The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), is extremely concerned at the latest declarations by Milorad Dodik, president of the Serb-controlled entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska. On 13 December 2011, the president said that the Public Broadcasting Service of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BHRT) should be abolished. He stated that his priority was the functioning of the Banja-Luka based Radio and Television of Republika Srpska /RTRS/.
Claiming that the Sarajevo-based public broadcaster had been imposed on Republika Srpska, Dodik said it was not in the interest of the citizens to finance it and said that commercial media should be supported – rather than a “monster that lives in Sarajevo”.
SEEMO considers Dodik’s comments a direct attack on media freedom. BHRT has been critical of his policies.
Public broadcasting in Bosnia and Herzegovina has experienced serious problems for several years. In fact, there are several public broadcasters – a reflection of the country’s political division into two entities: Serb-controlled Republika Srpska and the Federation, controlled by Bosniaks and Croats. Under the laws adopted from 2005 to 2008, the Bosnia and Herzegovina public service broadcasting system consists of three broadcasters: BHRT, which is a country-wide service, and two separate-entity public broadcasters, Radio and Television of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Radio-Televizija Federacije BiH -RTFBiH), for the Federation entity, and Radio and Television of Republika Srpska (Radio- Televizija Republike Srpske- RTRS) for Republika Srpska.
The public broadcasters, designed to promote cohesion and tolerance, tend to behave as rivals. They have been used and abused by different political parties, generally organised along ethnic lines. The country-wide public broadcaster BHRT has been especially targeted by political parties.
The case of Mehmed Agovic, former BHRT director, has been widely debated. Agovic was dismissed and reinstated three times, following court decisions. In October 2011, he was dismissed again. However, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina raised doubts about the full respect of Agovic’s human rights during the process.
SEEMO believes public broadcasters should be strengthened, professionalised and freed of political and other forms of pressure. Bosnia and Herzegovina needs a country-wide broadcaster, and BHRT plays that role.
“The public has a fundamental right to be informed, and politicians must understand that,” said SEEMO Secretary-General Oliver Vujovic. “I am deeply concerned about President Dodik’s comments and urge him to reconsider them and to guarantee a free working environment for all public broadcasters in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Democracy is based on informed public choices. I also call on the authorities in Sarajevo to investigate whether or not Mehmed Agovic’ s human rights were violated.”