Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Bosnia-Herzegovina
As of December 31, 1998

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Three years after the Dayton peace accords ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, physical dangers to journalists have abated, but nationalist political parties continue to control or influence most media, and to harass independent journalists.

During and immediately after parliamentary and presidential elections in September, police detained journalists in three separate incidents, but quickly released them when international agencies intervened.

Local officials are turning increasingly to criminal defamation law, which permits imprisonment for up to three years, as an instrument of intimidation. In a developing pattern, courts are handing down conditional jail sentences, suspended unless the journalist is found in violation of any law during the subsequent year. Both the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the international community's new Independent Media Commission (IMC) in Bosnia -- established in June to create an equitable broadcasting regulatory system and to promote media professionalism -- have condemned the sentences and called for decriminalization of libel law in Bosnia.

With the economy still in deep recession, aid from Western governments and private donors remains crucial to the survival of Bosnia's independent media, as does the presence of the high representative, Carlos Westendorp, a special envoy with broad powers established by the Dayton Accords.

Under a supervisor appointed by Westendorp, public television and radio in the Muslim-Croat Federation (RTVBiH) acquired new management and a nonpartisan governing council. By year's end, programming showed significant improvement in balance and production quality. A second supervisor installed by Westendorp at the Serb entity's public television network SRT, made some progress in improving the balance of news coverage, but the SRT remains under the control of the nationalist but relatively moderate Republika Srpska (RS) government. As the struggle between competing Serb political parties continued, the RS government attempted in July, seven weeks before national elections, to install its own management at 16 local radio and television stations controlled by hard-line nationalist Serb factions, but failed at all but six of the stations.

Since its inception, the IMC has promulgated a broadcasting code of ethics based in part on the Fairness Doctrine originated by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. By year's end, it had begun licensing the approximately 290 radio and television stations in Bosnia.

| Attacks on the Press in 1998 |