Bosnia and Herzegovina must not become the only European country without a public service media

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Source/Author: EFJ

Bosnia and Herzegovina Radio and Television (BHRT) is facing catastrophic financial difficulties and risks being shut down, leaving 800 employees with no job, if a funding agreement is not reached. The European and International Federations of Journalists (EFJ-IFJ) appeals to the BHRT management and politicians to find a solution as a matter of urgency.

The national public broadcaster was deprived of its only source of income, when the state-owned electric utility company Elektroprivreda BiH did not collect the TV licence fees from the citizens along with their January electricity bills. The contract with Elektroprivreda BiH was not renewed last December after a contract dispute with BHRT management.

BHRT’s financial problems are long-standing. Employees have received no social contributions (paying for pensions and ill-health insurance) since 2015. In addition, the Law on the Public Broadcasting System has been violated since 2017 with the Radio-television of Republika Srpska (RTRS), the Serb autonomous entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, failing to transfer to BHRT the corresponding share of the tax. This had reduced available funding for the station €41 million. Radio-television of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the public service of the second entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, also owes the national public broadcaster almost €8 million. All these debts are the subject of court disputes.

Independent Trade Union of Workers in BHRT has been denouncing salary inequalities between the management board and the employees, with taxpayer’s money not being properly distributed among BHRT’s workers. There are also issues with ageing equipment used by BHRT employees, some of which is over 40 years old.

On 30 January, the independent trade union of workers in BHRT warned that, if they are forced to use their legal rights, there may be an interruption in the broadcasting of programs and other telecommunications services, and that the state and entity authorities, as well as the management of all three public broadcasters, will be responsible for this.

The very existence of the public service media is at stake, as well as that of 800 employees. The IFJ and EFJ back the union’s demands for an agreement to be reached urgently, as well as for the implementation of fair salary grids, higher wages and better working conditions. The union further calls for financial inspections and prosecutors to determine where employees’ funds have ended up and who is responsible for BHRT’s bankruptcy, in order to punish those who have broken the law.

“Apart from the fact that for eight years we have not been paid contributions for shamefully low salaries, which has a specifically negative effect on pensions, BHRT workers have not received part of their December salary, and it is absolutely certain that we will not even receive the next salary for January. The workers are in fear for their livelihood and that of their families. We worry about how we will pay the loans and survive. All we ask is that they allow us to be professionals, do our job, and be adequately paid for it,” said Neda Tadić, a BHRT journalist and member of the Independent Trade Union of Workers in BHRT.

EFJ President Maja Sever added: “Bosnia and Herzegovina could become the only European country without a public service media. It’s been a month since BHRT has been officially without funding and politicians have still not agreed on any solution. They must understand that it is an emergency situation. We stand in solidarity with BHRT workers who continue working in this dire situation.”

IFJ President Dominique Pradalié said: “ We are standing with BHRT workers and we urge the government to take action. The public has an interest in getting access to strong, qualitative, independent public service media and this comes at a cost: decent wages for all workers and job security.

Source: EFJ