
inquiry and analysis that are crucial to establishing credibility and
Given the common parentage of the international Helsinki Committee network
and the OSCE, the OSCE and other international organizations should consider
helping the Helsinki Committees to develop the staff and skills to
enable them to take on a greater role in the protection of journalists.
The same could be said of the office of media adviser to the Federation
2. Attack the main instruments of pressure: abuse of libel law, political
manipulation of advertising by state enterprises and abuse of tax enforcement
and the financial police.
A. OSCE and OHR have established an international advisory committee to
draft freedom of information law and a new libel law for Bosnia.
Having completed the drafting of a freedom of information law, OSCE should
now accelerate drafting of the libel law. Go to footnote
New legislation should not only decriminalize libel law, shifting it to
the civil code, but cap potential penalties at reasonable levels. It should
put the burden of proof on plaintiffs; make clear that public officials
have less recourse than private citizens under libel law, not more; and
require that all reasonable avenues of redress--such as a letter to the
editor or complaints to the IMC or a voluntary press council--be exhausted
before courts will accept a libel suit. In line with recommendations by
the Federation Ombudsman, the law should shift the burden of responsibility
for genuine instances of libel from individual journalists to their media
organizations. This would increase the incentive for media outlets to
verify and document allegations before publishing or broadcasting them.
Judicial reform programs should include elements of training for judges
and prosecutors in media law, emphasizing the standards of freedom of
information and libel law.
Legal reforms should include disincentives for filing abusive or frivolous
nuisance suits, including the awarding of legal costs and penalties to
targeted defendants when intent to harass can be shown.
Private, independent media urgently need tax relief and protection
from discriminatory, abusive enforcement of tax laws and other financial
The Independent Union of Professional Journalists of BiH (NUPN) has suggested
that the continuing forum of Bosnia's journalism associations develop
a common front on tax issues. We applaud this initiative and urge publishers
and the Association of Electronic Media (AEM BiH) to join it.
OHR and OSCE should consider an urgent, short-term review of taxes
on media business and in particular consider specific, focused actions
that could provide immediate tax relief to private media without complicating
or pre-empting broader tax reform.
These specific actions should be considered: (1) Suspending tax rules
that require payment of taxes on the accounts receivable as they pertain
to all private media businesses; (2) suspending the value-added tax as
it applies to media, including news distribution agencies; (3) exploring
the possibility of requiring reductions in social taxes on employees of
private media businesses.
To deter abusive enforcement practices, relevant agencies of the international
community should (1) act swiftly to penalize any identified abuse of tax
enforcement or the financial police and (2) consider establishing an independent,
prior review process before any future tax raid, financial inspection
or blockage of media accounts.
The legal inability to register a business or other organization in one
entity so that it is legally recognized in the other entity prevents the
development of efficient, country-wide media enterprises and healthy media
market. This legal gap also undermines professional associations like
the AEM BiH.
OHR and OSCE should act urgently to remove legal barriers to cross-entity
businesses and associations.
Reduce the institutional vulnerability of journalists through judicial
reform and training, and the privatization of state enterprises. Privatization
of media outlets poses special implications for the quality of democracy.
Media privatization will not in all cases lead to greater media independence.
Advertising by major state enterprises is a favorite instrument in authoritarian
post-communist states for funneling money to politically friendly or controlled
media and denying resources to independent commercial media. Where privatization
has not yet occurred, and state enterprises dominate the advertising market,
political manipulation of advertising funds can kill independent media.
Pending the privatization of major state enterprises in Bosnia such as
PTTs, electric utilities, petrochemical suppliers and tobacco companies,
the international community should consider requiring such agencies to
publish regularly the amounts they spend on advertising and where they
OHR and OSCE should consider establishing standards for the fair, balanced
and non-discriminatory distribution of advertising by state enterprises.
Consider also appointing an arbiter such as the Federation Ombudsman or
the IMC to assess fairness in distribution of state advertising funds
and advise OSCE/OHR as to any finding of discriminatory practices.
Privatizing major state enterprises may eventually contribute to a genuine
advertising market, but probably not before foreign investment begins
to bring new business management skills to Bosnia. In the absence of foreign
participation in the Bosnian privatization process, the international
community should be wary of privatizing media. Nationalist parties and
their business agents are in a position to take direct financial control
over media they have previously been able to influence only by indirect
Roughly half the country's 280 broadcasters are publicly owned municipal
and cantonal stations. Many are interested in privatization, some in hopes
of escaping local government control, others almost certainly to escape
new IMC regulations requiring financial transparency and a representative
community editorial advisory board for public stations.
