Bosnia and Herzegovina has robust laws and regulations designed to safeguard freedom of expression and access to information, along with solid regulatory and self-regulatory frameworks. However, the effective implementation of these legislative, regulatory, and self-regulatory measures has been lacking. Increasingly regressive measures which encroach on media freedoms in the country have been adopted in recent years, with more slated for adoption in the near future.
In the early 2000s, BiH introduced progressive media laws with the support of the international community, even becoming the first country in the region to decriminalize defamation. Laws such as the Law on the Protection Against Defamation, enacted by the National Assembly of Republika Srpska in 2001 and by the Parliament of the Federation in 2002, aimed to regulate civil liability for disseminating false information causing harm to individuals or entities. However, defamation lawsuits have been misused to pressure and intimidate journalists. These legal proceedings are often protracted and accompanied by substantial fines, placing an additional burden on journalists. Public officials and politicians have filed many such cases against journalists.
In 2023, the Republika Srpska government adopted amendments to the Criminal Code, criminalizing defamation despite warnings from international organizations, civil society groups, and the media that such changes would impede freedom of expression not only in the Republika Srpska but across the entire country. Additionally, Republika Srpska authorities prepared the Draft Law on the Special Registry and Publication of the Work of Non-Profit Organizations. This draft legislation mandates special labeling for organizations funded by foreign sources, including non-profit media, which could result in prohibitions on the operations of organizations labeled as agents of foreign influence. These legal measures pose a significant threat to civil society and independent media.
Moreover, the Laws on the Freedom of Access to Information at the state level and in the entities of both the Federation of BiH and the Republika Srpska affirm the right of every citizen and legal entity to access information held by public authorities. However, research conducted annually by Transparency International indicates that public institutions and companies routinely fail to respond appropriately to Freedom of Information Act requests. Additionally, a recent UN report highlighted the challenges journalists face in obtaining information.
Ensuring freedom of expression, media freedom, and the protection of journalists are among the fourteen priorities outlined by the European Commission for the country in 2019. Unfortunately, little has been done in recent years to ensure appropriate judicial follow-up on threats and violence against journalists or secure the financial sustainability of the public broadcasting system.
A significant step forward occurred in 2022 with the appointment of a contact person for journalists in the Prosecutor’s Office of the Sarajevo Canton, marking the first tangible effort toward enhanced protection and response to attacks and threats against journalists. Additionally, in mid-2022, the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH voted to classify attacks on journalists as a distinct criminal offense. However, the government has yet to enact this measure into law.
The appointment of a liaison for journalists in the Prosecutor’s Office of the Sarajevo Canton in 2022 was the first concrete step toward more effective protection and response to attacks and threats against journalists. In mid-2022, the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH also voted to classify attacks on journalists as a distinct criminal offense, but the government has yet to enact this measure.
The government of BiH has not adopted the Law on Electronic Communications and Electronic Media, despite being obligated to do so by 2016, according to the Stabilization and Association Agreement. Legislation on media ownership transparency remains absent, facilitating arbitrary and non-transparent allocation of public funds.
In 2023, the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH passed the new Law on Freedom to Access Information. However, this law faced criticism from civil society due to its extensive list of exceptions to public institutions’ obligation to provide information. Furthermore, the law designates the Appeals Council at the Council of Ministers as the appellate body for access to information requests, potentially compromising the independence of decision-making.
Media ownership transparency and concentration are not subject to regulation. Although ownership information can be obtained through business and association registries upon request and for a fee, this information is not proactively disclosed. Notably, details about online media outlets not registered as businesses remain inaccessible.
The safety of journalists and access to information in Bosnia and Herzegovina, United Nations, 2022
Accessed in October 2023
Commission Staff Working Document Bosnia and Herzegovina 2022 Report Accessed in October 2023
A step towards more efficient processing of reports of attacks on journalists in Sarajevo Canton, Marija Arnautović, Mediacentar Sarajevo 2022 Accessed in October 2023
The House of Peoples of the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH adopted the ZOSPI, Mediacentar Sarajevo, 2023 Accessed in October 2023
Sustainability of professional journalism in the media business environment of the Western Balkans, National data overview: Bosnia and Herzegovina, EU TACSO, 2020 Accessed in October 2023