Flash Report: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Flash Report: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Members of the boards are mostly “incompetent people, who are acting (or not acting) the way they are instructed by political parties” .

The Credibility and Competence of PSB Boards are Questioned.

Doubts about the editorial independence and the performance of the public broadcasters in Bosnia and Herzegovina are not new. They have been expressed continuously over the years. Multitude of sources suggest Radio Television of Republika Srpska (RTRS) has been under a complete control of the ruling Alliance of Independent Social Democrats party (SNSD), while RTV of Federation BiH (RTVFBiH) has for a long time been seen as an advocate for Social democratic party (SDP)(1) . The third public service broadcaster - Radio television of Bosnia and Herzegovina - is considered to be more neutral as it is deemed less relevant for political actors.

While these perceived affiliations remained untainted in RTRS over the years, FTV departed from such ties with SDP in 2012. In May and June 2012 three major editors were discharged. (2) What enfolded in the following months were attempts of the Parliament of FB&H to appoint a new board of Governors of RTVFBiH (hereafter the Board, for each of the three broadcasters). They relieved therefore the actual Board, and announced a vacancy for new members, while establishing an interim Board of Governors in June 2012. The officially declared motives were poor business results of RTVFBiH, but the fact that these actions were haste and contrary to the legal procedures (which specify only one member of the Board is to be appointed per year) allowed an assumption that this was actually an attempt of the ruling parties to reassert the political control over the Board and the broadcaster. An interim Board was appointed, but after a strong reaction by the international community, NGOs and the media, the interim board was abandoned, and the vacancy was annulled in November 2012 . (3)  This case, as Dušan Babić, media and political analyst said: “obviously confirms how the politics wants to have public service broadcasters under its control” (written reply, 8 July 2013).

Since the vacancy was cancelled, nothing has been done to establish the board, although one of the members of the previous Board resigned in June 2013, and the mandate of the rest of them expired (the last one in July 2013). It seems that the Parliament FB&H moved to other priorities, leaving the issue unresolved for the time being. Dušan Babić and Borka Rudić are doubtful on whether the affairs over the Board of Governors of RTVFB&H are going to be resolved any time soon under the current political circumstances. In the meanwhile, the decisions of the Board of governors are being questioned, among other reasons due to the fact that mandate of the members of the Board has expired, and that currently only two members are performing this duty . (4)

But let us re-examine the overall role of the Boards of Governors. Due to the increased public attention during 2012, this article focuses on the appointment procedures and indicators of the Board of RTV FBiH performance, but will include implications about Boards of RTRS and BHRT as well.

In sum, the role of the Board of Governors includes the protection of interest of the public in terms of the broadcasted program, supervision of the overall business performance, as well as over the use of the broadcaster's property. (5)

If we consider the appointment of the Board's members, four of our collocutors confirmed it is primarily a matter of the agreement between the ruling political parties and their political interests. The appointment is based on the ethnic principle, meaning that one member from each of the three constituent peoples, and one from the group of “Others” is appointed. Based on the received proposals, Communication Regulatory Agency (CRA) prepares a list of candidates while the Parliament of B&H (for BHRT) or National Assembly of RS (for RTRS) finally appoints the members based on the proposed list.  (6) However, when it comes to RTV FBiH, the Law on public service of RTV FB&H completely excludes CRA from the process, while instead a committee for the selection and appointments within the Parliament of Federation prepares the list of the candidates for further proceeding.

In any case, the most problematic part of these procedures is that there are no mechanisms to guarantee that the best-qualified candidates will be appointed. Borka Rudić, secretary general of association BH novinari (interview 10 July 2013) believes that the national and political criteria are unacceptably dominant, while competence and experience of the candidates is not substantially considered. Furthermore, some sources suggest that less qualified candidates get appointed. For example, Zija Dizdarević, although a distinguished journalist, was not appointed in one of the previous Board, although other candidates did not have the same level of experience and knowledge in terms of media business and programming (7) (interview with Boro Kontić, director of Mediacentar and established journalist July 4 2013). A well-informed source also suggests that the Parliament failed to appoint the best candidates for the current Board of BHRT, while Borka Rudić points to the lack of experience of one of the RTRS Board's members (8). Helena Mandić said it has happened that the procedure was delayed since the parliament did not approve any of the proposed candidates (9),  and she is concerned that the role of CRA in the appointment procedures will be additionally marginalised in the future, thus further endangering the credibility of the procedure. (10)