The international community should carefully assess the political implications
of media privatization and encourage only those privatizations that
are likely to enhance media independence and freedom of expression.
Judicial reform should be coupled with efforts to encourage development
of a small, effective media-law bar to defend the journalistic and business
interests of media.
International media assistance and judicial reform programs in Bosnia
should jointly design a media-law training and development program for
selected lawyers, with modest but sufficient funding to ensure that the
legal interests of independent media and their freedom from political
restraint are protected.
3. Establish mechanisms of self-regulation by the journalism profession
(not self-censorship) that can raise professional standards, reduce vulnerability
to libel charges even under existing law and provide out-of-court safety
valves for voicing and arbitrating complaints.
A. Media that engage in investigative reporting need to be encouraged
to carry out legal reviews of potentially libelous reports before publishing
or airing them.
OSCE, IREX and other media support organizations should jointly consult
on formulating training program for journalists in standards of evidence
in investigative reporting that minimize libel risk. Key media should
receive grants to cover the cost of such legal services.
Media support organizations in BiH should cooperate to study the feasibility
of a joint media defense fund to support the legal defense of media in
cases that clearly involve political pressure or abuse of the rule of
It should be recognized that not all expressions of anger at media from
public officials and private citizens are unjustified. The public needs
alternatives to the courts. Bosnia's journalism associations put aside
political differences a year ago to adopt a European-standard press code,
mediated by the IMC. The IMC, OSCE and IREX have spent the subsequent
year talking with the associations about a voluntary means to enforce
Concerns that a press council might be subject to partisan political control
and attacks on independent media should be ameliorated by the fact that
the council will depend on international funding. This funding can be
withdrawn if the council fails in its professional responsibilities.
There is now general agreement among the journalism associations and within
the international community on the structure and function of a press council.
It now needs promptly to be activated.
The Association of Electronic Media in BiH--the 18-month-old broadcasters'
association--has emerged as a serious, professional, cross-entity organization
with balanced representation in its leadership among Bosniaks, Serbs and
Croats. It now represents some 140 stations, or half the country's total.
But it remains an embryonic organization, not yet registered as a legal
organization and dependent on IREX for support of its activities.
The broadcasters' association needs to be put on a legal footing and funded.
It should then develop basic legal services and advice for its members,
with an emphasis on normalizing labor relations, protection of journalists
and pursuit of key regulatory issues with the IMC such as license fees.
IREX expects to support these steps with training, advice and operational
Of the 56 allegations of harassment, threats, violence and libel suits
recorded by the OSCE as of April, half a dozen involved journalists accusing
other journalists of wrongdoing. This conduct only undermines the professional
solidarity that media urgently need to confront political pressures. Journalists
suing journalists or public officials for libel only serves to legitimize
the abuse of libel law by others.
International agencies and media assistance groups should firmly discourage
journalists from using libel law as a weapon. The appropriate instrument
in a dispute between journalists or news organizations--if professional
associations are unable to mediate--is a well-argued, factual commentary.
Reduce the physical vulnerability of journalists to violent attack
through training in basic techniques of personal security and by developing
working professional relations between media and police.
A. Basic security training should be provided for the staff of media outlets
facing a significant potential risk or a demonstrated risk of physical
attack because of their work. Media that pursue investigations of corruption,
war-crimes and the political manipulation of religion for nationalist
purposes should be trained in basic techniques of recognizing surveillance,
avoidance of street attack and abduction and detection of explosives.
REX has begun basic security training for selected media in the Federation
and Republika Srpska. We welcome advice from the international community
in expanding it.
B. OSCE committed itself in December 1998 to working with the International
Police Task Force (IPTF) Go to footnote 7
to develop guidelines for police-media relations. This May, the two agencies
released the guidelines aimed at both police and media, but without formal
or public consultation with media organizations.
OSCE and the IPTF should build on these guidelines by working with international
and local media organizations to encourage an active, professional dialogue
between police and media that includes access to information issues and
greater police transparency.
Raise public awareness of the crucial importance of media to the development
of democracy and a successful market economy.
