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Journalists targeted in BiH

Journalists targeted in BiH
The institution of Ombudsman in BiH gathered information for the last several months about journalists and media working conditions in BiH and issued a “Special Report on the Status and Cases of Threats against Journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, which will be promoted on Monday 28 August in Sarajevo.

The Report represents the overall information about attacks on journalists and those aimed at preventing media doing their job. The Ombudsman's Office emphasize in this document that the purpose of the Report is to ensure that problems and issues concerning the status of journalists in BiH are understood, as one of the preconditions for safeguarding the right to freedom of expression, and to contribute to general enhancement of the degree of exercise of the right to freedom of expression, and of human rights and freedoms in the state.

It is noted that, according to a report by the organisation “Reporters without Borders” on the freedom of the media, in 2017 BiH was ranked 65th out of 180 countries covered by the report, while Croatia was 74th, Serbia 66th, and Montenegro was ranked 106th. In accordance with the World Press Freedom Index (WPFI), which served as the basis of the Report, BiH was described as the country that has the world’s most liberal media freedom laws but their implementation is held back by a saturated judicial system.

“Defamation was decriminalized in 2003 but lawsuits are still possible. Journalists are often the targets of threats and political pressure. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the pro-government media continue to enjoy direct and indirect state subsidies,” said the description of WPFI.

According to the Free Media Helpline in BiH, journalists are often subject to discrimination. In the past couple of years, the Helpline has registered 15 cases of discrimination against journalists on various grounds. 191 journalists are also subject to physical attacks, and according to the BiH Journalists’ Association, a total of 266 such attacks has been registered in the 2012 – 2017 period.

“Statistically, journalists in BiH are very often subject to different forms of attacks. Since 2013 onwards, a total of 217 media outlets, media institutions and journalists’ organisations have been attacked. Such attacks often go uncondemned by the institutions and judicial authorities of BiH. There are even cases in which a journalist, being a victim, is actually labelled as a person who attacked the freedom of a person who committed a crime and was subject to media reporting. According to the Free Media Helpline, institutions do react, but insufficiently. There are initiatives by the Ministry of Human Rights and Ministry of Justice to improve and upgrade criminal codes in BiH and to develop internal procedures for protecting journalists and freedom of expression as one of the fundamental human rights”, is mentioned in the Special Report.

But these are not only problems which journalists in BiH faced in the last five years. According to report, the economic position of journalists suggests that journalists should possess adequate employment contracts with sufficient social protection to avoid any threat to their impartiality and independence.

“There is no official statistics on the economic and social status of journalists. On the basis of the available (partial and imprecise) data, one may conclude that journalists have been the main victim of the media system transition in the past decade. They do not have the economic and social protection they should have in order to successfully perform their vital social roles. Journalism today is a low-prestige, high-stress, underpaid, uncreative and profession without prospects, which many professionals would gladly abandon if they had any alternative”, concluded the report in the part about economical situation.

Also, the report stressed the importance of censorship and self-censorship which is represented in many media. The Ombudsman Office said that media newsrooms are formally separated from owners, but the owners exert a large pressure upon newsrooms.

“Censorship and self-censorship are part of journalists’ daily work. This problem exists mostly in privately-owned media outlets, but also in other media outlets. Journalists accept censorship out of fear for their jobs. The fear is often even stronger, because they are not protected by adequate employment agreements”, said the Report.

At the end of Report, the Ombudsman's Office issued several recommendations which include the recommendation to ministeries of justice at all levels to define an attack against a journalist as a criminal offence in criminal codes or as a serious criminal offence of attacks against an official person on duty.

To Centres for Training Judges and Prosecutors of RS and Federation BiH is recommended to consider that, within their judges and prosecutors initial training and professional development programmes, organise training sessions specifically about the importance of processing criminal offences against journalists. The training, as it was recommended, should include 61 experiences and best practices sharing, with the participation of international organisations, NGOs and journalists, when necessary./IBNA

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