New media regulation is on the horizon, but journalists are concerned

Bosnia and Herzegovina, with its complex political structure, is lacking in media legislation. The state-level law on communications mentions media only once and does not mention the word 'journalist' at all. Media professionals and experts have been calling for years for a media legislation to be adopted. These laws should regulate the transparency of media ownership, amongst other issues.

The authorities have ignored these calls for years, but the ruling parties in Republika Srpska, one of two entities in the country, started drafting new legislation recently. However, they have already faced some criticism from media professionals who claim that the start of the process was neither inclusive nor transparent enough.

At the time of writing (November 2023), no information had been made public about the content of the legislation.

Currently, there is no obligation for media in Bosnia and Herzegovina to disclose the names of their editorial team or the name of their owner. As the Media Ownership Monitor's analysis shows, it is up to the media outlets itself how transparent they want to be. There are media outlets that are among the most popular in the country that are transparent about their editorial staff list and owners but also popular outlets that are completely non-transparent. One such media outlet even said explicitly that it does not want to identify its owner, company or editor to BIRN for this project.

Most media outlets are somewhere in the middle, selectively sharing information. Even some media outlets that are widely known and have significant impact on everyday life or politics do not make some basic information public, such as their journalists' names.

MOM analysis shows that online media are less transparent about their owner or newsroom team than print media or TV and radio stations. Online media are also less regulated, as TV and radio stations are partly regulated by the work of the Regulatory Agency for Communications.

Media experts and organisations such as Mediacentar and journalists' associations have been asking for years for the authorities to adopt a media ownership transparency law.

Such a request has also been repeated by the European Union as one of the broader conditions for the country to start its membership negotiation process.

In its last report on Bosnia and Herzegovina's progress, the European Commission concluded that “no steps were taken to adopt legislation on media ownership transparency (including on the prevention of hidden media concentration), legislation on advertising or criteria for the distribution of subsidies”.

“The advertising practices of publicly owned businesses, such as telecom companies, and of advertising agencies linked to political parties continue to harm media integrity. Local broadcasters that receive funding from local authorities remain subject to political pressure and influence,” the report said.

In January 2022 the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed economic sanctions on Milorad Dodik, a member of Bosnia and Herzegovina's presidency at the time. OFAC also announced the blacklisting of “a media outlet under his [Dodik's] control, Alternativna Televizija (ATV)”.

OFAC claimed that Alternativna Televizija is privately owned by a company closely linked to Dodik’s family, which the station and Dodik's family denied. OFAC also claimed that “Dodik himself exerts personal control over ATV behind the scenes, such as by requiring personal approval on media stories related to politically sensitive topics”.

“Dodik acquired ATV to deliberately and expressly further his own agenda, which includes his efforts to denigrate other political figures, burnish his public image, and advance his own personal and political goals,” OFAC alleged.

But despite urging from the EU and experts, there has been no progress towards adopting media ownership transparency legislation because  politicians are reluctant and also disagree about which level of government should adopt such a law.

In 2018 consortium made up of the BH Journalists Association, the NGO JaBiHEU, the Press Council and the Mediacentar foundation put forward a draft law on the transparency of media ownership, pluralism of information and the advertising market in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But it was never picked up by politicians.

There was a discussion about it among politicians in the Federation, one of the two entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the idea was rejected as they argued that it should be adopted at the state level, according to a Mediacentar report.

The Mediacentar report also cited information from the Ministry of Communication and Transport that there are laws in the making on electronic communications and electronic media, although they hadn't been drafted at that point. However, no official information has been published about this proposed legislation since then.

In October 2023, the Republika Srpska government started to assemble a group to prepare a new media law. The Republika Srpska ruling party, whose politicians are copying Russian and Hungarian laws on media and NGOs, says it wants to make the media more transparent. But some media professionals are already worried that it could worsen the situation for independent media as the whole process lacks transparency and accountability. The Republika Srpska government had yet to publish more detailed information at the time of writing of this report.

  • Project by
    Global Media Registry
    Funded by European Union