February 21, 2024

Interview with SEEMO member Belmin Karamehmedović (February 2024)

Belmin Karamehmedović
2015 – to present Director General Radio and Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina, www.bhrt.ba
2012 – 2015 Deputy Director General Radio and Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina, www.bhrt.ba
2010 – 2012 Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina CEO
2004 – 2010 Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina Head of the Sports Department
2003 – 2004 CEO Media Group – Pool of marketing agencies established by McCann-Erickson and BBDO Adriatic in Bosnia and Herzegovina
1995 – 2004 Field Producer in Bosnia and Herzegovina ABC NEWS

Can you please tell us how and when you started your professional work?

I started my professional work in 1987 at local radio station “Sarajevo 202”. My TV work on BHRT started in September 1992.

As you are working for BHRT since 1992 you have also experience with reporting during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

That was extremely difficult period of my life, same as every other person who spent the war in besieged Sarajevo. We didn’t have even basic resources for normal living, such as food, electricity, water, gas supply, etc. People of Sarajevo got killed on daily basis and situation at that time very often looked hopeless. Despite all of these circumstances, BHRT didn’t stop the informative mission for a second, employees gave their best in order to do their very important job and we managed to survive and do what we were supposed to do at that time.

Can you present us please the main problems of public RTV in Bosnia and Herzegoviona today in February 2024?

The main problem is the fact that PBSs who are in charge of collecting and distributing the fee violate the Law because they do not apply the provisions on the distribution of licence fees, and all this only to the detriment BHRT. The other problem is the lack of sustainable financing for BHRT and the lack of political will to solve it. The problem occurs since 2017 and every government verbally supports BHRT but in the reality they do nothing to solve the problem.

How is the financial situation in BHRT ?

It is very difficult for a long time but the peak is at the moment as we do not have the collection of the license fee (RTV tax) since 1st January 2024.

Before we get into the details of the current situation, there are a few questions about how public services are financed. The so-called mixed financing model for public broadcasters includes the majority of revenue from the RTV tax and a portion of revenue from marketing. We have already discussed how the Law on the Public Broadcasting System determined the method of revenue distribution. In terms of how the RTV tax was collected, from 2005 to 2017, it was done through the telecom operators. The data revealed that, in addition to an insufficient level of collection, the number of subscribers was decreasing as people switched to other types of telecommunication services.

Following the expiration of the collection services agreement with three telecom operators in BiH, collection in Republika Srpska is now done through the Inkaso service, Pošte RS and electronically.

In the Federation, the RTV tax is paid only through Elektroprivreda BiH in the areas where it provides services, because Elektroprivreda HZ HB refused to collect the RTV tax.

The RTV tax is currently BAM 7.50 (EUR 3.6) per month and is legally adjusted to the inflation rate, but the last adjustment was in 2013.

Entity broadcasters are responsible for collecting RTV tax. Although the RTV tax is a legal requirement, it is practically voluntary in the Federation of BiH territory because citizens can only pay the electricity bill and omit the RTV tax. The current situation and financial problems of BHRT are the result of the fact that BHRT does not receive funds from the RTV tax collected across the entire territory of BiH, as provided for by the Law on the Public Broadcasting System.

Since 2017, RTRS has violated the Law by failing to transfer to BHRT the corresponding portion of 50% of funds collected in the territory of Republika Srpska, resulting in a debt of RTRS to BHRT that exceeds BAM 82 million (approx. EUR 42 million). This is why BHRT owes money to the FBiH Tax Administration for employee contributions, the Indirect Taxation Authority, and the EBU, etc. In previous years, BHRT initiated court actions for debt collection in order to collect what is legally owed to it. However, after the BiH Court declared itself incompetent and transferred the case to the District Commercial Court in Banja Luka, BHRT lost the first three cases because the Court treated the material evidence as information and ruled that RTRS has no legal obligation to transfer funds from the RTV tax to BHRT because “the Corporation of Public Broadcasting Services has not been established”. It is important to note that it was RTRS that obstructed the establishment of the Corporation, which is responsible for the collection and distribution of taxes under the law. As a result, even though the Corporation did not exist, the RTV tax was collected and distributed in accordance with the law from 2006 until 2017, when RTRS arbitrarily stopped transferring funds to BHRT.