The second, related, problem with the Boards is that their credibility and performance are seriously questioned by the members of the professional community. They are mostly viewed as bodies that do not contribute to the public service role of the PBS. Three of our collocutors suggest that the biggest problem is that members of the Boards do not have the sufficient expertise to act in the business interest of the broadcaster or the interest of the public. Zija Dizdarević, a reputable journalist and author (interview conducted 8 July 2013) believes that the members of the boards are mostly “incompetent people, who are acting (or not acting) the way they are instructed by political parties” (11). A well informed source claims the performance of the Boards is questionable, since, for example, the members of the Board of BHRT meet once a month while being not prepared well to discuss the key business aspects and programmatic principles of the broadcasters (interview July 2013).

The Boards are perceived to fail to react when public interests are seriously endangered in the broadcasted programme, for example when certain political options are treated favourably, as illustrated in the case from February 2012, when instructions on how to report on SDP were given by the leader of SDP to a journalist of a news program of FTV (12).  But furthermore, Borka Rudić points out to decisions that are contrary to the interest of the public broadcaster. As a well-informed source summarised it, the Board of Governors of BHRT has been one of the major hindering factors for the establishment of PSB Corporation as well as on the failure to financially and organisationally stabilise this broadcaster. This indicates that the members of the Board are, as Borka Rudić puts it “utterly politicised”, rather than led by both business interest of BHRT and interests of the public  (13).

On the other hand, members of the recent Board of Governors of RTVFBiH are all pointing out the good indicators of their performance, including reactions to the cases when public interests were endangered (source: Goran Samardžić and Radenko Udovičić) (14), as well as positive business results, most of all “multimillion business gains” of this broadcaster (Igor Soldo, member of the Board, resigned in May 2013, interview 9 July 2013) (15). Soldo also points out that the Board of RTV FBiH has for a long time been “resisting the political pressures and was immune to instumentalisation”. However, Rudić and Soldo both believe that the failure to publish the vacancy for new director general as stipulated by the law is an indicator of giving in to the pressures and instrumentalisation of the Board.

Finally, there is virtually no mechanism of performance monitoring of the Boards. The annual report on the functioning of the broadcasters submitted to the parliament does not include report on the functioning of Board as such (16).  This means that the members can disregard their duties with relative impunity. Regardless of their performance, the members receive a monthly fee amounting three minimal wages i.e. around 537 Euros (which is more than the average net wage of journalists) and additionally can refund travel and material costs (17).

While the credibility of the boards is questioned, the issue with the appointment of the Board of RTVFBiH remains to be resolved (18).  All of the above leads to a conclusion that urgent improvements of the laws and policies of appointing the members, and monitoring the performance of the Boards are needed (19). Borka Rudić primarily believes that professional criteria for the appointment of the members should be defined precisely and implemented rigorously. In order to guarantee some legitimacy and independence, the parliaments should not be given the absolute power in the appointments. If such changes resulted in appointment of responsible and qualified candidates, the Boards could be as Zija Dizdarević said, the key actors in the overturn within the public broadcasters.  




(1) See for example Irex Media Sustainability Index reports, as well as Open Society Fund publication: Mapping Digital Media: Bosnia and Herzegovina.

(2) As for the reasons the change of editorial policies happened - they remain unclear and perhaps can be a topic of another article.

(3) Mainly, this happened since the representatives of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) in the House of Peoples luckily blocked the appointment of the new Board.

