Lejla Turčilo says that only in BiH it’s possible to have a law without implementation, and not only when it comes to the public syste * Tanja Topic believes that the problem with public broadcasters, with the existing political elites, cannot be solved * Srđan Blagovčanin says that we must open a public debate on what kind of public broadcasters we need
The public radio and television service of Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose work is a political issue, shares the fate of the entire country. We do not have to be media experts to understand that public broadcasters in BiH are more in the service of politicians than citizens. As in all other areas – we have a law that is just a “dead letter”. Numerous issues of the current Law of Public RTV Service in BiH (2005) have never been resolved, and we’re already talking about the new Law. That wouldn’t be bad if the new Law (from which is expected to address the obvious political influence on public broadcasters) isn’t just a mere hollow story by which the public is trying to be deceived.
The Minister of Transport and Communications of BiH Vojin Mitrović ambitiously announced on May’s session of the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH that the draft of the new law on the Public RTV Service of BiH will be in the parliamentary procedure by the end of the year.  This announcement followed a question by Marina Pendeš: “When the mentioned law will be passed due to the need of Croats to get their TV channel in the Croatian language”.
Draft of law is not (yet) for the public
The competent service within this Ministry has prepared a preliminary draft law on the Public RTV Service of BiH, which has not been defined and approved by the working group. This working group has been formalized, but the mandate of three members has expired in the part period for various reasons, and they need to be replaced.
“Two of the three members are nominated by the Board of the JRTV Service System in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Ministry requested new members from the Board promptly, but the Board has not yet nominated new members because they held the last session in May 2019. Until the new Working Group is formalized, this law cannot be sent to the prescribed legal procedure “, they say in the Ministry. They added that “at this stage, the Ministry cannot transparently place the prepared text in the public.”
“As soon as the working group approves the content of the text of the preliminary draft law, it will be published on the e-Consultation portal to obtain possible comments through public consultations,” the Ministry replied.
Whether and when the new working group will be formalized, no one can even guess for now.
The Communications Regulatory Agency of BiH (CRA) has a representative in the Working Group, but they still could not comment on their work. “In drafting the new Law, the Agency will point out the need to harmonize the existing Law on Public RTV Service BiH with the EU Directive on Audiovisual Media Services, following the System License issued on April 26, 2020. ”, the CRA answered briefly for the Association of BH Journalists.
According to the current Law, the Board of the System of Public RTV Services in BiH should consist of 12 members and should consist of all members of the management boards of public RTV services, four members from each public RTV service. It is precisely this Board that should appoint new members of the working group.
However, professor Lejla Turčilo says that “as far as she knows from practice, this Board has never been constituted and it exists only on paper, just like the Corporation of Public Broadcasters exists only on paper.”
“I don’t know how to resolve this issue if it is possible that there are laws in this state (not only considering public broadcasters but also otherwise) and there can be that there is no political will to apply the law. Nowhere in the world are laws interpreted, taken as they see fit, but respected in full or there are sanctions for non-compliance. It is only in BiH that there is a law, and there is no implementation, and not only when it comes to the public system “, emphasizes Professor Turčilo.
De – politicization of public broadcasters
She believes that the solution lies in respecting the law, and in that case, even the existing law could be a good framework for the professional work of public broadcasters. “I remind you that many issues, including those related to the establishment of the Corporation from the existing law, have not been resolved. At the same time, management, especially the boards of directors of public services, are highly politicized and it often seems that public broadcasters are part of the coin for undercutting political leaders in negotiations on the division of power “, she added.
She believes that without the choice of the management of public broadcasters, which will be based on professional competencies, and not on political affiliations, there is no solution for the de – politicization of public broadcasters.
It should be reminded that the Law on Public RTV Service of BiH from 2005 prescribes the obligation for three public RTV services (BHRT, RTRS, and RTFBiH) to form the Corporation as a joint management structure. The establishment of the Corporation is one of the conditions that BiH must meet in the process of joining the EU. This obligation has not been fulfilled to date.
