Genuine freedom of online media does not benefit either political party in BiH

Source/Author: Dragiša Sikimić, BHN Bulletin E-journalist

SARAJEVO, 17.01.2018.Online media field in BiH, being considered as completely unsettled and messy area and branch, followed by the lack of political will by the official governing authorities, resulted in the appearance of the vast number of internet media websites emerging in public literally out of nowhere.

Often, there are no details available or even basic information provided about the ownership of such media houses or even no information about journalists posting the news in these online media houses. Nowadays, almost anyone in BiH can launch a setup internet website, design it in form of news internet web site and thus become the owner of such online media house. There is neither Law on Media Ownership Transparency nor Law on Advertising in our country so far. I haven’t discovered yet how certain websites managed to receive their ISSN numbers. Also, there is no Legal Act regarding the minimum number of employees with certain university degrees obtained, necessary to be engaged with such online media houses. Therefore, any online media web house can start with business engaging only one “journalist” and this journalist can post anything he/she likes with no legal responsibility as a consequence. All of the above mentioned additionally creates continuous degrading and devaluing of online journalism comparing to traditional journalism, such as TV and Radio and results in mistrust by the general public regarding the online media news and information. No political party in BiH showed political will and desire to finally solve the above-mentioned problems pursuant to EU countries and their experiences.

Local governing officials in Trebinje managed to “buy out” the existing online websites and shall introduce new websites soon

Largest local and, at the same time, ruling political party (SNSD), seriously took into consideration the growth of online media houses in future and they consequently decided, through indirect financial arrangements and through both public and private companies, to purchase and buy almost all local websites in the city of Trebinje. There is whole “army” of political activists that are in charge of editing the contents of at least five (5) local websites in Trebinje, but also in charge with launching new websites and the founder of one of these recently emerged local websites, following the last 2016 Local / Municipal Elections, has been awarded with a vacancy (a full time job) in City Hall. These kinds of information do make an outstanding reflection and influence, particularly in smaller regions such as East Herzegovina. Additionally, younger generation of future journalists thus receives rather highlighted and very powerful message: Do launch your own website, since you may, through loyal “journalism” – “get a full-time job” in Public Sector.

Online media houses being under pressure by political institution

City Hall, City Assembly, including highly ranked officials of Public Enterprises with head offices in Trebinje have been using all mechanisms available to disallow independent journalists and deprive them of the right to free and undisturbed work. Journalists working for our web site have been denied from taking part in all public venues organized by City Hall officials with an explanation and justification, issued personally by the City Mayor himself, that (quote): “He shall invite us “when something important emerges”. City’s Prime Official Authority thus allows himself to make personally based decisions on what journalists should consider as “important” information!?

City Assembly governing body official went even further up in their rules by introducing new rules regarding report making from assembly sessions (local assembly) and these rules differ from all rules in the previous period. After abjuring the initial decision to impose a complete ban for all journalists willing to participate during Assembly Hall sessions, new governing body officials decided that any journalists (willing to participate during Assembly sessions) must provide the officials with valid accreditation cards 48 hours prior to assembly session commencement. It was only after a “rebellion” raised by local journalists that the official governing authorities decided to allow journalists to get accredited via electronic sources and journalists are still unsatisfied with this improvised decision either. President of Trebinje City Assembly made a promise to all media representatives that would have a special meeting with them in March 2017; however, it seems that his promise was just another lie.

From threats and ignoring to mafia – mannered arrogance

I personally witnessed the pressure imposed by local politicians against the owners and online media editors that wish to remain independent in their work regardless of eventual circumstances. Luka Petroviç, present Trebinje City Mayor, and SNSD General Secretary, had during the pre-election campaign in 2016, when he won the elections by gaining trust by his voters for mandate, threatened me personally over the phone and warned me that I should stop writing articles/texts about him and he also threatened to press charges against me because of two article s/ texts written and posted by me. His threats also included discriminatory and hate speech directed against me. The entire case was posted on particular internet websites and TV stations. OSCE BiH officials were also informed about these threats and we managed to get information about the plan for charges/plaint through the BH Journalists office in Sarajevo. Unfortunately, after our lawyer had evaluated the complete case and situation, we decided not to press charges in this particular case.

Currently, City Hall officials in Trebinje attempt to ignore our media house as much as possible. We have been deprived of information, we also have to wait for statements for over five (5) days and often we get no required statements or releases at all.

It is also important to emphasize the case of “Trebisnjica Hydroelectric Power Plant” whose officials have been trying to disallow us from receiving and getting appropriate information, that we believe represented general public interest, as this actually displayed the violation of the Law on Free Access to Information. At certain time, after we asked the officials of Trebisnjica Hydro – Electric Power Plant why they keep refusing to reply and answer to all our enquiries and questions which again represented clear violation of the Law, Gordan Miseljic, general manager of this Public Enterprise and also a member of ruling SNDS political party, replied to our female colleague by stating the “the law does exist so it can be violated”.

This text is a part of E-Bulletin– second edition of special serial of BHN online bulletin implemented through the “Media and Public Reputation” (origin. “Mediji i javni ugled”) project, also representing a contribution to public debate regarding the transparency of media ownership and upholding and encouraging the passing of set of laws aimed to advance media field and information market in BiH.