It should be noted that the RTV of the Federation of BiH also violates the law by failing to transfer to RTRS 25% of the funds from the FBiH’s tax collection, and therefore illegally keeping BAM 20 million (approx. EUR 10.5 million) from 2017 to November 2023. From 2017 to November 2023, BHRT received BAM 105.090.176, RTV FBiH received BAM 109.451.046 and RTRS received BAM 142.680.894 of the total RTV tax collected. In percentage terms, this equates to app. BHRT 29%, RTV FBiH 31%, and RTRS 40%, as opposed to the legal distribution of BHRT 50%, RTV FBiH 25%, and RTRS 25%. At the attempt of the FBiH executive power to redirect these funds to BHRT, which would somewhat reduce RTRS’s debt to BHRT, the current management of RTV FBiH, which violates the law by keeping other people’s funds, accused BHRT, which has no direct role in the collection of funds, of the alleged violation of the Law and refused to direct said funds to BHRT in order to settle its obligations.

The situation worsened after the FBiH Tax Administration blocked BHRT accounts in December 2021 and March 2022 due to unpaid pension and disability insurance contributions (a total debt amounts to approx. BAM 28 million, or EUR 14 million). This nearly resulted in the complete collapse of BHRT. The account was unblocked after the FBiH Parliament, in both Houses, unanimously adopted a Resolution instructing the Tax Administration to allow BHRT to operate until the court proceedings against RTRS were completed.

All of the above events have significantly worsened BHRT’s financial situation and called into question the national broadcaster’s very existence, because BHRT is unable to operate in accordance with the Law and fulfil its legal obligations to the state (taxes and contributions), clients, and, of course, employees who have been in existential danger for a long time.

Due to the inability to receive the revenue required by law, BHRT owes the most to the following entities: FBiH Tax Administration – BAM 28 million, EBU – 8.5 CHF million, Indirect Taxation Authority, VAT obligations BAM 5.7 million. Due to a lack of funds, BHRT is unable to invest in the procurement of equipment or to follow market trends of technological development, so the majority of the equipment used is still in analogue format, which has not been used in Europe or the rest of the world for a long time. It is also worth noting that, with the exception of the larger areas of Sarajevo, Mostar, and Banja Luka, the rest of the country lacks a digital signal because the competent ministry in the BiH Council of Ministers has not completed the project of providing a digital signal to the entire territory of BiH. BHRT also has significant issues with the investment maintenance of the building it moved into in 1984, which causes difficulties in daily operations (part of the space is still in disrepair, the heating/cooling system is about to fail, the war-damaged facade has not been repaired, and so on).

As an example of the state of the equipment, it is sufficient to say that BHRT has two outside broadcast vans from 1984 with analogue equipment and SD equipment from 1989 (a donation from Turkish Radio and Television), so we cannot produce the signal in HD quality. Part of the building’s equipment is in HD quality, which BHRT was able to secure with its own efforts through a bank loan, but the majority of the equipment in the TV studios is still in analogue quality. The equipment of BH Radio 1 is several decades old, and there are constant problems with broadcast interruptions due to wear and tear.

What is the number of staff in your company? Did you reduce them in the past years?

Current number is 795, and it has been significantly reduced from more than 1000 employees several years ago.

What are the solutions? How to solve the complicate situation with public radio and TV?

Nothing is complicated or too complicated if you want to solve it. There are so many solutions in Europe on how to finance PSM and how to collect the fee. The only need is good will of all actors included and it could be solved very easily. We just need Bosnian to provide full and strict implementation of the law of public broadcasting system which was adopted in Parliament in 2005, but has never been fully implemented primarily due to political obstructions from Bosnian entity Republika Srpska.

Do you see with optimism or pessimism the future of the media scene in your country?

I wouldn’t be here if I was a pessimist. Of course, there is light at the end of the tunnel but it seems the tunnel is too long and a certain period of time would be needed. We need a long term and financially sustainable solution for the public broadcasting system. Otherwise, we will have the same problems again and every few years.