The law provides for freedom of speech and press. Although the law includes provisions prohibiting acts that provoke racial, ethnic, or other intolerance, authorities did not enforce them during the year and did not directly interfere with freedom of expression. Laws delegated safeguarding freedom of the press to the cantons in the Federation and to the entity-level authorities in the RS. Governmental respect for freedom of speech and the press continued to deteriorate during the year.
Freedom of Speech: Although there were no legal or administrative measures restricting freedom of speech during the first 10 months of the year, in the RS authorities continued to exert pressure on media outlets in order to discourage some forms of expression, and party and governmental control over the major information outlets narrowed the range of opinion in both entities.
In February mass protests took place throughout the Federation, and some small-scale protests took place in the RS. A number of protests by the RS War Veterans Association took take place in the RS capital of Banja Luka at the end of February. RS authorities immediately labeled attempts to organize peaceful demonstrations in the RS as attempts by persons in the Federation, e.g. Bosniaks, to undermine the Bosnian Serb-majority RS. Progovernment media in the RS acted in coordination with the government to discredit protest organizers and to depict protests that took place in the Federation as anti-RS in nature. During the protests the ruling party in the RS, the Alliance for Independent Social Democrats, posted to its webpage a publication, Demolishing of Republika Srpska–the Theory and Technology of a Coup, (February 28), which accused a number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), media outlets, and individuals of being engaged by foreign countries to act as “foreign agents” to undermine the constitutional order of the RS.
Federation and RS law do not specifically proscribe hate speech but prohibit acts that cause ethnic, racial, or religious hatred. Nevertheless many media outlets continued using incendiary language with impunity when disseminating materials related to ethnicity, religion, and political affiliation. In addition the media frequently attacked LGBT activists, often using homophobic language.
As of September the official Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA) registered three allegations of what it characterized as hate speech but upheld none of them. Through October the nongovernmental Press Council of BiH received 755 complaints, of which 555 related to hate speech. The council determined that in the first nine months of the year there were 175 cases of incitement and speech spreading hate. Most of instances occurred in online media.
Independent analysts noted the continuing tendency of politicians and other leaders to label unwanted criticism as hate speech or national treason.
Press Freedoms: The independent media continued expressing a wide variety of views but were subject to excessive influence from government, political parties, and private interest groups. Media coverage diverged along political and ethnic lines. During the February protests, political biases became especially prominent. A number of media analysts underscored that some of key media outlets focused almost exclusively on the violent elements of the demonstrations, often referring to protesters as “hooligans” and “criminals.” Media close to the Croat ruling parties claimed that the protests were exclusively Bosniak and had the objective of instigating conflicts between Bosniaks and Croats, particularly in Mostar. At the same time, the Association of BiH Journalists issued a number of press releases in February that reported attacks against journalists in Tuzla, Zenica, and other cities throughout the Federation. The association stated, “Journalists are frequently exposed to attacks, not only from the demonstrators but also policemen and high-ranking officials.”
Public broadcasters at the state, entity, cantonal, and municipal levels continued to face strong political pressure from governments and political forces, primarily through control over their finances. These pressures limited the independence of public broadcasters and led to consistently subjective and politically tainted news. Both entity governments financially supported news agencies through ownership shares. During the year the RS government provided 1.7 million convertible marks ($1.08 million) in financial support for media. The Federation government allotted 500,000 convertible marks ($318,000) in technical assistance to Federation Radio and Television (FTV), the public broadcaster serving the Federation. It remained unclear whether the outlet would receive the funds, in light of the failure by the Federation government to disseminate funds to the outlet in 2013. There was evidence to suggest the withholding of funds was politically motivated.
The law empowers the CRA to regulate all aspects of the country’s audiovisual market, including broadcast media, but state-level authorities continued attempts to weaken the CRA by injecting partisan politics into the organization’s oversight and management and diminishing the organization’s regulatory powers.
In January the approval of six new members to its governing council allowed the CRA to function within its legal mandate; the mandates of the previous council members expired in 2009. In May the new council unanimously decided on a candidate for general manager of the CRA to replace a sitting acting director, whose lack of a mandate undercut the independence and effectiveness of the institution. Nevertheless, the Council of Ministers, which had the legal obligation to approve the appointment within 30 days, failed to do so. Observers believed that the postponement resulted from political disputes within the Council of Ministers. This stalemate was not resolved as of mid-October.
