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BH Journalists Assoc. addresses BiH Ombudsman over violations of media freedom

Press release

SARAJEVO, April 28 (FENA) - The BH Journalists Association and the Free Media Help Line have addressed the BiH Ombudsman Institution with a request to issue a finding regarding the Order of the FBiH Civil Protection Crisis Staff, Crisis Staff of the Sarajevo Canton and the Crisis Staff of the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton, which refers to the ban on the presence of journalists and the media at press conferences of the aforementioned bodies, formed in connection with the pandemic of Covid-19, the Association stated.

“The BH Journalists Association welcomes the decisions of the crisis staffs and the governments of the Federation of BiH, Sarajevo Canton and Herzegovina-Neretva Canton to establish a media pool as a safe and reasonable way to organize press conferences in this crisis period. However, at the same time, we warn that organizing press conferences without the physical presence of journalists, as well as excluding the possibility of their direct dialogue with public officials during the conference, necessarily leads to censorship, incomplete informing of citizens and possible political manipulation of certain information,” it is said in a letter from the BHJA to the Institution of Ombudsman of BiH.

BH journalists urge this institution to issue a Finding, Request or Recommendation that will be sent to the aforementioned crisis staffs, with the aim of easing or completely abolishing the orders issued. 

BH Journalists and the Free Media Help Line asked the Ombudsman to comment on the Order banning disturbance of public order and peace by causing panic and disorder in the area of ​​the Municipality of Stari Grad Sarajevo, which was issued on April 10 this year. The said order prohibits “the presentation or transmission of panic-causing news, interfering with the enforcement of decisions and measures by municipal authorities and other institutions” through the media, social networks and other communication means, with sanctions for potential offenders from 1,000 to 9,000 BAM.

This order represents a harsh attack on freedom of the media, freedom of expression and the right of individuals to publicly express their views, and gives disproportionately large rights and opportunities for individuals, in this case to persons from the Municipal Civil Protection Staff of Stari Grad Sarajevo, to censor the media and restrict citizens’ right to freedom expressions through social networks. A similar order was issued in Republika Srpska on April 6, but it was repealed late last week under intense pressure from the public, the professional journalistic community and the civilian sector, BH Journalists recall.

In the coming period, the BH Journalists Association will conduct a survey among journalists and the media outlets about violations of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of access to public information by crisis staffs in Bosnia and Herzegovina.