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Journalists forcefully prohibited from covering event; independence of communications regulatory body threatened

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a letter by the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an IPI affiliate, to the authorities of Bosnia-Herzegovina:

Vienna, 29 April 2008

Your Excellencies,

The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists from South East Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), is deeply concerned about recent developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina's media environment.

According to information provided to SEEMO by the "BH Journalists" Association, on 18 April 2008, during a press conference in the town of Bihac, Sadik Bahtic, a Member of Parliament (MP) and a member of one of the leading political parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina, allegedly tried to physically prevent Federal Television journalist Avdo Avdic and cameraman Refik Vejsilagic from attending the scheduled conference. SEEMO's sources allege that MP Bahtic and a colleague first attempted to hinder the journalists by trying to cover their camera's lens, and that the incident subsequently escalated into a fight. During the same conference, MP Bahtic allegedly prevented Mirsad Fazlagic, a journalist for Slobodna Bosna, from entering, stating that neither Avdic, Vejsilagic nor Fazlagic "had been invited".

On 23 April, a protest organised by Start magazine in response to the incident gathered approximately one hundred journalists in front of Sarajevo's parliament during a joint session of both parliament houses. Journalists from Oslobodjenje, Dnevni Avaz, San, Slobodna Bosna, Nezavisne Novine, Dani, TRVFBiH, BHRT, eFM Radio, Radio 202, TVSa and other media outlets were joined by members of NGOs as well as by private citizens.

SEEMO has also been informed about other troubling developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, involving increased pressure on the Communications Regulatory Agency, an internationally-recognised, state-level independent regulator. According to SEEMO's sources, the exerted pressure was related to the body's core activities, including its financial independence and the appointment of its members, thus calling into question the very essence of a free media in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

SEEMO expresses dismay at these allegations of both direct physical confrontation of journalists and of interference with independent regulators, and urges timely investigations into these matters. It would like to emphasize that physical violence against journalists is particularly problematic when carried out by official representatives, who can send potentially dangerous signals regarding the treatment of journalists with their actions.

However, SEEMO would also like to express its encouragement about upcoming discussions involving parliament representatives and the House of Representatives regarding a proposed business consolidation plan for BHRT, a public broadcasting service in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is vital that such entities can function transparently and are financed in a manner that ensures their stability and permits them to function at arm's length from the government, and SEEMO urges all parties to keep these principles in mind in their upcoming discussions.

Yours Sincerely,

Oliver Vujovic
SEEMO Secretary General

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