What will happen with public service broadcasters in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

What will happen with public service broadcasters in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Collection of RTV license fees, primary source of revenues for public broadcasters in Bosnia and Herzegovina, has been an increasingly problematic issue. Revenues generated this way have been declining month after month and an adequate solution for changing the model used to collect license fees is still missing. The end of this year will bring an end to the validity of the current model which calls for urgent solutions and a need to establish a new and more efficient system. We talked to Emir Habul, Secretary General of the BHRT Steering Board, about the solutions that are currently offered and what potential failure to pass a decision on a future model of collection would mean for the operation of public broadcasters in BiH.

As the current model of collecting subscription fees will cease to be in effect at the end of the year, what solution, i.e. what model, can be expected after 1 January?

“There are several options, but nothing has been finalized, on one hand due to relations at the Public Broadcasting System and on the other due to relations between that system and the state, as well as due to the divisions we have. We are paying the price of BiH’s setup. However, the heart of the matter is this – the model of funding through land telephone bills stops on 31 December this year. We still don’t know what will happen after that. There is an initiative within the Public Broadcasting System to send a request and ask the telecom operators to resume cooperation for about six months until a new model is defined. The Board of Public Service Broadcasting System had back on 19 January this year proposed and harmonized a model according to which license fees would be collected via electricity bills. Everyone supported that, but RTRS wavered a bit. Their idea is to collect subscription fees through the tax system. However, that entails amending a large number of laws. That scenario, if everyone agreed to it, meaning all parliaments and entity levels, would take at least three or four months if there are no delays, if there is consensus, which I doubt. I don’t know what model will be adopted in the end. On 10 December the House of Representatives will have the issue of subscription fees on the agenda, so we are waiting to see what happens.”

It is a fact that subscription fee revenue is decreasing. What will happen if a solution is not found soon and how much will that affect the operation of the broadcasting services?

“That would mean bare survival, with the possibility of one of the creditors blocking BHRT, FTV or RTRS. FTV is in a somewhat better position because it has higher advertising revenue and does not have the infrastructure, at least in Sarajevo, which needs to be supported since all program production and transmission are part of BHRT. That means about 500 employees who need to be given salaries, paid material costs and so on. Therefore, FTV is in a somewhat better situation in this regard compared to the other two broadcasters. However, even if we had money on this same level – although license fee revenue has been decreasing every month – that is bare survival, provided that creditors have understanding and do not initiate a blockade, waiting for a new model to be adopted.”

Is there an option for establishing a new model of collecting fees, one that has already been implemented successfully in other countries?

“France and Finland are examples of subscription fees raised through the taxing system: in Finland it’s done through income tax; in France through real estate and housing tax which is paid in the local community. In Sweden it’s done through bills sent to home addresses every three months; in Turkey it’s done through a percentage of consumed power in electricity bills. In Montenegro it’s done through the budget. Of course there are third options, but the problem is the state and the different positions of the public service broadcasters.”

Is it possible to say who is responsible for such a deep crisis and failure to come up with an adequate solution?

“It’s difficult to talk about who is blocking, because no one will say that. We have, on one hand, the Daytonian Bosnia and the Law on Public Broadcasting which is set up the same way as the state and we see how that is working. And then we have the paradox that in the Republika Srpska the Law on Radio and Television of Republika Srpska was amended two years ago and it states, among other things, that lacking funds will be provided by the RS Government from the budget. On the other hand, the Law [on PSB] was based on the idea of three broadcasters with one logistics, but we are far even from that, which is why digitalization is late. There are also many problems within the system due to the different circumstances and residences and the implementation of laws and politics in general in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

Media Policy and Reforms
Public Service Media