Bosnian public broadcasters face shutdown on lack of funding

Bosnian public broadcasters face shutdown on lack of funding
By Dents Koseva in Sofia December 23, 2015

Public broadcasters in Bosnia & Herzegovina could have to close down at the start of 2016 due to a lack of funding, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) warned on December 22, urging the state authorities to immediately address the issue.

The warning about the imminent financial crisis at Bosnia’s public broadcasters follows the failure of the authorities to reform the funding model, despite being aware that the current model is not sustainable.

Bosnia’s Radio and Television (RTV) service is currently funded from taxes collected via electricity bills. However, the system is due to expire on December 31, 2015 and has no replacement.

Consequently, the nationwide Radio and Television of BiH (BHRT), and the public broadcasters in the country’s two entities – Radio and Television of the Federation of BiH (RTV FBiH) and Radio and Television of Republic Srpska (RTRS) – are facing financial collapse, the OSCE said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the OSCE confirmed to bne IntelliNews that “with no funding, there's a risk the public service broadcasters have to shut down”.

The OSCE 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.

Back in July, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media Dunja Mijatovic called on the Bosnian authorities to ensure efficient collection of the tax for RTV services in order to ensure the financial sustainability of the public service broadcasting system. In addition to providing funds to ensure broadcasters could continue operating, the OSCE also recommended providing public funds to enable broadcasters to operate in the digital environment.

“For far too long the [Bosnian] public broadcasting system has faced multiple obstructions stemming from the failure to implement relevant legislation,” Mijatovic was quoted as saying in the December 22 statement.

“The failure of the public broadcasters to fully implement the relevant laws and the non-existent progress in the internal restructuring have also contributed to the financial instability of the system,” Mijatovic added.

Earlier this year, BHRT introduced austerity measures including laying off staff in an attempt to survive its financial crisis.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Serbia the government announced the closure of Tanjug, the former Yugoslavian state news agency, on November 4 after no bidders came forward when a privatisaton attempt was launched.

However, prime minister Aleksandar Vucic later said that he would do what he could to help Tanjug to continue operating, despite Belgrade’s commitment to either sell off or shut down a lengthly list of state-owned enterprises. Almost two months after the deadline, it is still not known what is going to happen to the agency, but it is still publishing.