Public officials and the public at large tend to view threats and
attacks on media as merely part of a rough political game, with no particular
consequences for the development of democracy. Such attitudes are regrettably
reinforced by partisan media whose work more resembles political propaganda
than journalism aimed at producing an informed electorate. Thus it is
not widely understood that the intimidation of journalists and their news
organizations--at least, those practicing authentic journalism--weakens
the processes of democracy and erodes the freedom of every citizen.
IREX would welcome the opportunity to work with the international community
and the journalism profession in BiH to develop a public education program
to help the public understand the role of journalism in a democracy and
the threats it faces in this country. Any such public education program
should work with and through professional journalism organizations here
and abroad to the fullest extent possible. Television would be the
most effective medium.
We suggest a vigorous, parallel campaign by OSCE, OHR, IMC and other relevant
agencies aimed at advising public officials at all levels of their obligations
(and rights) in regard to media. They need to understand appropriate ways
of registering complaints about unfair or inaccurate coverage, and to
understand the consequences of inappropriate actions.
IMC and a future press council could help reinforce the message in a series
of regional meetings with public officials and local media.
APPENDIX I: Political Pressures at Work
The car-bombing of Zeljko Kopanja was the most serious attack
on a Bosnian journalist in the past 18 months, but it was by no means
the only one. Following are examples of other serious attacks and pressures
on journalists throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina:
Radio N, the only multi-ethnic station in Western Herzegovina, a region
covering more than a fifth of Bosnian territory, works under constant
pressure from the hard-line nationalist HDZ party that controls the region
and runs it as a de facto part of Croatia. The climate of fear
in the region is such that a third of the people who telephone the station
during call-in shows ask that their comments and questions be written
down and read on the air so their voices cannot be identified.
Set up in August 1998 with help from the Soros Foundation and USAID, Radio
N's key staff are Frano Mioc, a Croat, Zeljka Mihaljevic, of Serb and
Croat lineage, and Jasmin Velic, a Bosniak.
In March 1999, Mihaljevic's husband was brutally beaten by unknown assailants
in an attack the OSCE has said was politically motivated. This April,
abusive leaflets circulated through Livno, calling Mioc and Mihaljevic
"miserable mercenaries" acting only out of financial interest, "spitting
and vomiting on everything that represents Croat legal authority in Livno."
OSCE said in a statement on 18 April that the leaflet, which appeared
aimed at provoking further attacks on Radio N and its staff, "represents
a continuation of the threats directed to obstruct the establishment of
free and independent media" in the region. It added that Radio N, "like
other media in politically hard-line areas, must often stand alone against
serious and persistent forms of intimidation and threat."
On 23 May, High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch and Ambassador Robert
Barry, chief of the OSCE Mission, jointly acted to remove from office
the governor and the prime minister of Canton 10, which encompasses Livno
and much of Western Herzegovina. In a statement, they said the two officials
"played a central role in creating a climate of hostility and intolerance"
in the region and in particular had failed to condemn the leaflet attacking
Two journalists from the Croatian newspaper Novi List in Rijeka,
Robert Frank and Ronald Brmalj, were abducted in May, 1999 from the Hotel
Ero in West Mostar, the half of the city controlled by the Croat nationalist
party HDZ. Go to footnote 8
Unknown assailants took the two journalists to a nearby wooded area and
beat them, smashing Frank's hand with a heavy rock. He later told reporters
that his assailants made clear to him that his writing showed he had "listened
to the wrong people," among them Croat opponents of the HDZ.
In Croatia itself, the HDZ--the late president Franjo Tudjman's party--went
down to resounding defeat earlier this year, but in its traditionally
nationalist bastion of Bosnian Herzegovina it remains a formidable power
with a tight grip on the local economy.
In Zvornik, a city on the Drina River across from Serbia, which is dominated
by radical Serb nationalists, an organized mob ransacked the studios of
Radio Osvit in March 1999, destroying much of the equipment of a station
dedicated, like Radio N, to independent journalism and helping to heal
the wounds of Bosnia's war. In the following weeks local advertising on
the station dropped sharply, and a number of the traumatized staff quit
The attack occurred during demonstrations protesting the High Representative's
removal from office of the radical nationalist president of Republika
Srpska, Nikola Poplasen, for systematically obstructing implementation
of the Dayton peace accords. The mob was also protesting a separate international
decision to turn the disputed district and city of Brcko, in a narrow
strategic corridor between two halves of Republika Srpska, into an autonomous
"special district" rather than awarding it to the Serb entity.
