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News 28 Aug 17

Bosnia Ombudsman Report Highlights Worrying Media Trends

New ‘special report’ singles out attacks on employment rights, physical assaults and threats and the number of libel cases as special causes for concern in Bosnia's media.

Igor Spaic
Bosnian ombudsman presenting the report. Photo: Igor Spaic

Bosnia’s Ombudsman’s Office on Monday presented its “Special Report on the Situation and Threats Against the Journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

Analyzing the media situation in the country between 2012 and 2017, it was put together to provide a better picture of the situation facing journalists in the country today.

Ombudsman's Office mentioned Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in BiH (BIRN BiH), alongside with Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN), Buka Magazine and Media Center Sarajevo, as a positive example of good practices and of media integrity, quoting South-East Europe Media Observatory: “For a number of years, these organisations protect and promote values of public service in journalism.

While the situation of the media in Bosnia appears better in some aspects than in it does most other former Yugoslav states, it is still seen as worsening.

“Statistics gathered by the institution of the Ombudsman show that Bosnia’s media situation is on a far lower level today than in it was in previous years,” Human Rights Ombudsman Jasminka Dzumhur told a press conference.

Dzumhur said Bosnia now ranked in 65th place in the latest World Press Freedom Index, which covers the media situation in 180 countries worldwide.

“What is worrying is the continuous fall since 2006, when Bosnia was ranked 19th,” she said.

The Ombudsman named several points of concern, starting with a trend towards undermining journalists’ employment rights.

Many journalists in Bosnia work without contracts, while many others volunteer or have only temporary service contracts.

Frequently, even the rights of journalists who do have contracts are breached, such as the right to defined working hours.

“All of this has an effect on the quality of reporting,” Dzumhur maintained, adding that without good-quality reporting, disinformation tends to worsen.

The Ombudsman’s Office said it had requested data from all prosecutors’ offices in the country on cases of attacks on journalists.

However, some offices said they did not keep records on the professions of victims while others did provide data, which Dzumhur presented.

In Sarajevo Canton, four such attacks were registered between 2012 and 2017, one of which is still being investigated although it was reported in 2014.

In Herzegovina-Neretva Canton, several cases were registered – one of which ended with a fine, one with an order to not begin an investigation, one with an order to stop the investigation, while one probe is ongoing.

Banja Luka prosecutors registered nine cases, all related to threats against journalists. An indictment was raised in four of them while in another four the investigation was stopped or did not take place. One case is ongoing.

However, Bosnia’s largest journalist association, BH Novinari, gave the Ombudsman’s Office data that noted 266 cases of attacks on journalists in the given years.  “It is obvious that not all cases were reported,” Dzumhur said.

According to the association’s help line, an average of 100 libel lawsuits also submitted against journalists each year.

“It sends an impression that this is an attempt to disable and discourage journalists from publishing articles with content that certain persons do not agree with,” Dzumhur said.

 Another worrying fact is that Bosnia’s criminal law does not include a special provision for attacks on journalists.

“Journalists are not to be considered as officials … but still, their profession deserves to be protected within criminal law in order to clearly send a message to society that such acts [attacks on them] are not permitted,” Dzumhur said.

NOTE: The article was updated on August 30 to include the information that BIRN in Bosnia was mentioned as a positive example of good practices in the Ombudsman's report.

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