The Institution of Human Rights Ombudsman/ Ombudsmen of Bosnia and Herzegovina: Protection of journalists and media freedoms


SARAJEVO, 10.10.2018.-The Institution of Human Rights Ombudsman/Ombudsmen of Bosnia and Herzegovina (hereinafter The Institution of Ombudsman/Ombudsmen) was established in 1996 and during the period of last 20 years and its establishment, there have been many changes, including the joining of entity-level Institutions of Ombudsman/Ombudsmen and enlarging their area of responsibilities, such as during the Law on Protection against Defamation, passed in 2009.

While taking the scope of work by the Institution of Ombudsman/Ombudsmen into serious analysis and consideration, in terms of the protection of journalists’ rights, and including the safety aspect in particular, it is important to bear in mind that legal framework, under which the Institution of Ombudsman/Ombudsmen operates, and which is primarily defined by the Law on Ombudsman/Ombudsmen for Human rights of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Law on Protection against Discrimination and partially, laws defining free access to information and other appointing to governing ruling positions, including ministries, governments and other appointing as well.

The Institution of Ombudsman/Ombudsmen is aware of journalists’ special role, including other media staff, in establishing and developing a society dedicated to the rule of law and high degree of the protection of human rights and freedoms, with special focus on subjects and cases that may be considered and treated as assaults on journalists and other media workers. The Institution of Ombudsman/Ombudsmen equally treats all parties that seek aid and professional help, but it is also completely aware of the significance that journalists have in a democratic society, and aware that journalists are, due to their public role, more exposed in public than others.

Therefore, if there is a case of an assault on journalists, and if the assaulter or assaulters get away with this, we must be aware that this may increase the belief with general public that some crimes could remain intact and consequently it could make the public remain silent when they should raise their voices instead, it could also reduce public critics, diminish their attitudes etc and all because of their fear of eventual and undesired consequences. Hence, when we speak about fining, sanctions and punishing the assaulters on journalists, we must be familiar with the public perception and other effects. Failing to fine, sanction or punish the assaulter on journalists, inevitably leads to the reduction of democracy level in any society.

During the cases which could be considered as assaults on journalists, jeopardizing and endangering their safety or some other type of violation of their rights, including discriminatory behavior, the Institution of Ombudsman/Ombudsmen instigates and leads the investigation in these particular cases. While working on particular cases, they do not reveal the identity of journalists being subject to assault or assaults or reveal the identity journalists whose safe had been endangered. The Institution of Ombudsman/Ombudsmen demanded from official authorities, most of from the police, information regarding all actions taken, that is, has been following the proceedings.

On the other hand, in cases when journalists have been threatened or insulted in public areas (of course we are aware of the fact that the definition of public space or public area has been evolving on daily basis), or threatened or offended at work and if we could identify these cases as violation of rules related to discrimination ban or imposing discrimination and unequal position, the Institution of Ombudsman/Ombudsmen shall launch the investigation and respond in accordance with their competences. We often hear many critics in public attempting to diminish the role of the Institution of Ombudsman/Ombudsmen, by outlining that its role is less important than the role of other institutions, because it only issues recommendations or releases its views and these are considered as optional and unbounded and therefore, they are considered as less important in comparison with, for instance, verdicts passed by local courts.

We consider these kinds of opinions and views rather wrong. The purpose of meanings and recommendations is to indicate the violation of rights of an individual or group and point out to those held responsible about the measures necessary in order to eliminate these violations since they, apart from admitting the occurrence of violation of rights of certain victims, also represent and display the nature and way of how these violations should be terminated. In any event, in cases where recommendations are not implemented and if court proceedings emerge, recommendations or opinions provided by the Institution of Ombudsman/Ombudsmen officials may be used as evidence during the court process.

Naturally, as far as the safety of journalists is concerned, the Institution of Ombudsman/Ombudsmen have so far, (from the moment of case opening) weather according to journalist appeal or by appeal filed in by the authorized official (association or lawyer), tended to, pursuant to their competences, follow the work and proceedings by the official authorized bodies involved. Institution of Ombudsman/Ombudsmen officials are aware of the fact that the number of cases they receive or number of cases they open each year (and which relates to the question of journalists’ safety), is relatively small (during the past period until present, this number ranges between few tens of cases on an annual level), in comparison with the range of this specific problem (issue) and the outspread of this occurrence, they have decided to be more active as far as this particular issue is concerned.

Accordingly, in 2017 the Institution of Ombudsman/Ombudsmen issued a Special report on the positions and cases of threats against journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina and they have also, through their work, established regular contacts with associations representing journalists and media staff in order to get closer to journalists. One of the most frequent questions that we face today (when we speak about the safety of journalists) is certainly the prevalence of these cases, percentage, and specificity etc. Sometimes, the information does not reflect the real and actual situation for many reasons. The first reason is surely the fact that the particular number of endangering journalists’ safety cases is not reported and thus remains unregistered officially.

Still, continual work and actions were taken by Free Media Help Line, including other platforms gathering and collecting relevant information and data in Bosnia and Herzegovina, may provide us with the clearer picture, as far as this specific issue is concerned.

In the end, when we talk about journalists’ safety, we cannot focus on the number of assaults against journalists alone, in terms of creating a conception or idea regarding the acceptable or unacceptable number of assaults. Every single assault and every endangering of journalists’ safety requires serious approach and attention. Also, regardless of eventual sanctions that may be imposed in these cases (against those held responsible), it is significant and important that the society condemns such assaults and supports journalists in their work.

This text is a part of E-Bulletin–the second edition of the special serial of BHJ online bulletin implemented as part of the following project: Reinforcing Judicial Expertise on Freedom of Expression and the Media in South-East Europe (JUFREX). 

Edin Ibrahimefendić, BHN Bulletin E-journalist, Sarajevo, 10/10/2018