Attacks on the Press 2004: Bosnia-Herzegovina

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Journalists in both of the autonomous regions that comprise Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and the Croat-Muslim Federation, continue to work in a complex environment marred by widespread corruption and organized crime, weak government institutions, economic underdevelopment, and poor access to government information. Journalists commonly practice self-censorship to avoid pressure or harassment from nationalist politicians, government officials, and businessmen who use advertising revenue, threats, and occasionally violent attacks to ensure positive coverage.

In Republika Srpska, newspapers such as the independent Banja Luka daily Nezavisne Novine (Independent Newspaper) faced retaliation for reporting on politically sensitive issues, such as police abuses. In June, sources in the Republika Srpska Interior Ministry told the daily that police were conducting surveillance on the newspaper's deputy editor and two journalists to determine their sources for stories on police mismanagement.

In June, the internationally run Office of the High Representative (OHR), which oversees the implementation of the 1995 Dayton peace accords, fired 59 senior Bosnian-Serb officials for failing to cooperate with The Hague–based U.N. war crimes tribunal. Some of the officers were accused of assisting or intentionally failing to capture indicted war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Some of the sacked Bosnian Serbs lashed out at the media, complaining that reports about the lack of progress in arresting indicted war criminals triggered their dismissals. When journalist Bozana Zivanovic of the independent station ATV asked Bosnian-Serb ultranationalist Milan Ninkovic to comment on the OHR's decision, he blamed ATV for his dismissal and threatened to hit her, Bosnian state television BHTV1 reported.

During the summer, Nezavisne Novine and Republika Srpska broadcaster RTVRS carried stories on crime and corruption in the Bosnian-Serb police leadership. At an August 20 press conference, Bosnian-Serb Police Chief Radomir Njegus denounced journalists from both media outlets as enemies of the state who should be imprisoned or institutionalized in a mental hospital.

A week later, dozens of journalists protested Njegus' statement outside the Republika Srpska Interior Ministry and also criticized his failure to solve the October 1999 assassination attempt against Nezavisne Novine Editor Zeljko Kopanja. Kopanja lost both

legs when a bomb destroyed his car soon after he published several articles about Serbian war crimes.

The March train bombings in Madrid—where one of the initial suspects in the attack was a Bosnian man—as well as the worldwide hunt for al-Qaeda operatives, renewed media attention on the activities of Islamic militants in Bosnia. In the Federation, conservative Islamic clerics and the Muslim nationalist SDA party exerted pressure on media that criticized their activities and reported on their links to Islamic militants.

In October, Islamic leaders called for an advertising boycott on the independent Sarajevo weekly Dani (Days) for its hard-hitting articles on the country's top Islamic religious leader. Wanted posters with a photo of Dani journalist Senad Pecanin were posted around Sarajevo criticizing him for not supporting Islamic leaders. That same month, SDA officials and Islamic leaders criticized several public TV stations for not broadcasting enough religious programming during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Some journalists were attacked for their reporting on ethnic minorities. In the Western town of Bosansko Grahovo, an assailant beat Deutsche Welle reporter Todor Micic with an iron bar in October, the U.S. government–funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. Local Croatian nationalists were unhappy with Micic's stories about ethnic Serbs' struggle to return to the towns they had fled or been expelled from at the end of the civil war.

Government and nongovernmental organizations have tried to reduce nationalistic rhetoric in the media. The government's Communications Regulatory Agency discouraged the use of hate speech and nationalist symbols in the media by enforcing broadcast licensing regulations and imposing severe sanctions on radio and TV stations. The nongovernmental Press Council of Bosnia Herzegovina, composed of six journalists, six public representatives (mostly professors), and one international member, publicly censured journalists for accusing people of war crimes without sufficient evidence.

The three ruling nationalist parties that led the country into civil war in the 1990s—the SDA, the Serbian Democratic Party, and the Croatian Democratic Community— fared well in October municipal elections, reducing prospects of any meaningful media reforms in the coming year because of their ongoing intolerance for independent reporting.




March 14, 2005 11:42 AM ET |

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