A year later, Radio Osvit has rebuilt with help from international donors
and hired young new staff, but advertisers continue to steer away from
the station even though audience research data ranks it as the favorite
radio of nearly half the population of the Zvornik area.
Under pressure from the international community, the local prosecutor
later indicted 14 people for taking part in the attack, though charges
were later dropped against two of them. But the wheels of justice turn
slowly in Zvornik, a city renowned for its politically biased courts,
and the trial has been postponed at least five times since last November.
A little more than two weeks after the violence in Zvornik, violent street
protests broke out across Republika Srpska as NATO began its attack last
March against Yugoslavia in response to Belgrade's campaign of ethnic
cleansing in Kosovo. In the entity's capital of Banja Luka, mobs damaged
U.S. and British offices and singled out a camera crew from ATV, one of
the most professional and independent stations in the northern
half of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Rioters smashed a television camera and
seriously injured an ATV cameraman.
Undeterred by this attack, ATV was the only television station in Republika
Srpska with the courage to defy Belgrade's propaganda and travel to Macedonia
to film the hundreds of thousands of Albanian refugees streaming out of
Kosovo in the spring of 1999.
In Milici, a Republika Srpska town not far from Srebrenica, Rajko Dukic,
the director of a local aluminum-ore processing plant, Boksit d.d.l. Milici,
has posted personally signed public notices banning the director, two
journalists and several others associated with Radio Magic from entering
These include not only the aluminum plant itself, but a local sports complex,
cultural center, motel, movie theater, restaurants, bowling alley and
buses owned by the company. Eleven names appear on the posted ban, a copy
of which was obtained by IREX, including a local resident who allowed
Radio Magic to set up its studio in his house and several who have had
open contacts with the station.
Dukic is said to enforce his ban with an armed unit of "industrial police."
"We're the only institution in Milici which is not controlled by Rajko
Dukic," says Radio Magic director Zoran Saranac. His two banned staff
members, Vlado Peric and Jugoslav Kaldesic, were beaten last year in separate
incidents in local coffee houses.
Once an associate and reputed financier of the former Bosnian Serb president,
the now indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, Dukic is now close to
the government of Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, whose government in Republika
Srpska is part owner of the aluminum plant.
Until recently, filing multiple libel suits against troublesome journalists
was a favored tactic of public officials and wealthy, politically connected
businessmen who were the prime targets of corruption investigations by
a small number of determined journalists.
By late last year, Senad Avdic, chief editor of the weekly Slobodna
Bosna, faced 12 criminal libel suits and a suspended jail sentence
while the chief editor of the rival magazine Dani, Senad Pecanin,
was fighting five libel suits of his own. Both journalists are admired
for their aggressiveness and their care in gathering evidence for their
stories--a daunting challenge in a culture of secrecy, where ministry
officials routinely refuse to disclose such basic facts as their operating
The abusive use of libel laws has dropped sharply since the High Representative
suspended criminal penalties in July 1999.
APPENDIX II: Taxation Ð A Political Weapon
The power of taxation, and related government powers of financial
inspection or audit, are potent instruments of intimidation in the hands
of Bosnia's dominant political parties. Following are examples of how
these weapons work:
One of the country's most respected media managers summarizes the business
situation of private, independent news organizations by saying, "The entire
legal and economic environment in which we work is designed to permit
the authorities to put pressures on us whenever they wish."
The interplay between an obsolete tax system, partisan politics and media
is illustrated in the following two cases. The identity of the media outlets
involved has been withheld at the request of their directors:
"Media A" faces a tax bill of more than KM 200,000 ($100,000) to cover
the company's estimated income for all of the year 2000. Federation tax
authorities have based this sum on the company's taxable income in 1999--half
of which still consisted of accounts receivable, or money owed to the
company, at the end of last year.
"It is absurd," says the director of Media A. "No normal business can
operate this way." His company breaks even, and he is able to pay his
staff their modest monthly salaries of a few hundred KM regularly (a comparative
rarity among Bosnian media) with help from international donors.
