Briefing Paper on Press Freedom In Bosnia And Herzegovina Before the September 14th Elections

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization based in the United States, is dedicated to defending the rights of journalists around the world. Since the Dayton Peace Accords, the treaty that ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, was negotiated in Dayton, Ohio, and signed in Paris in December, 1995, CPJ has been concerned about compliance, by all parties, with the terms of the agreement as they affect journalists.


Bosnia’s constitution guarantees freedom of movement throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina and states that freedom of movement shall not be impeded (Art. 1.4). Freedom of expression is also guaranteed (Art. 2.h). Annex 6 of the Dayton Accords contains an Agreement on Human Rights which affirms freedom of expression (Art.1.8) and the right to liberty of movement and residence (Art. 1.13).

 In addition, the parties to the Dayton Accords have signed a document titled “Agreed Measures on Dayton Accords Compliance,” dated March 18, 1996, which states: “Access to electronic and print media for all recognized political groupings is an absolute prerequisite for successful elections and for the building of a viable constitutional order” (Point 1). The parties agreed to disseminate standards to enable journalists to perform their professional duties and for governments to issue licenses and frequencies fairly (Point 7).

 In July, prior to the start of political campaigning for Sept. 14 general elections, the parties agreed to a document titled “Regulations Concerning the Obligations of Governments in Relation to the Media in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” a supplement to the Dayton Accords. The document states that “the Governments will permit journalists to enjoy complete freedom of movement and unhindered pursuit of their professional activities throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. Journalists who are citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina shall exercise this right on the basis of an indentification card issued by their media organization or by an appropriate professional association. Accreditation cards will be identical in both Entities, and will only state the name of the journalist, the specific media…and should include a photograph. Foreign journalists shall exercise their rights on the basis of accreditation already issued by the appropriate authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina or to be issued in the future by the OSCE [intergovernmental Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] Media Experts Commission and such accreditation will be valid in the entire territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.” (Art. 125).

 Article 126 guarantees that journalists “will not be subject to detention, harassment or interference in pursuit of their legitimate activities.” Article 127 states that the governments “will ensure that licenses and frequencies for electronic and printed media are granted expeditiously, on the basis of objective non-political criteria, in order to ensure that all political parties and candidates in the elections have equitable access to the media.”

 The supplemental agreement also contains “Standards for Professional Conduct for the Media and Journalists,” such as the injunctions “to make a clear distinction between factual reporting and editorial comment” (Art. 128); “to ensure that the information they report is factually accurate, complete, fair, equitable and unbiased” (Art. 130); “to avoid distortion, suppression, falsification, misrepresentation and censorship”; and “to avoid language which encourages discrimination, ridicule, prejudice or hatred” (Art. 133). CPJ notes that like all press laws, these “standards,” arrogantly flouted by state-sponsored media, are difficult to define and adjudicate and actually become cudgels in the hands of governments determined to suppress independent media.


All major television and radio stations are controlled by regional authorities and their ruling parties in each ethnically determined “entity” of Bosnia: the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Sarajevo-based government); the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Muslim-Croat Federation including the Croat-controlled “mini-state” of Herzeg-Bosna) and the Republika Srpska (Serb Republic), the Bosnian Serb enclave. Correspondents describe conditions in Republika Srpska and Herzeg-Bosna as particularly severe. Although election rules require access by opposition candidates, quite typical is the announcement of SRT (Serb Radio-Television) in late July that it would simply no longer give air time to political parties “deemed unpatriotic” by editors. According to the Aug. 14 report of the International Crisis Group (ICG), SRT in Republika Srpska announced frankly that “Political parties and coalitions that think that they will generate support from viewers through lies and still take part in the pre-election campaign, must expect to be pulled from the screen of [Bosnian] Serb television.” When representatives of the Party for Democratic Action (SDA) of Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic appeared on a nightly 90-minute program supposedly set aside for other political parties, SRT’s television screen went blank for 14 minutes then switched to pop-music videos.

 Even if stations go through the motion of creating timeslots for the opposition, these opportunities are used by the ruling parties to ridicule their competition, or else the program will be disrupted by a fortuitous power outage. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and Media Plan (MP) have documented copious examples of “strategic omissions,” “outright character assassinations,” and “preferential treatment of political patrons.”

