Media Freedom After Dayton

September 5, 1996
via fax:41-31-322-53-20
His Excellency Flavio Cotti
Chairman in Office of OSCE
Federal Department for Foreign Affairs
Bern, Switzerland

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization based in the United States, is dedicated to defending journalists and press freedom around the world.

Since the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords on Dec. 14, 1995, the Committee has been particularly concerned about the dire state of press freedom in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We are writing to express our great concern regarding both the constraints on press freedom and the free movement of journalists that we have observed in the period leading up to the Sept. 14 elections, and the future of independent local journalists and news media following the scheduled departure of international troops in December.

By definition, no election can be considered truly free and fair unless the news media is able and willing to report fairly and openly to the entire electorate on the campaigns of all major contending parties, and all reporters, local and foreign, are free to cover the news without restrictions on their movements or justified fears of reprisals.

With few exceptions, throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, these standards have not been met in the weeks leading up to the Sept. 14 elections.

Despite guarantees of press freedom in the human rights annexes of the Dayton Accords, as well as separate agreements on accreditation procedures and the rights and duties of journalists, print and broadcast media are heavily restricted, particularly in Republika Srpska (Serb-controlled territory) and in Herzeg-Bosna (Croat-controlled territory) in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Muslim-Croat Federation, as distinct from the Sarajevo-based government of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina).

As CPJ and other international groups have confirmed, despite IFOR (Peace Implementation Force) press passes theoretically allowing freedom of movement, the few local reporters brave enough to drive from one ethnic enclave to another are intercepted on the roads and sometimes beaten, their ethnic identity easily determined from the residence codes on their license plates. Correspondents' submissions are rejected for "harming the national interest." Journalists who cover the opposition are subjected to the same violence directed against rival political parties by those in power. Independent radio stations are drowned out by more powerful state-run programs and television screens go blank during critical debates. Air time reserved for opposition parties is either withheld in practice or used by the ruling parties to denounce their competitors.

CPJ has received many other credible reports from foreign and domestic journalists about serious restrictions on their ability to work and travel, although they are reluctant to put such complaints on the record for fear of compromising their access to sources or opening themselves up to further recriminatory measures.

The international community, charged with promoting and monitoring press freedom, has been slow to address these critical problems. Local and foreign journalists covering the election say the NATO alliance and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), charged with implementing the Dayton Accords, have been seemingly unwilling or unable to enforce compliance from the signatories to the Dayton agreement. Local governments have instead been blatantly obstructionist, preventing opposition parties from access to the media and harassing independent or opposition publications and broadcasts. Serb authorities expel reporters covering controversial stories; the Bosnian government has withheld permission for international satellite television; and Croat authorities threaten outsiders attempting to scrutinize corrupt local government.

As an organization devoted exclusively to the defense of journalists and press freedom around the world, CPJ does not monitor the content or quality of local news coverage of election campaigns. In Bosnia, this important task has been undertaken by such respected organizations as the London-based International Crisis Group and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Media Plan, the Bosnian research institute, and the Swiss organization Medienhilfe Ex-Jugoslawien. Their findings about the discriminatory and obstructionist tactics of the ruling parties vis-a-vis media content dovetail with CPJ's findings about the mistreatment of journalists and the constraints upon the independent media.

The attached briefing paper contains 1) summaries of the obligations assumed by all parties in the region on media freedom; 2) examples of harassment and intimidation of the print and broadcast media; and 3) comments by Western correspondents and monitors as well as local journalists.

Monitors on the scene, as well as foreign and local reporters attempting to cover the news, quickly discovered months ago that there is no press freedom in Bosnia except for what is artificially created from the outside, and to some extent from the inside by the scarce number of independent journalists-all at considerable difficulty, risk, and expense. All the major television, radio, and large-distribution newspapers are state-controlled, essentially the mouthpieces of the ruling parties of the SDS (Serbian Democratic Party of Republika Srpska), the SDA (Party for Democratic Action of Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic), and the HDZ, (the Croatian Democratic Union of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman). Efforts to inject alternatives into this extremely rigid situation have foundered.

CPJ and other press freedom organizations have received numerous reports of anonymous intimidation of news media; dismissals or censorship of reporters for ethnic or political reasons; "power outages" that seem timed to controversial radio and television broadcasts; beatings of outspoken journalists in retaliation for their reporting; and near total obstruction of freedom of movement. A symbol of the region is what reporters have dubbed the "ghost bus" of Mostar, running between the divided sides of the city, empty except for the driver, accompanied by an IFOR patrol car-and only once by a daring film crew. Most local reporters refuse to take advantage of even the rare escorted outings across ethnic borders organized by IFOR and OSCE. In most cases, both foreign and domestic correspondents do not want to publicize their difficulties, fearing reprisals.