An equally bizarre tax problem arose when Media A donated about KM 13,000
last year to children's sports and educational organizations. Federation
tax authorities sent him a tax bill equal to 33 percent of the donation.
In most Western countries, donations to children's organizations and other
charities are tax-deductible. In Bosnia, it seems, they are taxable--unless
the donation is directed to one of the major professional sports clubs
such as the Fudbalski Klub "Sarajevo," the Sarajevo Football Club. Then
it is tax-free.
More than just a game, football is also high politics in Bosnia, and politics
and money are never far apart. Some journalists believe that the major
sports clubs provide cover for money-laundering between state enterprises
and political parties, but they lack hard evidence to prove it.
"Media B" has a more complicated problem that also touches on the Sarajevo
Football Club. It owes Federation tax authorities more than KM 18,000
($9,000) in taxes for advertising it has carried. According to the director
of Media B, it has invoiced the company that contracted for the advertising,
but that company has not paid its bill and shows no sign that it will
"My lawyer tells me I have no choice but to pay the tax. It's the law,"
the director says. In effect his business and all others like it are doubly
penalized by a customer's failure to pay its bills: They are denied income
owed to them, yet they have to pay taxes on money they may never see.
In Bosnia's depressed economy, it is common for businesses to contract
with newspapers and broadcasters for advertising and then to fail to pay
for it. Accounts receivable at media outlets often equal three months
or more of total expected revenue. When advertisers do finally pay up,
they sometimes do so in the form of bartered goods. (One major television
station late last year accepted 5,000 pairs of panty hose from one advertiser
and a truck-load of salt from another in lieu of payment, although the
station had no means of turning either commodity into cash.)
It might seem as if Media B's natural recourse would be to sue the company
that owes it the money for which it is being taxed. But that, says the
director, would be a bad idea: "The director [of that company] is a member
of the presidency of the Sarajevo Football Club."
According to a variety of respected journalists, Federation Prime Minister
Edhem Bicakcic controls appointments to the Sarajevo club. Its president
is Meho Obradovic, director of the monopoly state electric utility, Elektroprivreda
BiH, and was a senior deputy to Bicakcic when he ran the electric company
before becoming Prime Minister.
Other members of the football club's leadership include Sefik Lojo, director
of the state-owned Tobacco Factory Sarajevo, Kemal Hujic, director of
the state Textile Company Alhos and Sabahudin Resic, owner of a private
advertising firm Euromedia that dominates the booming new billboard business
in the Federation entity of BiH.
The football club's 18-member governing board consists of an equally stellar
array of political figures and government officials, including Zufer Dervisevic,
head of the Federation Financial Police, which is separate from but closely
related to the tax inspectorate.
"Through Bicakcic, all these people are very close to the tax authorities,"
the director of Media B says. "It's bad enough when the club asks businesses
for donations. If you fail to pay, you can expect a visit from the tax
police. If I sue one of these people I'll have even bigger problems."
There is a near-certain solution to Media B's tax problem that would probably
bring other benefits as well, such as a surge in advertising from state
enterprises. "I know that these problems can all be handled," Media B's
director says. "It's only a question of whether I choose to move closer
to the party [the SDA.] I will not do it. I'll take a bank loan to pay
this bill, or sell my car. But I will not move closer to the party."
"All of these rules," the director says, "are constructed and enforced
so that they can reach out and put pressure on you when and where they
The peculiarities of a tax system designed for a centralized, command
economy, and in part to discourage private enterprise, readily lend themselves
to exploitation by tax and financial authorities controlled by political
parties. Allegations of abusive enforcement of tax laws and other financial
rules are concentrated in areas of the Federation controlled by the SDA
The most spectacular recent example of political tax enforcement was a
pre-dawn, Russian-style raid on 6 June by a squad of tax police on the
Federation's largest-circulating daily, Dnevni Avaz in Sarajevo.
Ten days later, tax authorities froze the newspaper's bank accounts amid
sharp protests from the OSCE, OHR and several other Sarajevo media that
rallied to its side in a gesture of professional solidarity.
In a statement on 23 June, Ambassador Robert Barry, chief of the OSCE,
castigated what he called "midnight raids on printing houses under the
excuse of tax inspection" and said the raid on Dnevni Avaz "can
only be considered as pressure and abuse of the rule of law by the Sarajevo
The newspaper's tax troubles followed its swift and remarkable transformation
from a heavily subsidized and totally partisan voice of the nationalist
SDA party to a position of studied journalistic neutrality, edging toward
the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP), the SDA's archenemy and
the strongest of Bosnia's liberal, anti-nationalist political parties.