(4) In addition, the decisions are questioned based on the alleged disregard of the internal procedures. For illustration, please see the complaint of the Trade Union of Public Service Broadcasters submitted to the Federal Inspectorate in May. The complaint was concerning the changes of the internal acts of the BHRT regulating the internal organizational structure, systematization and overview of work posts (Source). Besides this, new political affiliations seem to be developing, and as the resigned member of the Board, Igor Soldo said: “It seems that the circumstances in the political life have in the last two months directed individuals (in FTV) to get close to certain political currents” (written reply 9 July 2013)

(5) Similar stipulation is included in all three Laws: on BHRT, FTV and RTRS.

(6) CRA is conducting a procedure, as defined by the laws on public broadcasters. In the Law on public RTV service of BiH it is stated that the goal is the selection of the most qualified candidates, while there is no similar wording in the Law on RTRS. There are some stipulations in Laws on appointment of ministers and other public vacancies, where it is stated that the criteria for the appointment should include “level of education, expert knowledge/experience and other conditions established for the regulated institution”. However, Helena Mandić, in her written answer received on 8th of July, reports that these laws are not being implemented.

(7) Dizdarević spent most of his career as journalists, editor and director in public service broadcasters and worked as a leading commentator of the daily Oslobođenje for years. Instead a lawyer, Ahmed Žilić was appointed; he was later a member of the Board of pharmaceutical company Bosnalijek;

(8) Borka Rudić also points out that a member of the previous Board was aligned with an advertising agency, raising the issues of the impartiality of advertising arrangements. Anton Kasipović, a newly appointed member of the Board of RTRS was also mentioned do to his previous political engagements.

(9) When it comes to RTRS no ranking of the candidates is required, and CRA delivers a list based on the alphabetical order. At the level of RTV BiH, CRA delivers a ranking based on the credentials of the candidates, but as Mandić wrote: “the Parliament (in Federation BiH) is not obliged to follow the ranking and can appoint who it will” (8 July2013)

(10) She is primarily stressing that the recent amendments of Law on RTRS stipulate that in case National Assembly does not appoint any of the proposed candidates, CRA will be instructed to repeat the procedure no later than eight days after receiving the decision

(11) Borka Rudić expresses similar view on the Boards, and Dušan Babić also believes that the Boards that were appointed after 2009 were increasingly an object of political manipulations. He suggests some of the members of the Board of Governors of BHRT functioning until 2009 were possibly sympathizers of Social Democratic Party, but that he wasn’t aware of any political pressures or disregard of public interests at that time.

(12) See for example: http://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/kako-zlatko-lagumdzija-uredjuje-dnevnik-ftv-a/120304013

(13)The political motivation was also seen in the failure of the Board to react to for example a decision of the Government of Republika Srpska from 2007 not to give statements to BHT. The decision was revoked but some effects were felt and later in 2008, while questionable statements of public officials in RS regarding state public broadcaster resonated over the more recent years as well. See for example an article from 2008.

(14) Source: Radenko Udovičić, TV show „Reflex“, OBN television, 27th May 2013.

(15)However, the business policies within RTV FBiH have also been questioned, most of all regarding the price lists for advertising arrangements which are perceived as being unreasonably favourable towards a particular business interest (namely the advertising pool Ujedinjeni mediji -United media), at the expense of the business interest of this public broadcaster. Overall, the business reports of FTV were evaluated negatively in the last couple of years, but Udovičić claims the illusion of bad business performance is caused by a marginal accounting mistake. Source: TV show „Reflex“, OBN television, 27th May 2013.

(16) In addition, as Igor Soldo reports: “During my mandate I had an impression that it (business reports) do not serve to politicians for control of the work and improvement of the business performance of public broadcasters…there are always those who are trying to use these reports for pressures onto editorial policy”.

(17) As stipulated in Laws on Public Service broadcasters (Laws on BHRT, RTRS and RTV BiH.

(18) Igor Soldo points out the need for appointment of the new director general and new members of the Board in order to enable proper functioning of RTV FBiH.

(19) Most of all, as Goran Samardžić suggests, the norm of appointment of one member of the Board per year should be implemented consistently in order to assure that all members of the Board are not favouring the same political option (phone interview, 8 July 2013).

Media Integrity
Public Service Media