As explained in the analysis of media legislation in BiH with recommendations for improving Together towards better media laws, authored by professor Zarfa Hrnjić-Kuduzović, published by the Association of BH Journalists, the consequence of the non-establishment of the Corporation is the non-existence of a public service system guided by the interests of the public, regulated to the highest professional standards that would contribute to the development of civil and civil society, and which would not be subject to politicization or ethnic divisions. In this way, resources for financing production costs could be used more optimally, instead of the current, more competitive than the cooperative relationship between the three broadcasters.
No protection of the public interest
The same analysis points out that one of the shortcomings of the current Law is that it does not provide adequate mechanisms for protecting public broadcasters from the political influences to which they are exposed, ie it does not prescribe procedures for appointing or dismissing members of the Management Board and general directors of public broadcasters. The state or entity laws that regulate their work stipulate that the key role in this process is played by the state or entity parliaments, but the three broadcasters apply uneven procedures.
Although candidates for BHRT and RTRS are nominated by the Communications Regulatory Agency of BiH (RAK), the RS National Assembly may refuse to nominate candidates from that list. The members of the Management Board of RTV FBiH are not nominated by the CRA but by the Commission for Election and Appointment of both Houses of the FBiH Parliament. When asked if we can expect that the new Law will deal with this issue, the Ministry answered that “the prepared text defines a legal norm that prevents political influence on the choice of administration and management.”
When will the prepared text be presented to the working group – the question is unanswered.
Srđan Blagovčanin, director of Transparency International BiH, on our question is the new Law just “throwing dust in the eyes of the public”, said that “it is difficult to get rid of such an impression”: “Especially when we keep in mind that the BiH Parliament adopted only a few of the law for the duration of this mandate, and the Council of Ministers almost did not work on drafting the law”.
Blagovčanin believes that in the context of the general captivity of the state and its institutions, it is very difficult to offer a recipe for the de- politicization of public broadcasters to the interests of the ruling parties.
“I think the key question here is what kind of broadcasters we need. I am afraid that without some stronger progress of the country on the establishment of the elementary rule of law, this problem will not be possible to solve either. We are in a situation where the existing laws are not respected either, so I am not sure how much the new law would be a solution in itself “, points out Blagovčanin.
What is certain, and which is emphasized in the analysis “Together towards better media freedoms”, for the public RTV system to finally become a public media service in the service of the public, it is necessary to narrow the powers of entity parliaments in appointing management boards and directors of public broadcasters. RTV fee´s collection model is not for more stable financing. The politicization of management boards, which harms the editorial policy of public broadcasters and self-censorship of editors and journalists, was pointed out in the latest report of the European Commission on BiH for 2020: in accordance with the state. Therefore, the three public broadcasters are exposed to political influence, especially through their policy-controlled boards of directors, and with a worrying trend of self-censorship ”. The report states that BiH does not have an appropriate model for collecting RTV fees, as provided by law.
In the FBiH, the RTV fees is charged through Elektroprivreda BiH, and in RS through Elektroprivreda RS and collections, but their budgets are separate. It is stated in contradiction with the Law on the Public RTV System, which prescribes that the revenues from the RTV tax are paid to one account, and distributed to three public services following the legal provisions.
In April 2018, after the end of his visit to BiH, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, stated that he was very concerned about the state of public broadcasting services in BiH, which is “held in the hands of political forces”.
“The political independence and financial sustainability of BHRT and the entity services are crucial and urgently needed, to fulfill their duty to all citizens of this state,” Désir said at the time.
All of the above greatly affects the work environment and makes it difficult for journalists to consistently adhere to professional and ethical norms. Journalists are reluctant to talk about this topic, but some of the former employees of these three public broadcasters say that self-censorship is very present because “journalists know in advance what the editor wants and to whom it works.“
In the analysis of professor Hrnjić, it is stated that the amendments to the Law should start with its name, so instead of the “Law on the Public Broadcasting System”, the name “Law on the Public Media Service of BiH” would be more appropriate.