The change in Dnevni Avaz began shortly before local elections
throughout BiH in April in which the SDA fared poorly and the SDP won
in key areas, including Sarajevo municipalities. According to the OSCE,
a number of SDA officials including Prime Minister Bicakcic publicly attributed
the party's losses to "losing control of Dnevni Avaz." Go
to footnote 9
Other media have experienced similar problems but have suffered in silence
for fear of making matters worse.
A regional newspaper in the Federation/BiH told IREX interviewers that
in the fall of 1999 tax inspectors spent days combing the paper's financial
records (maintained for the newspaper by an outside accounting firm) from
the previous three years. Inspectors eventually found several ads on which
taxes had not been paid. Tax officials blocked the newspaper's bank account
for six months and conducted repeated audits of the tax filings of several
of the newspaper's advertisers, some of which then stopped buying ads
for fear of further tax trouble, according to the paper's managers.
"If they like you as a firm, they'll check you through the last two or
three months and then let go," the newspaper's editor-in-chief said. "If
they don't like you, they'll go through years and years of accounting--sometimes
up to ten years. And then they always find something. This is how things
are done here."
Politically controlled advertising is a potent and largely unnoticed economic
weapon in the hands of the dominant parties. The general failure to carry
out large-scale privatization in either entity has enabled the parties
to retain control of state enterprises, preserving for themselves a major
source of illegal funds and patronage.
For media, this has meant continued political control over advertising
budgets of state monopoly enterprises such as PTTs, the electric utility
Elektroprivreda, the state tobacco enterprise in the Federation entity
of BiH and others. As detailed below, state enterprises direct advertising
and other subsidies to controlled or preferred media and away from those
deemed unfriendly to the party in power or to the enterprise itself.
Municipal and cantonal radio and TV stations licensed to city and regional
governments--half of Bosnia's 280 broadcasters--often enjoy favored relations
with the state electric utility and the PTT (Bosnia has three monopoly
state PTTs, each controlled by Serb, Bosniak or Croat nationalist party
The utilities provide free or discounted services in exchange for advertising
to these special customers. Thus the PTTs and utilities in divided Mostar
advertise on the SDA-controlled RTV Mostar on the Bosniak east side of
the city, and Radio Herceg-Bosna and HTV Mostar on the Croat west side,
controlled by the HDZ party.
But when upstart Radio 88, the only multi-ethnic broadcaster in Mostar,
which is committed to a reunified city, tries to sell advertising time
to the these state firms, "They say they don't have any money for Radio
88," says a station representative.
Radio 88 has other problems with the electric company. While it allows
some businesses to go months without paying their bills, it has on several
occasions in recent months turned off Radio 88's electricity within 24
hours of sending the station its bill. The utility times the cutoffs to
coincide with the station's main afternoon newscast.
Beginning in late 1998 and early 1999, the PTT BiH in Sarajevo, the electric
utility, the state tobacco enterprise and a state-owned chain of pharmacies
pulled all their advertising from TV Hayat in Sarajevo--arguably one of
the most professional and independent of Bosnia's commercial stations--apparently
in response to critical reporting by TV Hayat . All four enterprises diverted
a combined total of more than $20,000 a month in advertising from TV Hayat
to RTVBiH, the main public broadcaster, triggering a financial crisis
at TV Hayat and the loss of some of its most skilled staff.
Not long after the station aired critical reports about the PTT's poor
Internet service, TV Hayat's own Internet account was interrupted and
more than 2,000 e-mail messages were lost.
In a number of areas in both entities, usually in smaller cities dominated
by nationalists, there is also evidence of political control over local
private advertising. Few if any small businesses want to risk offending
the local authorities, so businessmen tend to advertise only where it
is politically correct to do so.
Throughout eastern areas of Republika Srpska, which are dominated by hard-line
Serb forces, a handful of independent newspapers and radio stations saw
their modest revenue fall off sharply during and after NATO attacks on
Yugoslavia last year. Some media that refused to conform with Belgrade's
propaganda a year ago are still finding it hard to attract advertising.
