The survival of the Bosnian public broadcaster threatened
the BHRT narrowly escaped closure on April 1, which would have been an unusual and serious attack on media pluralism in the region, and its survival is still at stake.
Its closure was averted thanks to a resolution by the parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of Bosnia’s two regional entities, which led the regional entity’s tax administration to lift a two-week-old freeze on the BHRTApril 6 accounts. But this last-minute rescue did not protect the BHRT the effects of economic sabotage by RTRits counterpart in the other regional entity of Bosnia, the Republika Srpska.
the RTRwhich collects all of the revenue from the broadcast license fee collected throughout Bosnia, is in principle required under the Public Broadcasting Act 2005 to return 50% of the revenue to the BHRT and 25% at FTVBiH, the public broadcaster of the Bosnian Federation. But the RTR refused to comply with its obligations towards BHRT for several years, depriving him of the equivalent of 32.2 million euros. This denial of funding prevented the BHRT to properly fulfill its news coverage duties and to honor its tax and salary obligations. She has fallen into debt to the point of becoming insolvent, and currently owes more than 9 million euros, which she is unable to repay.
The hostility of RTRwhich is under the sway of the Serbian independence party in power in Republika Srpska, the SNSD, comes against a background of frequent attacks by Republika Srpska against Bosnian institutions with the aim of weakening the legitimacy of Bosnia as a as a central state, in which the BHRT is an important institution. the RTR has been blocking for several years a major provision of the law on public broadcasting – the creation of a single national public broadcasting company common to the two Bosnian political entities, which would have as a corollary the sharing of revenues between the three regional broadcasters. Thus, paying its share of the revenue to the BHRT would amount to recognizing the existence of such an institution, less permeable to political pressure from regional parties.
“Access to reliable and pluralistic information in Bosnia would be in great danger if the BHRT were to disappear, as the country prepares for parliamentary elections in October and the war in Ukraine has reignited geopolitical tensions in the Balkans”, says Pavol Szalai, head of RSF’s EU and Balkans desk. “We call the RTR to comply with all aspects of the broadcasting law, not just some of them, and thus to distribute revenues fairly among Bosnia’s three public broadcasters. Bosnian institutions must also urgently find a lasting economic solution for the BHRTso that the blocking of his accounts ceases to constitute a threat to the freedom of the press in this country.
Parliamentarians from various parties made several encouraging proposals during the session of the Bosnian Central Parliament devoted to the BHRT on 27 April, but it is essential that these proposals have concrete legislative effects. And the parliamentarians of the other parties – in particular those of the Serbian party (SNSD) and the Croatian party (HDZ), who, by their absence, recently blocked the holding of a session – must commit themselves to voting for these proposals. Proposed changes to the law to ensure sustainable funding for the three public broadcasters and the call for the country’s Public Broadcasting Council to design a single national model for collecting broadcasting taxes seemed particularly relevant.
RSF is also calling on the High Commercial Court of Banja Luka (capital of Republika Srpska) to overturn a recent decision by a lower court that the RTR is not obliged to pay the BHRT. By quashing this decision, which is the subject of a appealthe court would abide by the original judgment of the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had ruled in favor of the BHRT before finally declaring himself incompetent to judge the case in 2018.
Safeguarding this public broadcaster is all the more important since its proper functioning is one of the 14 conditions that the European Commission has set for granting Bosnia the status of candidate for membership of the European Union. The necessity of its survival was also the subject of a letter signed by several MEPs in 2017 with RSF Support.
Bosnia is ranked 59th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 ranking World Press Freedom Index.