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For Immediate Release
May 20, 1997

Catherine Fitzpatrick
212-465-1004 x101
Judith Leynse
212-465-1004 x105

Press Freedom Promises of Dayton Accords Broken, CPJ Tells Albright

New York, N.Y., May 20--Widespread abuses of press freedom continue to occur in Bosnia, creating an uncertain future for the region’s free media, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported in a letter today to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Writing as U.S. policy on the Dayton Peace Accords is undergoing review by the Secretary of State, CPJ Chair Kati Marton urged Albright “to stress the priority of ensuring that the provisions for press freedom and the free movement of journalists are vigorously enforced.” With a view to the Bosnian elections scheduled for September, Marton, a journalist and author, said, “we regret to report that persistent, widespread abuses of press freedom remain,” particularly in the Serb-controlled entity and Croat-controlled territory. “With the stranglehold of the ruling parties on the news outlets, we have grave concerns about the future of the region’s free media, so vital to democracy,” she said.

The Dayton Peace Accords stipulate that the governments in Bosnia and Herzegovina “not subject journalists to detention, harassment or interference of any kind” in the performance of their professional activities. “Yet despite these guarantees,” Marton said, “local police routinely prevent journalists from doing their jobs and stand by when journalists are assaulted.” Authorities, particularly in Republika Srpska, demand that television crews and photographers obtain prior authorization to film public events, and they arbitrarily bar print reporters from conducting interviews, she said.

CPJ cited eight recent cases documented by the Media Experts Commission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The cases, which include both local and foreign journalists, range from armed threats to arrests, beatings and confiscation of film and cameras. Other violent incidents point to a climate of ethnic violence and criminality that inhibits journalists’ ability to report.

Among recommendations to the Secretary of State to help implement the press freedom provisions of the peace accords and maximize the powers of the OSCE and Stabilization Force (SFOR) is the creation of uniform license plates to enable journalists and others to move freely across ethnic boundaries. Currently, each entity within Bosnia issues its own license plates, which impedes inter-entity movement. The committee urged international community leaders to stress the importance of press freedom and the mobility of journalists in their public statements and appearances. And the letter called for SFOR soldiers to use their authority “not merely to log complaints from journalists after the fact,” but “to actively defend journalists who are carrying out their professional duties.”

The Media Experts Commission, established by the Dayton Accords, was encouraged “to not merely record abuses of the Dayton Accords but to look for opportunities to actively enforce Dayton guarantees,” such as providing transportation and security for journalists covering news events. CPJ also recommended that the rules and rights of journalists be widely disseminated to the press so that they could easily file complaints with the MEC and that police also be fully informed about journalists’ rights guaranteed by the peace accords.

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