Insults and a anti-defamation bill : RSF concerned about threats to journalists in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the authorities in Republika Srpska, the Serbian part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to treat journalists as partners instead of enemies, and to refrain from undermining the right to information. Local journalists have been insulted and a proposed defamation law threatens press freedom.
The cars of two journalists were damaged on 8 March in what one of them, Buka editor Aleksandar Trifunovic, called “a typical intimidation attempt” following the same day’s verbal attacks on journalists by Republika Srpska’s president. The two targeted cars were Trifunovic’s work car and the personal car of Nikola Moraca, who works for the EuroBlic and Srpskainfo websites.
During a press conference the day before, President Milorad Dodik inveighed against Sinisa Vukelic, the head of the Journalists’ Club in Banja Luka, Republika Srpska’s capital, and his fellow journalists, calling them “assholes who have been lying, subverting, racketeering for years and want to buy off the journalistic community to supposedly protect it".
His insults were prompted by criticism from journalists of a bill that could undermine the right to information. After being one of the first Balkan countries to decriminalise defamation 20 years ago, Bosnia and Herzegovina now seems to be on the point of reversing course. The government of Republika Srpska submitted criminal code amendments to its parliament in early March that aim to criminalise defamation again. They are strongly opposed by many local media, which fear legal proceedings designed to gag them.
“We call on Milorad Dodik to apologise to journalists for his insults, which clearly exposed them to material attacks. The authorities must bring the perpetrators to justice. We also call on the parliament of Republika Srpska to oppose the bill aimed at criminalising defamation again and to involve journalists' representatives in the legislative process. Journalists should be treated as partners, not as enemies.
Protection against defamation is a legitimate right and, so far, the bill does not envisage prison sentences for those convicted of defamation. But it could lead to arbitrary judicial proceedings that force journalists to refrain from covering certain subjects, especially as there was absolutely no prior consultation with the Bosnian journalistic community. The bill envisages fines of up to 25,000 euros, an astronomical sum that, if imposed, could threaten the survival of some media outlets.
The UN rapporteurs on freedom of expression and freedom of association have denounced the bill as a threat to press freedom because of its vague legal terms and disproportionate sanctions. Furthermore, it runs counter to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s desire to join the European Union. A year ago, the European Commission adopted anti-SLAPP measures – including the decriminalisation of defamation – that would-be EU member states are eventually supposed to adopt.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is ranked 67th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index.