The establishment of public service broadcasters has proved to be a very difficult task in some Eastern European countries. Public broadcasters tend to be used as government mouthpieces rather than as sources of information for the public at large.
The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation, SEEMO, an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), shares concern expressed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) that recent changes to the statute of Radio-Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BHRT), the country-wide public broadcaster, may undermine its editorial independence, and called on Parliament to adopt a new statute.
The recent amendments to the BHRT Statute gave its Steering Committee – composed of four appointed members – extraordinary powers to interfere in both editorial and managerial matters. According to an official statement and evaluation by the BHRT legal department, issued on 24 May 2011, the modifications and amendments to the Statute, without consultation with the management, legal department or union representatives, are “in non-conformance with the Law, and even with certain international legal acts and recommendations”. The department suggests that court proceedings should be initiated “in order to determine the legality of the act”.
Public broadcasting in Bosnia and Herzegovina has experienced serious problems for several years, in spite of regulatory changes. In fact, there are several public broadcasters – which reflects 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, Bosnia’s 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 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 organized along ethnic lines. In reality, they barely communicate with each other. The country-wide public broadcaster BHRT has been especially targeted by political parties. In that respect, the proposed amendments to its Statute, designed by the Steering Committee whose members have scant media experience, seem to be focused on reducing the independence of the only broadcaster that makes efforts to be a public service broadcaster rather than a government information channel.
In neighboring Croatia, in March 2011, more than 150 journalists working for the public broadcaster Croatian Television (Hrvatska televizija- HTV) signed a petition asking for one simple thing: respect for professional standards. Political interference and internal bickering have resulted in “the biggest professional and management crisis”, according to the petition. Some sections of the News Program do not speak to each other. The lack of transparency and communication undermine the trust and credibility in HTV which is losing audiences to private channels.
In Hungary, the new Media Law – the implementation of which coincided with the beginning of Hungary´s presidency of the European Union – initiated in January 2011 has seriously undermined the independence of the public broadcaster MTV. Even before the adoption of the internationally criticized Media Law, analysts detected a dramatic shift in political coverage by public television, reflected in the types of issues covered, the politicians and parties featured and the comments made by the anchors. In other words, after the 2010 elections, MTV changed its editorial policy accoding to the changes in the composition of the parliament.
Boris Bergant, President of the SEEMO board said: “It must be clear and transparent what is controlling, and what management in public service is. The management should work in the interest of the company, not in the interest of political representatives. Boards in public services are founded to work in the interest of the publicity and not in the interest of the political groups”.
“Respecting the premise of public broadcasting is the basis of democracy and public information,” said SEEMO Secertary General Oliver Vujovic. “It is high time that governments understand that public information service is not the same as government information service. I urge the authorities to respect and support public bordacasters rather than undermine their independence and credibility.”