Sarajevo -- In Bosnia and Herzegovina, journalism is fractured along the same ethnic lines that divide the rest of society. Yet all Bosnian journalists risk violence, intimidation and economic pressure from mostly nationalist political groups that see independent journalists as a threat to their continued domination of the country.
Recognizing that they face a common threat from enemies of press freedom, Serbian, Muslim, and Croat journalists recently gathered from all over the country to discuss the protection of journalists.
The round-table meeting was held in Sarajevo on July 27 and 28, and attended by around fifty journalists, academics, lawyers, and diplomats. It was agreed that the discussions would be off-the-record, and the group clearly relished the opportunity to debate the difficulties they live with as journalists in Bosnia, and to search for solutions.
At the end of the second day, the participants agreed to focus their collective attention on these five areas:
- Professional Solidarity: As one reporter from Banja Luka put it: "We will have professional solidarity only when we understand that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us."
- Need for a press-freedom monitoring organization in Bosnia-Herzegovina: The participants agreed to set up a local organization devoted to the protection of journalists.
- Need for Legal Support: Bosnia still lacks an independent judiciary, making local journalists vulnerable to malicious prosecutions of all kinds. One radio journalist said that trying to protect press freedom without a proper legal framework was "like trying to build a house without a roof."
A lawyer present at the roundtable suggested that journalists needed both preventative measures and legal representation. Reviewing stories with a lawyer before publication or broadcast would dramatically reduce the chances of a libel suitÑa weapon that authorities use frequently and to damaging effect.
- Tax Issues: The group agreed that more research is required to fully comprehend the intricacies of local tax regulations and their impact on media. It was suggested that local press associations could, in time for their next joint forum (which is likely to take place in September), undertake a study of the tax code and present recommendations about which taxes should be reduced or abolished.
- Initiatives in Journalism Schools: It was generally agreed that in order to raise professional standards, the journalism schools should coordinate their programs. The importance of education and training was underscored.