The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir and the Head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) Kathleen Kavalec expressed their concern today following the announcement that new measures would be introduced to tackle the spread of panic and “fake news” regarding the progression of coronavirus in the country.
In its press release, OSCE notes that Republika Srpska issued a decree last Thursday ordering that, during the state of emergency, punitive measures in the form of fines would be imposed on those spreading “fake news” around the coronavirus pandemic in the media and on social networks, thus causing panic. According to media reports, similar measures have also been adopted in the Brčko District, while the Internal Affairs Minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina proposed that the Federal Government introduced a prohibition on “fake news” reports or claims.
“I fully understand the purpose of tackling the dissemination of false information which creates panic and disorder during this health crisis; but the concerned legislation should not impede the freedom of journalists or their ability to report on the pandemic and to provide information necessary to the public. The press constitutes an indispensable ally in the communication of important information to citizens and in the fight against ‘fake news’”, Désir stated.
“The OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina is not familiar yet with the details of the new measures. The most adequate response to concerns around the spread of ‘fake news’ is for the Authorities to frequently address their citizens so that reliable information is directly provided to them regarding the measures taken, the rights and obligations of persons and businesses, and how to behave during these challenging times. Censorship and limiting freedom of expression is not helpful and could undermine people’s trust in the institutions”.
Désir and Kavalec pointed to the joint statement published last week by the Representative alongside David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and Edison Lanza, IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, which stressed that: “It is essential that governments and internet companies address disinformation in the first instance by providing themselves reliable information. This could be realized in the form of robust public messaging, initiatives to support public service announcements or to provide emergency support for public broadcasting and local journalism (for instance, through government-approved health advertisements)”. /ibna