Independent or opposition newspapers are reduced to limited circulation, such as the daily Oslobodjenje in Sarajevo or the fortnightly Novi prelom in Banja Luka, with runs of 10,000 and 5,000, respectively. While publications can be found in kiosks, people still find the purchase of a newspaper a luxury in postwar Bosnia. Editors in one entity are prevented from distributing their newspapers in another and it is rare to find even opposition publications willing to cross boundaries.

Broadcast journalists told CPJ that the process for obtaining licenses was “sheer anarchy.” Regulations are contradictory or unclear, officials corrupt, and authorities reluctant to cede their monopolies. Even independent television or radio stations that have obtained permission to broadcast experience disruptions.

  • According to IWRP, Hyde Park, the popular call-in talk show broadcast twice a week by Sarajevo’s independent radio station Studio 99, has repeatedly complained of lines going dead when listeners attempt to discuss controversial issues. On June 4, when the topic was the existence of two armies in the Muslim-Croat Federation and on June 6, before a scheduled debate on plans to send an official Bosnian delegation to Belgrade for negotiations on establishment of relations with Serbia, the lines went dead.
  • Radio Zid, an independent radio station in Sarajevo, told CPJ that its listeners began complaining in August that they could no longer tune in to the station. In its place, they were hearing a new officially sponsored station, Orthodox Radio St. John, broadcasting out of Republika Srpska. Editors at Radio Zid discovered that Radio St. John was using its frequency, 89.9. At first Radio Zid increased its kilowattages but it received a letter from the commander of IFOR (the Peace Implementation Force) saying that Zid was interfering with military communications. The radio station then appealed to the OSCE, but was told that the OSCE could not stop the Serb station from broadcasting. Next, radio executives appealed to the Bosnian Ministry of Culture to give them a new, as yet unused frequency, 89.7, but they have received no answer. The station is now publicly appealing to the international community to intercede on its behalf so that its audience can once again receive Radio Zid’s broadcast signal.

     Radio St. John was founded by, among others, Sonja Karadzic, daughter of Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war criminal who was forced to step down from public office. Sonja Karadzic reportedly has invested heavily in the station, now broadcasting on nine frequencies. Sonja Karadzic is the head of the International Press Center in Pale, which has come under fire from foreign and domestic correspondents for charging exorbitant accreditation fees. International monitors fear that another newly established radio station in Srpska Republika, Radio Drina, with far less technical ability and financial support than Radio St. John, will also be drowned out.

  • IN-TV, known as “Carl Bildt TV” after the High Representative of the international community, has been plagued with difficulties in staffing and financing the $11 million project . But the chief obstacle has been the Bosnian government’s refusal to amend a law that prevents the linkage of private stations’ frequencies into a network or using several transmission points to provide wider reception. The New York Times reported on Aug. 28 that police surrounded the space leased in Sarajevo for the station’s central studios and prevented entry. Although the studios were moved to another building, Bosnian officials warned the new landlord not to cooperate with the station. Furthermore, according to foreign officials, some of the five independent stations are being harassed by local authorities.

     In a conversation with CPJ’s chair Kati Marton on Sept. 2, High Representative Bildt said that IN-TV would begin broadcasting on Sept. 7. He acknowledged difficulties for the station in reaching rural areas and expressed concern about the need to keep the station functioning long after the elections.

    Local journalists told CPJ they were skeptical of Bildt’s efforts to piece together a station out of five existing independent stations, all weak, without sufficient experience and personnel. “Many of the best journalists have left the country,” said one who remained. The project was not being taken seriously, others said, because it was widely believed that the signal could not reach Republika Srpska, and would therefore have little impact where it was needed. According to the International Crisis Group, the network is based on five essentially Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) stations and broadcasts from Sarajevo. This one-sided approach necessitated by local realities is likely to undermine the project’s impact on Bosnian Serb and Croat-controlled territory.

     An American documentary filmmaker close to the project said there would be satellite uplinks that would enable people with satellite dishes to receive the broadcast. But a European monitor claimed that the satellite would enable the stations only to communicate with one another, not to expand their audience. He acknowledged that an estimated 10 percent of the population in Serb territory own the dish antennas and could in theory receive the signal. IN-TV is “tinkering around the margins, however powerful a medium [it is]; it is not going to singlehandedly redress all the grievances and imbalances,” said the European observer. In any event, the tinkering will come too late, with the station coming on the air only a week before the elections.