INTV, known colloquially as "Carl Bildt's television" after the High Representative of the international community, an effort to patch together five local independent stations through satellite uplinks to provide unbiased campaign reporting for a majority of the population, is not scheduled to go on the air until Sept. 7-only a week before the elections. While the project has been plagued with financial and staffing difficulties, the Bosnian government has been the main obstacle, refusing to grant the necessary broadcast frequency, and using police force and threats of violence to pressure the station into compromise. In a conversation on Sept. 2 with CPJ chair Kati Marton, High Representative Bildt acknowledged the problem of reaching rural audiences and recognized that the station's impact would be limited to major cities. He expressed concern for the future of the station, and has urged that its structures be used as a foundation for a more far-reaching and independent news broadcasting operation in the months and years ahead.

The OSCE-sponsored FERN (Free Election Radio Network) radio station has persisted in broadcasting despite a recent ban from Republika Srpska authorities.

While enormous international effort has been devoted to persuading Radovan Karadzic to step down from political life, his daughter, Sonja Karadzic, head of the government-controlled International Press Center in Pale, notorious for its exorbitant fees for foreign press accreditation and the imposition of "bodyguards" on foreign journalists, has quietly proceeded to invest heavily in a powerful new radio station, Orthodox Radio St. John. Western monitors are concerned that another newly established independent station, Radio Drina, with less technical capability, will be drowned out. Meanwhile Radio Zid, a popular independent station based in Sarajevo, has discovered that Radio St. John is broadcasting on its frequency, so that it can no longer reach its listeners. Radio Zid's efforts to get a new frequency assigned by the Ministry of Culture and to obtain intervention by IFOR or OSCE have been fruitless to date.

A veteran foreign correspondent with international support and funding tried to help start an independent election daily in Banja Luka, the opposition base in Republika Srpska, but was unable to find independent editors or reporters willing to assume the risk.

In conversations with CPJ, correspondents and media monitors expressed a great sense of discouragement with the international community. The failure to guarantee freedom of movement and of communication for local news media before the election bodes ill, as NATO forces are planning to withdraw by the end of the year and OSCE may not be financed for a continued presence after the elections. "You have to remember that we already went through a war. Our human and financial resources are exhausted, and we are on the edge of existence," commented one leading news executive, summarizing the sentiments of many. None of the local governments can be counted upon to enforce press freedom guarantees without constant outside pressure, experienced local journalists say.

The OSCE's Media Experts Commission and subcommissions in regional centers, charged with ensuring freedom of information and movement and the unhindered work of the media, as well as free and equal access to the media, have not been functioning effectively. They must greatly improve their record of staying informed and responding rapidly. The commission may require a different composition, since local journalists say they have been discouraged by the presence of Serb and Bosnian police chiefs in the commission. While Interior Ministers are supposed to use their clout to foster freedom of movement, they are helping to institutionalize the notion that permission must be granted for travel across ethnic borders.

As the international community assesses its response to the elections, we urge you to give serious consideration to the severe problems of journalists and press freedom in Bosnia. We urge that mechanisms be put in place to ensure that after the elections and after the withdrawal of IFOR troops, freedom to travel regardless of ethnic background will be enforced; the bias of state-controlled media will be monitored and exposed; forceful intervention will be made with regional authorities on behalf of struggling independent and opposition media; and rapid financial and technical assistance will be provided to private print and broadcast organizations. After the elections, the international community must continue to fund INTV and work to guarantee its autonomy and professionalism, while encouraging the emergence of other independent broadcast outlets as examples for the development of free media throughout the region.

Thank you for your attention and we await your comments.


William A. Orme, Jr.

Executive Director

cc: High Rep. Carl Bildt
Hon. Herve de Charette
Hon. Warren Christopher
Amb. Robert Frowick
Hon. Richard Holbrooke
Gen. George Joulwan
Hon. Yevgeny Primakov
Hon. Chris Smith
Sec. Gen. Javier Solana

Berne, 12 September 1996

Dear Mr. Orme:

I thank you very much for your letter of 5 September 1996 concerning freedom of the press and the free movement of journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina. When certifying the political conditions for the elections on 25 June 1996 in Vienna, I stated that the minimal prerequisites which must be met so that "free, fair and democratic elections" could take place had, at that time and in spite of some small progress, not been fulfilled. Thereby I was referring, among other things, to the poor state of freedom of expression and association and the hindrance of freedom of movement. For a number of other reasons and factors, for which I would like to refer you to the speech attached, I nevertheless fixed 14 September as election day. This decision was connected to the hope that conditions would improve in the months remaining till the elections. Unfortunately, I recently had to state, two months after certification of the election date, that political conditions for the elections had not essentially improved. In particular, I had to affirm that freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly were being encroached upon by acts of intimidation and that free access to media had been attained only on a very limited scale.

As concerns your queries regarding the freedom of the press after the 14 September elections, it has been agreed now that, as far as the OSCE is concerned, the Parties of the Agreement on Elections (Annex 3 of the General Framework Agreement) have agreed to an extension of the mandate of the OSCE concerning the elections until the end of 1996. This includes the mandate of the Provisional Election Commission which, through the Media Expert Commission, has been monitoring the press and media situation and which has taken actions in numerous cases of violations of the respective rules and regulations.

Sincerely yours,
Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE Flavio Cotti, Federal Councillor Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs

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