Some public broadcasters, including Radio and Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BHRT), the public broadcasting channel that covers the entire country, faced financial instability because collection of taxes dedicated to their support remained inefficient and poorly regulated. Amendments to a law regulating the activities of Radio Television of Republica Srpska (RTRS), on the other hand, opened the possibility of direct government funding of the news outlet.
The entity governments further undercut the independence of their respective broadcasters by excluding the CRA from the process of appointing governing boards to the broadcasters. Instead they chose to allow their entity-level parliaments to administer the process.
Institutional instability within the governing structures of FTV and the RTRS left public broadcasters vulnerable to continued political pressure. FTV reflected several layers of political bias. Continued uncertainty over the mandates of the governing board members made it vulnerable to political influence as in previous years. During the year, when there were no new attempts to appoint members to the FTV board, it operated with only a technical mandate and was consequently more open to political influence. In previous years the Federation Parliament attempted to appoint multiple members to the board, despite a law that limits it from making more than one appointment in any single calendar year, thus creating uncertainty surrounding the broadcasters governing structure. In March, in an effort that observers believed reflected its intention to gain full control over RTRS, the RS government appointed a new general manager, who assumed his position after serving as chief of staff to the entity prime minister.
In May the BHRT governing board rejected amendments to a statute that would have limited its excessive influence in appointing management and editorial staff, despite an EU requirement for the amendments as part of its enlargement process. The governing board’s position raised further questions about the level of editorial independence of the nationwide public broadcaster.
State-level authorities failed to establish a Public Broadcasting Service Corporation to oversee the operations of all public broadcasters in the country as required by law. The newly appointed CRA Council during its April session unanimously decided to reverse an earlier decision to reduce the advertising time of public broadcasters from six to four minutes per hour. The reduced advertising time threatened the financial stability of public broadcasters.
Many privately owned newspapers were available and expressed a wide variety of views. A number of independent print media outlets continued to encounter financial problems that endangered their operations.
Violence and Harassment: During the year there were credible reports of intimidation and politically motivated litigation against journalists for unfavorable reporting on government leaders and authorities. By September the Free Media Help Line registered 30 cases involving violations of journalists’ rights and freedoms or pressure from government and law enforcement officials. There were five physical attacks, 15 instances of pressure and threats against journalists, two death threats, and instances of denial of access to information. Politicians in BiH, especially in the RS, continued to intimidate journalists. During the February demonstrations, according to media and Human Rights Watch, police used excessive force against journalists (see section 2.b.). During a town hall meeting in East Sarajevo open to press coverage, RS President Milorad Dodik verbally attacked and made sexist comments about journalist Sladjana Jasarevic. In a separate incident in May, he verbally attacked journalist Ljiljana Faladzic in Bijeljina. The Association of BiH Journalists and several independent news outlets strongly condemned Dodik’s behavior.
Cases of intimidation of journalists and media by unidentified persons have also occurred. In April an unknown person using the name of an imprisoned criminal made telephone threats against the editor in chief of Start Magazine, his editorial staff, and members of his family after the magazine published an article on criminal activity. After Dnevni Avaz journalist Semira Degrimendzic published a series of articles critical of certain BiH politicians, unidentified individuals posted images throughout Sarajevo labeling Degrimendzic as politically biased. The Association of BiH Journalists, several political parties, and the EU delegation in BiH strongly condemned this case of press intimidation.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some political parties attempted to influence editorial policies and media content through legal and financial measures. As a result some media outlets practiced self-censorship.
In some instances media sources reported that officials threatened outlets with loss of advertising or limited their access to official information. Prevailing practices indicated that close connections between major advertisers and political circles allowed for biased distribution of advertising time. Public companies, most of which are under the control of political parties, remained the key advertisers. Outlets critical of ruling parties claimed that they faced challenges obtaining advertising time.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the 2013 annual Communications Regulatory Agency report published in May, an estimated 57 percent of the population used the internet in 2013.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no major government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The country’s eight public universities remained segregated along ethnic lines, including their curriculums, diplomas, and relevant school activities. Professors sometimes used prejudiced language in their lectures. The selection of textbooks and school materials reinforced discrimination and prejudices.