Widely reported interethnic violence, increasing again before the elections, has spilled over to journalists covering controversial issues and the campaigns of opposition parties. Several notorious incidents late last year and after the onset of the campaign in July have had a chilling effect on reporters.

  • In December 1995, Senad Avdic, editor of the independent weekly Sarajevo magazine Slobodna Bosna, was assaulted by unidentified thugs after publishing an article critical of the government, editors told CPJ. The magazine is known for its anti-nationalist stance and sensational corruption stories, based on reports from police and intelligence sources, Western monitors said.
  • On Aug. 15 or 16, 1996, Nedzad Mulahuseinovic, a schoolteacher in the town of Tesanj, close to Serb territory, was severely beaten by unidentified assailants. Nedzad Mulahuseinovic is married to Azenina Mulahuseinovic, the correspondent in this Muslim-controlled town for the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje, her colleagues at the newspaper told CPJ. Azenina had reported several stories about the harassment of local opposition political parties, including the beating of a local leader of the UBSD (United Bosnian Social Democrat) party two months ago. Her editors believed that the targeting of her husband was related to her coverage of the pre-election violence.
  • Mato Bikic, a correspondent for ONASA, the news agency affiliated with Oslobodjenje, was beaten in Tuzla on Oct. 6, 1995, according to Bikic’s colleagues. Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) said the suspect in the beating is a journalist from Zmaj od Bosne, a newspaper close to the radical wing of the local branch of the SDA, Izetbegovic’s party.

CPJ has also received well-documented allegations of dismissals of journalists for ethnic or political reasons, although the victims are unwilling to go on the record for fear of retaliation. Authorities have also moved to ban media that refuse to submit to state control.

  • The OSCE-sponsored Free Election Radio Network (FERN) headquarters in Sarajevo told CPJ that the Bosnian Serb Transport and Communications Ministry had forbidden FERN from using its transmitter, located on Mount Kozora, to broadcast to Banja Luka and the surrounding area. At the request of Bosnian Serb officials, FERN had sought permission to broadcast from the Ministry but was refused the right on Aug. 12. The Ministry then banned the station on Aug. 15 for using a transmitter without permission. FERN employees told CPJ that they continue to broadcast and that the transmitter in question is protected by IFOR forces. FERN also said that the Bosnian Serb administration has not proceeded with any further action since FERN ignored the ban and listeners still receive the signal.


By all accounts, the greatest factor affecting press freedom is the absence of freedom of movement . The population’s overwhelming tendency is to remain in their own ethnic enclaves because of stories of violent reprisals against those who endeavor to return to their hometowns. As a Sarajevo-based journalist told CPJ, “The political divison in the country makes the job of our journalists impossible on the territories of Republika Srpska or Herzeg-Bosna.” “Local journalists do not even take advantage of the rare opportunities afforded them on trips organized by the OSCE and IFOR,”explained an international monitor. RSF has described some heavily guarded field trips across borders organized for journalists by the international community, mainly to attend OSCE press conferences. Adnan Sarajlic, head of Radio Zid in Sarajevo, complained, “Because it’s impossible to go to Republika Srpska without the international organizations, journalists can only meet officials. Obviously, what interests us is to talk to the residents.” Zoran Ilic, deputy head of Sarajevo’s Studio 99, also expressed his frustration at not being able to “do a normal report by meeting the inhabitants of the city rather than local and international officials.”

 The Croat-controlled “mini-state” of Herzeg-Bosna was supposed to be dismantled by Croatian President Franjo Tudjman by the end of August, but reporters told CPJ that a disbanding would be meaningless. “Although we expect a dismantling soon, we will still be dealing with the very same Croat authorities,” said a news director convinced that freedom of movement for Muslims in Croat-controlled territory would not improve soon.

 Journalists told CPJ that local news media have gotten around freedom of movement restrictions by maintaining telephone and, to a smaller extent, electronic mail connections with stringers in local villages who attempt to cover opposition campaigns. Journalists sometimes become more vulnerable to violence when they are far from their news organizations’ headquarters (see Mulahuseinovic case above).