In the Federation, Prezent, a feisty local newspaper in Cazin,
near Bihac, which is described by the Helsinki Committee as the only independent
weekly in Una-Sana canton, was forced to cease publication for several
months last year following an advertising boycott inspired, if not actually
led, by local SDA forces. "Under the influence of the authorities [SDA],
all firms from this area stopped advertising in Prezent and even
refused to pay for services already done," the Helsinki Committee reported
According to an OSCE field report from 4 March 1999, "Harassment seems
to emanate from SDA supporters although no direct tie can be traced to
"As an independent weekly in a politically contentious area, Prezent
needs to be protected from discriminatory acts and nurtured according
to journalistic standards," the OSCE field report said. "Otherwise, this
needed voice will disappear due to the dire financial situation which
it works under."
Prezent did disappear, but it revived early this year with help
from the international community.
(1) All references to Bosnia are a journalistic shorthand
to the correct name of the state, Bosnia and Herzegovina, commonly abbreviated
as BiH. Under the Dayton Accords of November, 1995, known formally as
the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP), BiH effectively became
a confederation of two "entities," as they are formally known: The Federation,
consisting of territories held jointly at the cessation of hostilities
by Bosniak (Muslim) and Croat forces, and the Republika Srpska, held by
Bosnian Serb forces. Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats are recognized equally
by the BiH constitution as constituent peoples of the entire territory
of BiH. Return to text
(2) The election defeat of Slobodan Milosevic and
the installation of Vojislav Kostunica as President of Yugoslavia on 5
October 2000 is widely expected to bring normalization of relations between
BiH and Yugoslavia and the end of cross-border pressures on Bosnian journalists,
as has happened in relations between Croatia and BiH following the death
of President Franjo Tudjman and the election defeat of his party, the
HDZ. Return to text
(3) These pressures are, of course, not unique to
Bosnia. They are a worldwide problem mainly in authoritarian states and
in varying degree in the emerging democracies, not least of them Russia.
The global scope of murder, beatings, imprisonment and political intimidation
of journalists is catalogued annually by the Committee to Protect Journalists
(CPJ) and other organizations.
Over the past 10 years the CPJ has counted 458 journalists killed in the
line of duty worldwide, 134 of them in Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Of these journalists, the CPJ counts 26 dead in Croatia and 21 in Bosnia
In 1999 the CPJ counted 34 journalists killed around the world as a result
of their work; the circumstances in 19 other deaths were still under investigation
at the end of the year. A total of 87 journalists were known to be in
prison at the end of last year. Return to text
(4) The Dayton Accords established the position of
High Representative, who is appointed by the Peace Implementation Council
of some 60 donor nations contributing to Bosnia's recovery. The High Representative
has the power to impose or suspend laws and to remove officials who are
deemed to be obstructing the aims of the Dayton Accords. The High Representative,
currently Wolfgang Petritsch, a former Austrian ambassador to Belgrade,
exercises the latter power in coordination with the OSCE. The Federation
entity is divided into 10 cantons, or districts. Return to
(5) This history is commonplace to most American and
European journalists, but is much less widely known to and understood
by Bosnian media, the primary audience of this report. Return
(6) The OSCE draft law, prepared by a committee of domestic
and international experts, was adopted by the state-level BiH parliament
in October, 2000. Federation and Republika Srpska entity parliaments have
yet to act on the legislation. It should be noted that Kurt Wimmer and
his colleagues at the U.S. law firm of Covington & Burling contributed
pro bono to this draft, and to drafting new libel law, with travel
and accommodation costs covered by IREX Pro Media. Return
(7) The International Police Task Force is a United
Nations-sponsored effort to professionalize police forces in Bosnia. Return
(8) Closely allied with but organizationally distinct
from Croatia's HDZ, the Bosnian HDZ party still receives support from
across the BiH-Croatian border, but its ally's election defeat earlier
this year has deprived it of state resources that reportedly amounted
to nearly $1 million a day for the Bosnian HDZ and its extra-legal political,
military and intelligence activities. Return to text
(9) As of late October, in the runup to parliamentary
elections on 11 November, Dnevni Avaz appeared to have allied itself
with the SDP, a party the international community widely believes promises
democratic change in Bosnia. Some Western officials, however, are concerned
that a victorious SDP will also try to assert political influence, if
not control, over key media outlets. Return to text