| CPJ report on Bosnian media | CPJ Website |

September 5, 1996

VIA FAX: 41-31-322-53-20
His Excellency Flavio Cotti
Chairman in Office of OSCE
Federal Department for Foreign Affairs
Bern, Switzerland

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization based in the United States, is dedicated to defending journalists and press freedom around the world.

Since the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords on Dec. 14, 1995, the Committee has been particularly concerned about the dire state of press freedom in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We are writing to express our great concern regarding both the constraints on press freedom and the free movement of journalists that we have observed in the period leading up to the Sept. 14 elections, and the future of independent local journalists and news media following the scheduled departure of international troops in December.

By definition, no election can be considered truly free and fair unless the news media is able and willing to report fairly and openly to the entire electorate on the campaigns of all major contending parties, and all reporters, local and foreign, are free to cover the news without restrictions on their movements or justified fears of reprisals.

With few exceptions, throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, these standards have not been met in the weeks leading up to the Sept. 14 elections.

Despite guarantees of press freedom in the human rights annexes of the Dayton Accords, as well as separate agreements on accreditation procedures and the rights and duties of journalists, print and broadcast media are heavily restricted, particularly in Republika Srpska (Serb-controlled territory) and in Herzeg-Bosna (Croat-controlled territory) in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Muslim-Croat Federation, as distinct from the Sarajevo-based government of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina).

As CPJ and other international groups have confirmed, despite IFOR (Peace Implementation Force) press passes theoretically allowing freedom of movement, the few local reporters brave enough to drive from one ethnic enclave to another are intercepted on the roads and sometimes beaten, their ethnic identity easily determined from the residence codes on their license plates. Correspondents’ submissions are rejected for “harming the national interest.” Journalists who cover

the opposition are subjected to the same violence directed against rival political parties by those in power. Independent radio stations are drowned out by more powerful state-run programs and television screens go blank during critical debates. Air time reserved for opposition parties is either withheld in practice or used by the ruling parties to denounce their competitors.

CPJ has received many other credible reports from foreign and domestic journalists about serious restrictions on their ability to work and travel, although they are reluctant to put such complaints on the record for fear of compromising their access to sources or opening themselves up to further recriminatory measures.

The international community, charged with promoting and monitoring press freedom, has been slow to address these critical problems. Local and foreign journalists covering the election say the NATO alliance and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), charged with implementing the Dayton Accords, have been seemingly unwilling or unable to enforce compliance from the signatories to the Dayton agreement. Local governments have instead been blatantly obstructionist, preventing opposition parties from access to the media and harassing independent or opposition publications and broadcasts. Serb authorities expel reporters covering controversial stories; the Bosnian government has withheld permission for international satellite television; and Croat authorities threaten outsiders attempting to scrutinize corrupt local government.

As an organization devoted exclusively to the defense of journalists and press freedom around the world, CPJ does not monitor the content or quality of local news coverage of election campaigns. In Bosnia, this important task has been undertaken by such respected organizations as the London-based International Crisis Group and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Media Plan, the Bosnian research institute, and the Swiss organization Medienhilfe Ex-Jugoslawien. Their findings about the discriminatory and obstructionist tactics of the ruling parties vis-a-vis media content dovetail with CPJ's findings about the mistreatment of journalists and the constraints upon the independent media.

The attached briefing paper contains 1) summaries of the obligations assumed by all parties in the region on media freedom; 2) examples of harassment and intimidation of the print and broadcast media; and 3) comments by Western correspondents and monitors as well as local journalists.

Monitors on the scene, as well as foreign and local reporters attempting to cover the news, quickly discovered months ago that there is no press freedom in Bosnia except for what is artificially created from the outside, and to some extent from the inside by the scarce number of independent journalists-- all at considerable difficulty, risk, and expense. All the major television, radio, and large-distribution newspapers are state-controlled, essentially the mouthpieces of the ruling parties of the SDS (Serbian Democratic Party of Republika Srpska), the SDA (Party for Democratic Action of Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic), and the HDZ, (the Croatian Democratic Union of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. Efforts to inject alternatives into this extremely rigid situation have foundered.

The OSCE's Media Experts Commission and subcommissions in regional centers, charged with ensuring freedom of information and movement and the unhindered work of the media, as well as

free and equal access to the media, have not been functioning effectively. They must greatly improve their record of staying informed and rapidity of response. The Commission may require a different composition, since local journalists say they have been discouraged by the presence of Serb and Bosnian police chiefs in the Commission. While Interior Ministers are supposed to use their clout to foster freedom of movement, they are helping to institutionalize the notion that permission must be granted for travel across ethnic borders.

As the international community assesses its response to the elections, we urge you to give serious consideration to the severe problems of journalists and press freedom in Bosnia. We urge that mechanisms be put in place to ensure that after the elections and after the withdrawal of IFOR troops, freedom to travel regardless of ethnic background will be enforced; the bias of state-controlled media will be monitored and exposed; forceful intervention will be made with regional authorities on behalf of struggling independent and opposition media; and rapid financial and technical assistance will be provided to private print and broadcast organizations. After the elections, the international community must continue to fund IN-TV and work to guarantee its autonomy and professionalism, while encouraging the emergence of other independent broadcast outlets as examples for the development of free media throughout the region.
Thank you for your attention and we await your comments.

Sincerely,


William A. Orme, Jr.
Executive Director

cc:
High Rep. Carl Bildt
Hon. Herve de Charette
Hon. Warren Christopher
Amb. Robert Frowick
Hon. Richard Holbrooke
Gen. George Joulwan
Hon. Yevgeny Primakov
Hon. Chris Smith
Sec. Gen. Javier Solana


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