Under the terms of agreements about working conditions for journalists, accreditation is supposed to contain only the name of the correspondent and his or her news organization. But in Bosnia, where every transaction, public and private, is defined by ethnicity, people are skilled at decoding ethnic origin just from names or photographs. Many independent local reporters do not have cars at their disposal in the devastated postwar country. The license plates of private automobiles can denote the ethnicity of passengers because the letters indicate the towns of origin of the vehicles.

  • On July 5, 1995, in Usce on the bridge near the Serb-controlled town of Doboj, two Serb journalists from the fortnightly Alternativa — Bosko Jelic and Aco Sakota — were attacked and roughed up by unidentified Bosnian Muslims who came from the Muslim-Croat Federation. The bridge at the “Inter-Entity Border Line” (IEBL), as the line between the two ethnic enclaves is known, had been recently reopened. The reporters’ car, a red Yugo with license place DO-1262, which shows that the car is from Doboj, was damaged. Journalists at the scene charge that IFOR troops present “did nothing.” IFOR told a foreign reporter that they were aware that some beatings took place when 130 people crossed the bridge from the Federation. A checkpoint has now been established at the bridge and the story of the beaten journalists has become legendary, cited by many correspondents interviewed by CPJ as the reason they would not engage in efforts to cross the IEBL.

Foreign journalists report that while IFOR press passes are generally honored and cars with foreign or OSCE license plates allowed to pass, authorities in Republika Srpska are demanding a separate credential obtainable only from the government’s International Press Center in Pale.

  • Frank Havlicek, Vice President of Industrial Relations and Environmental Services for The Washington Post, discovered in June that Press Center officials were charging 20 DM (US $30) for a seven-day press pass and 100 DM (US $150) for “services,” pressuring foreign journalists to accept the translation and escort services of a “bodyguard” who functioned as the government’s informer. Ostensibly the purpose of the bodyguard is to look out for the numerous land mines remaining in the region. Journalists who refused the service, however, such as a Finnish television crew interviewed by Havlicek, were pursued and harassed by a Press Center employee sent to enforce the rules.
  • RSF reported that Francoise Michel of the French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Carsten Hoffmann of the German news agency Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA) were informed by Serb officials in April that they were not authorized to work in Republika Srpska because they had failed to obtain accreditation from the International Press Center. Michel reported that an English-language AFP colleague who failed to obtain permission to cover a visit by High Representative Bildt in Pale in mid-May was stopped and reprimanded by police. DPA’s Hoffman did obtain accreditation from the Pale Center, but when he asked for authorization to travel to Srebrenica, site of the widely reported Serb massacre of Muslims, he was refused.

Other foreign reporters, including Americans from major news media, told CPJ they simply circumvented the Pale International Press Center in order to avoid its restrictions, and took their chances in the field without passes or escorts.

 While foreign journalists have more access with their foreign plates and IFOR passes, their interpreters can instantly meet roadblocks when they go “in the other direction.” For example, a Serb translator will be needed to get around Republika Srpska; yet attempting to enter non-Serb areas will place the interpreter at risk.

  • A Western reporter traveling with a Serb interpreter from a major newspaper reported incidents of being stopped by Croat policemen and told not to go into certain areas because “fighting is going on,” although that was not always the case. The news team was also stopped by Muslim police because the translator was a Serb. Although stopped while attempting to report on the postelection scene in Mostar in the Muslim-Croat Federation, the reporter and translator did not turn back. On most occasions presentation of IFOR and foreign press credentials and vows to publicize incidents of obstruction of the press were enough to gain passage, but the reporter avoided risk to the interpreter by staying away from non-Serb areas.
  • RSF learned that Austrian journalist Gregor Mayer, assigned to Bosnia by the magazine Profil, and his interpreter Zoltan Nemeth, a journalist from Novi Sad, Serbia, were refused passage within Republika Srpska in late April. A border guard showed Mayer a list containing his name and purportedly those of other journalists banned from Serb territory, and then sent the reporters away, saying they did not have the necessary accreditation from the International Press Center in Pale. Several days later, when the pair were investigating suspected massacres of Bosnian Muslims in eastern Bosnia, Serb police forced them to return to the border.


The ease with which journalists were arrested and falsely accused early in the year, despite the Dayton agreement’s guarantee of freedom of movement, and the slowness of the responses by OSCE, discouraged many reporters from travel and made them skeptical of the ability of the international community to come to their aid.