“Three broadcasters, following the legal obligation, should finally form the Corporation, and the parliaments should harmonize the Law on BHRT, FTV, and RTRS with the Law on JRTS. The FTV Steering Board should, instead of the Parliamentary Commission, propose the CRA, while eliminating the possibility for the entity parliaments to reject shortlisted candidates. Amendments to the Law require that state and entity-level parliaments adopt a sustainable model of public service financing. In the medium term, this could be achieved by establishing a public service fund, and in the long term by adopting a more functional model of collecting the RTV fee. To meet the high programming and production standards of the public service, its level should be harmonized with the costs that such quality implies “, are some of the recommendations in the mentioned analysis.
Current PBS suits only the ruling parties
Political analyst Tanja Topić believes that the problem with public broadcasters, with the existing quasi-political elites, cannot be solved.
“It is necessary to change the political generations and completely reset the entire society, and start from the beginning from the factory settings. There was a big blow, first of all, to independent institutions, among them the Communications Regulatory Agency, when the leaders of political parties in a cafe with a high representative for BiH, Miroslav Lajčak, publicly divided independent institutions as party booty. And that is the beginning of the end, said Topić.
According to her, the winning parties shared director seats in independent institutions according to affinities and national key, including public broadcasters, over which political control was established. This process was most evident through the election of board members to whom only individuals nominated by political parties had to be elected. “Without the green light, the ruling party could not have become a member of the board,” said Topic. She believes that “the new law will not solve the problem”, and adds that the problem is in the mentality and way of thinking – everything else is an illusion. She believes that “the new law will not solve the problem”.
The problem is in the mentality and the way of thinking – everything else is an illusion. Here in BiH, laws are mostly broken by those who pass them, we often have good laws according to European standards, but they are often a dead letter on paper, so I don’t expect too much from the new law. When you want to prolong some things with us indefinitely, then you form a working commission, so that it would not do anything. Hence the question of whether and how to force the Working Group to be more proactive. The meaning of its existence is inaction. This is a typical way of (inaction) and non-functioning in BiH, killing and putting under political control, I think that the return of reputation and work on strengthening the integrity of public broadcasters is yet to come, and we are already in a big deficit. “Hoping for reform in such a political environment seems to be a big mistake,” claims Topić.
Nobody, except politics, is satisfied with the current situation in RTV services. Well, not even the citizens who often complain about the quality of the programs of public broadcasters, but at the same time forget about their obligation to pay the RTV tax.
On our question “how to solve this type of problem”, professor Turčalo reminded us that “the RTV fees is not a matter of the taste of the audience, but a legal obligation, and that is how citizens should understand it”.
“It’s a bit hypocritical for public broadcasters to expect citizens to respect the law, and they do not. So, I think that the incentive for citizens to pay the tax cannot be without proof that public broadcasters work in the interest of the public, and then that the public wholeheartedly supports them. It should be borne in mind that non-payment of taxes is a significant part of the political agenda of certain structures that do everything to destroy all elements of good in BiH, so the issue of taxes is not just a question of whether citizens are satisfied with the public system, “said professor Turčalo.
She concludes that the public system seeks radical reconstruction in terms of management, personnel, finance, digitalization… and so on… And only then will it be able to satisfy its mission and function.
Srđan Blagovčanin says that we must open a public debate about what kind of public broadcasters we need.
“I think it is clear to everyone that now public broadcasters do not achieve the purpose for which they were founded, and I believe that a solution should be sought in a kind of optimization of broadcasters and their reduction to a sustainable level,” said Blagovčanin.
He points out that the current situation, no matter how unsustainable, is suitable for those who have ensured control over public broadcasters: “On the other hand, all initiatives that would lead to the improvement of the situation, simply do not meet the understanding of decision-makers.”
Prepared by: Zinaida Đelilović, a journalist from Sarajevo
Disclaimer: This analysis is prepared within the project “Protection Civic Space – Regional Civil Society Development Hub” financed by SIDA and implemented by BCSDN. The content of this document and the information and views presented do not represent the official positions and opinions of SIDA and BCSDN. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in this document lies entirely with the author.