Sarajevo, June 28, 2021 – The Steering Committee of the BH Journalists Association expresses deep concern over the recent decision of the Municipal Court in Sarajevo, according to which the company “Avaz-roto press” was seized more than 212,000 BAM from the account to collect court penalties and costs of the court proceedings, following a 2009 defamation lawsuit.
The Steering Committee of BH Journalists does not question the legality of the said court decision that followed after “Avaz-roto press” paid the court costs as well as the plaintiff’s claim for damages in full and published the content of the verdict on half a page, instead of the whole page, as requested by the plaintiff. However, BH Journalists emphasize that such high fines (penalties for untimely execution of part of the final verdict) can seriously jeopardize the work and business of the media outlets, which was also drew to our attention by the editors of “Dnevni Avaz“, stating that due to the seizure of these funds, the existence of hundreds of employees of this media outlet is now in question.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the collection of excessive damages claims for defamation lawsuits, as well as court costs and penalties calls into question the survival of the media outlets in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The so-called SLAPP lawsuits, most often initiated by political and judicial officials against journalists and the media, with the clear goal of stopping any criticism of officials and researching issues and topics of public interest through financial destruction or endangering the media, represent a growing problem in BiH and the region, as well as throughout the European Union.
The Steering Committee of the BH Journalists Association emphasizes that when making court decisions regarding defamation lawsuits or (non)execution of court judgments, it is necessary to find a balance between the economic power of the media, the public interest and the right to compensation. The above mentioned decision of the Municipal Court in Sarajevo against “Avaz roto-press” is an example of the judiciary’s actions outside the EU standards and practice, in which compensation claims in such cases must be reasonable and must not in any way jeopardize the economic survival of the media.
We would also like to emphasize the fact that this is a case that dates back to 2009 and in which the first-instance verdict on the defamation lawsuit was passed in 2012. Thus, the entire court process related to this case lasts a full 12 years, which speaks volumes about the inefficiency of the judicial system in Bosnia and Herzegovina in which such cases are dragged through the courts for an unacceptably long time – and this ultimately leads to huge amounts of court costs in individual cases.
Nearly 300 defamation lawsuits against journalists and the media are currently active in the courts in BiH. It is astonishing that more than 80 percent of plaintiffs in these cases are politicians, members of the judiciary and other public officials who do not accept criticism and questioning of their work through media as a contribution to public political debate, but as an opportunity for political and institutional pressure on the media and the means of their economic destruction.
The Steering Committee of the BH Journalists Association