  • On Feb. 8, 1996, Srdjan Ilic, an Associated Press (AP) photographer based in Belgrade, Serbia, and Hidajet Delic-Degi, a photographer who works for the Bosnian news agency BH Press and AP, were detained on a bridge in the no-man’s-land between entity checkpoints. Serb police told Delic-Degi “we’re looking for people like you.” The pair were taken to the Grbavica district in Sarajevo, under Serb control at the time, then to Serb police headquarters in Pale. Ilic was released the next day, but Delic-Degi, who was carrying negatives of photographs taken in Bosnian President Izetbegovic’s office, was kept in detention. Bosnian Serb authorities accused Delic-Degi of having served in the Bosnian government’s army in 1992 and of having ordered the murder of a Serb that summer. Delic-Degi’s colleagues at AP’s Belgrade office informed CPJ that the accusations were false and that Delic-Degi was exempted from military service because of his work at AP.

For five days the Bosnian Journalists Association and the Union of Independent Professional Journalists of Bosnia and Herzegovina boycotted their coverage of all activities of High Representative Bildt and OSCE Chief of Mission, U.S. Ambassador Robert Frowick. A group of some 100 journalists demonstrated outside the offices of the High Representative and demanded international intervention. On March 25, Delic-Degi was set free in Pale, less than 24 hours after a Serb reporter, Ninko Djuric, was released by the Bosnian government. Djuric, who works for the Pale-based Bosnian Serb weekly Javnost, had been arrested on Sept. 10, 1995, during fighting at Mount Ozren. No reasons were given for his arrest. CPJ protested the use of noncombatant journalists in prison-of-war exchanges.

  • Srecko Latal, a Bosnian journalist working for AP, was detained on March 29. Latal had been attacked by a crowd of Serbs when he went to investigate clashes between Serbs and Bosnian police near Sarajevo. The crowd then forced Latal into a Serb police car. At this point, Italian soldiers with IFOR reportedly intervened and took Latal out of the Serb police car. The soldiers searched him, took him inside an armored personnel carrier, handcuffed him, and returned him to the Serb police, despite the fact that an Agence-France Presse reporter at the scene shouted that Latal was a member of the press. Latal was released three hours later in Serb-held Lukavica. In a letter to IFOR, CPJ protested the Italian soldiers’ treatment of Latal.

But Unsolved Cases Remain

In the four years of the wars in the former Yugoslavia (1991-1995), 45 journalists were confirmed by CPJ as killed in the line of duty. At least 15 were not killed accidentally in crossfire, but deliberately targeted by assassins. Since the signing of the Dayton Accords on Dec. 14, 1995, and the end of the Bosnian war, there have been no reports of journalists killed or missing. Yet the murders of those killed during the war or missing and presumed dead remain unsolved. To date, not a single killer of a journalist has been brought to justice.

  • Sasha Kolevski, a cameraman for SRT (Bosnian Serb television) in Banja Luka, and Goran Pejcinovic, the station’s driver, disappeared on Sept. 23, 1995, while covering fighting on Mount Ozren in Serb-controlled territory. According to an SRT reporter who was riding with them at the time of the incident, Bosnian troops shot at their vehicle, seriously wounding or killing Kolevski and Pejcinovic. The body of Pejcinovic was returned to Bosnian Serb authorities on Oct. 25. CPJ is still trying to establish what happened to Kolevski, at the request of his colleagues.

    There are currently no reports of journalists convicted and imprisoned or held in detention for a prolonged period. Two cases from before the war remain under investigation.

  • Frane Jezidzicic, a Bosnian Muslim correspondent in central Bosnia for the Croatian daily Slovodna Dalmacija, was arrested on July 18, 1993, by Bosnian Serb soldiers near Bugojno. He was reported as being still in prison at the end of 1994. No news of his current status has been available.
  • Alojzij Krivograd, a Slovenian freelance photographer working for United Press International, AP, and other international news agencies was arrested on Sept. 10, 1992 while walking from Gorazde to Foca. According to the Slovenian Foreign Minister, he was detained by Serbs in Foca. The International Committee of the Red Cross has declared him missing.

This report was prepared by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, Program Coordinator for Eurasia, and Amanda Onion, Research Assistant for Central Europe. We are grateful to the foreign and domestic correspondents who assisted us with this report, as well as the Western European monitoring organizations listed here