Bosnia’s public broadcaster to shut down on June 30 on unpaid debts

Bosnia’s public broadcaster to shut down on June 30 on unpaid debts
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia May 31, 2016

The management of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s state-owned public broadcaster BHRT said on May 30 it will temporarily shut down all services on June 30 as it cannot collect BAM25mn (€12.8mn) debt from the broadcasters of Bosnia’s two entities, the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska.

Earlier in May, the European Broadcasting Union urged the Bosnian authorities to ensure proper funding for the public service media in the country. In the open letter, the EBU’s head Ingrid Deltenre said that public service media is close to collapse because the government has failed for many years to implement the media law and the appropriate funding model.

BHRT’s decision is a “direct consequence of the debt of the entity broadcasters”, a statement from the chairman of the board of BHRT, Esad Gotovuša, said. The outstanding debt of the Federation’s public broadcaster is BAM16.5mn, while Republika Srpska’s Radijo-Televizije Republike Srpske has to repay BAM8.8mn.

BHRT explained that it had been forced to take this decision to shows what will happen after June 30 when the current model of collection of fees for public broadcasting services will expire. Before that, Bosnia’s government extended the old system for collecting fees for public broadcasting services by six months.

“The decision will have consequences on the functioning of the whole broadcasting system,” BHRT said in a statement to media.

In December, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) warned that public broadcasters in Bosnia could have to close down at the start of 2016 due to a lack of funding as the authorities had failed to reform the funding model and create a new, more sustainable, one. According to the OSCE information, Bosnia’s Radio and Television (RTV) service was funded from taxes collected via electricity bills. However, the system still has no replacement.

The OSCE has criticised the Bosnian government’s failure to reform laws on the public service broadcasting system in order to allow broadcasters to continue operating. Part of the problem is due to the failure of Bosnian citizens to pay, a problem that worsened during the recent economic crisis. Many Croats in particular refused to pay, as they say they are not served by either RTV FBiH which targets the Bosniak population or the Republic Srpska’s RTRS, according to Freedom House.

Other public broadcasters in the region are also struggling. Romanian public broadcaster Televiziunea Română (TVR) said on April 22 that it would not be able to resolve its financial problems and repay outstanding debts to the EBU in time to participate in the Eurovision song contest.

Meanwhile, Balkan Insight reported in May that Kosovo's public broadcaster RTK had been ordered to leave its premises because of unpaid rent. In November 2015, the EBU warned that public service media in Kosovo was in jeopardy, and that without sufficient funding RTK would not be able to fulfil its public service remit.