The law provides for freedom of speech and press, but governmental respect for these rights continued to deteriorate during the year. Intimidation and threats against journalists and media outlets increased, while media coverage reflected ethnic and political allegiances. During the year the RS parliament enacted legislation that could restrict internet speech critical of officials and other individuals.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: There were no new legal or administrative measures restricting freedom of speech during the first nine months of the year. Although the law prohibits acts, including “hate speech” and other forms of expression that provoke racial, ethnic, or other intolerance, authorities did not enforce these restrictions.
According to data from the BiH Journalists’ Association covering 2006-15, authorities prosecuted only 15 percent of reported criminal acts committed against journalists. They also claimed that authorities conducted no investigation in 22 percent of cases involving alleged violations of journalists’ rights and closed 23 percent of these cases without a police effort to find the perpetrators. In response to calls for independent investigation, the BiH parliament directed the Council of Ministers to submit a report on threats and pressure against journalists in BiH.
Independent analysts noted the continuing tendency of politicians and other leaders to label unwanted criticism as hate speech or national treason. As of November the official Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA) registered one complaint alleging hate speech, which it rejected. Through November the self-regulatory Press Council of BiH received 36 complaints related to hate speech. The council determined that in the first 11 months of the year, there were 21 cases of incitement and speech spreading hate. Most instances occurred in online media.
Press and Media Freedoms: The laws delegate responsibility for safeguarding freedom of the press in most instances to the cantons in the Federation and to the entity-level authorities in the RS. Numerous BiH outlets continued to express a wide variety of views, but coverage diverged along political and ethnic lines, and media outlets continued to be subject to excessive influence from governments, political parties, and private interest groups. A number of independent print media outlets continued to encounter financial problems that endangered their operations.
Authorities in the RS continued to exert pressure on media outlets to discourage some forms of expression, and party and governmental control over the major information outlets narrowed the range of opinion in both entities. Public broadcasters faced strong pressure from government and political forces both directly, through financial support, and indirectly, because the broadcasters’ lack of long-term financial stability. These factors limited their independence and resulted in news that was consistently subjective and politically tainted. Both entity governments supported news agencies through funding from their respective budgets. As in the previous year, the RS government funded selected media outlets, while the Federation government continued to allot, but not deliver, funds to the Radio and Television of the Federation. Observers regarded both the delivery and the withholding of funds as politically motivated.
The law empowers the CRA to regulate all aspects of the country’s audiovisual market, including broadcast media, but political parties’ efforts to obstruct its oversight and management continued to diminish its authority. As of November BiH authorities failed to appoint a new CRA general manager, further diminishing the organization’s regulatory powers.
The public broadcasters Radio and Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BHRT), Radio and Television of the Republika Srpska (RTRS), and Federation Radio and Television (FTV) faced continued financial instability due to the loss of dedicated tax revenue. Nationwide public broadcaster BHRT, whose content was assessed as being the most politically neutral, faced the most severe financial problems. Institutional instability within the governing structures of the FTV and the RTRS continued, leaving entity public broadcasters vulnerable to political pressure. While the FTV continued to demonstrate layers of political bias, the RS government directly controlled the RTRS and to use it as a mouthpiece for the RS political establishment. The entity governments further undercut the independence of their respective broadcasters by excluding the CRA from the process of appointing governing boards for the broadcasters. Instead they allowed their entity-level parliaments to administer the process. Remaining subject to competing political interests, the various authorities failed to establish a public broadcasting service corporation to oversee the operations of all public broadcasters in the country as the law requires.
Violence and Harassment: Intimidation and threats against journalists increased during the year. There were instances of intimidation and politically motivated litigation against journalists for unfavorable reporting on government leaders and authorities. As of November the Free Media Help Line recorded 55 cases involving violations of journalists’ rights and freedoms or pressure from government and law enforcement officials.
In March the popular web portal Klix.ba announced that authorities dropped all charges against in a case that followed its publication of an audio recording alleging high-level political corruption in the RS. The charges were preceded by an eight-hour raid of Klix.ba’s offices. After the Klix.ba staff refused to reveal their sources, the Sarajevo Municipal Court issued a warrant allowing law enforcement authorities to seize computers and other equipment thought to hold information related to the ensuing vote-buying scandal in the RS. In early July the BiH Journalists’ Association and its affiliated club of journalists from Banja Luka responded with organized protests in Sarajevo, Tuzla, Mostar, Banja Luka, and Brcko. The protesters demonstrated solidarity with Klix.ba, as well as their dissatisfaction with authorities’ failure to prosecute violations of press freedom and the rights of journalists. Eventually the court ordered the equipment returned to Klix.ba, but reverberations from the incident continued during the year, including a subsequent ruling by the Sarajevo Municipal Court that the initial raid had been conducted illegally.
In March officials from SIPA allegedly exceeded their legal authority when they demanded that the editors of the daily newspaper Dnevni Avaz produce copies of an interview the newspaper published several years earlier. The BiH Journalists’ Association claimed the incident was an act of intimidation. Similarly, following a July 11 attack on Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, SIPA demanded coverage of the incident from local media without securing prerequisite court orders.
In March, RS President Milorad Dodik verbally insulted a Banja Luka stringer for the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje. Instead of answering an “unpleasant” question during a press conference, Dodik made derogatory comments about the journalist’s physical appearance and ethnic background. The RS president’s press office also continued the practice of refusing press credentials to journalists and news crews associated with the pro-opposition television station BN TV from Bijeljina.
In October the deputy director for the BiH Audit Office called a reporter for Glas Srpske and accused her using a report she was writing on nepotism in the government to engage in blackmail. The BiH Journalists Association described the Audit Office’s intervention as attempted intimidation and abuse of position and reported the case to the Sarajevo Canton Police for investigation.
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 were under the control of political parties, remained the key advertisers. Outlets critical of ruling parties claimed they faced difficulties in obtaining advertising.
The state government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that it monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Although the law prohibits acts, including “hate speech” and other forms of expression, that provoke racial, ethnic, or other intolerance, authorities did not enforce these prohibitions in regard to on-line media during the year.
During the year the RS adopted legislation declaring that internet-based social networks were part of the public domain and prescribing fines for “insulting or disturbing” content, not clearly defined, on the internet. After strong reactions from journalists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), opposition political parties, and the international community in BiH, the parliament amended the law to exclude content critical of public institutions, but the restrictions remained in effect for material criticizing individual persons, including political figures. There were no reports that authorities applied the law during the first 10 months of the year. Transparency International, the BiH Journalists’ Association, and the Banja Luka Club of Journalists jointly submitted an appeal to the RS Constitutional Court challenging the legality and constitutionality of the legislation.
According to an estimate in the 2014 CRA’s annual report, 58 percent of the population used the internet in 2014.
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 prejudicial language in their lectures. The selection of textbooks and school materials reinforced discrimination and prejudice.