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Public broadcasters under threat in southeastern and central Europe

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, 2 December 2009 - The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), is worried by political interference at public broadcasters across South East and Central Europe. It is cause for alarm that in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Croatia and Hungary, public service journalists, editors and managers are enduring political, financial or economic pressure.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, political pressure on "Radiotelevizija Bosne i Hercegovine" (BHRT) - Javni radio - televizijski servis Bosne i Hercegovine, the country's only national public broadcaster, is preventing journalists and media executives from carrying out their work independently.

BHRT, an official Bosnian-Herzegovina representative in the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), is the only channel in a position to safeguard the flow of equal, balanced information to and from all three national groups (Serbs, Croats and Muslims), as well as minorities living throughout the country.

BHRT should be a positive example, and the political powers in all parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina should support its development rather than blocking the work of this important public broadcaster.

SEEMO is also extremely concerned at the current situation at "Radio Televizioni i Kosovës / Radio Televizija Kosova" (RTK), Kosovo's public broadcaster.

Until recently, RTK set a good example for public broadcasting, offering public information and cultural programs that represent the entire population, without political interference from government.

Unfortunately, the tide has changed and government influence has increased, with politicians trying to use RTK as their mouthpiece. As a result, RTK's year-long director resigned under political pressure. At the same time, the regular mandate of the RTK board ended.

A major concern is that RTK derived its income mainly from subscription fees and advertising which have now been frozen by the official institutions, threatening the financial and economical stability of RTK and leaving it open to government manipulation.

It is therefore an unusual decision of the Constitutional Court and Agency for Regulation to freeze the broadcasting of advertising at RTK.

Several violations of editorial independence have also occurred within Croatia's public broadcaster, Hrvatska Radiotelevizija (HRT).

According to reports from editors and journalists working at the broadcaster, television programmes are being severely censored in order to prevent critical reporting on problems in Croatian society.

This and other forms of pressure on their right to freedom of expression led some HRT journalists to stage a silent demonstration in front of the station's premises. The journalists wore plasters over their mouths and held up white, blank sheets of paper in order to show their discontent and raise awareness. The problems remain unresolved.

SEEMO is also very concerned about the Hungarian MTV, now in huge financial difficulty following government-implemented budget cuts.

SEEMO Secretary General, Oliver Vujovic, commented: "Unfortunately, severe political pressure and censorship on public broadcasters is not limited solely to South Eastern and Central Europe, but can also be seen in Western Europe in countries such as Germany, where recent political influence on public broadcaster ZDF blocked the contract extension of the TV station's current editor-in-chief, Nikolaus Brender, a journalist who refuses to fold to political pressure".

"As these trends increase," Vujovic continued, "it is extremely important to react to the worrying warning signals in time in order to prevent political interference and the huge amount of financial and economical pressure placed on the public broadcasting sector and its media executives."

"It is extremely alarming that politicians are trying desperately to use public broadcasting as a mouthpiece, and for propaganda. Particularly as this is happening in a region ravaged by war in the last decade of the last century where, at the time, public service broadcasting played a negative role as a war propaganda service," Vujovic said. "SEEMO asks the political powers to stop pressuring and to support the survival of independent and professional public broadcasting. SEEMO will continue to strongly monitor the situation of public broadcasting in the region of South East and Central Europe."

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