Plight of Bosnia’s Public Broadcaster Causes Alarm

BHRT bulding, Sarajevo

As Bosnia’s state level broadcaster, BHRT, struggles to pay its bills, there are warnings that its disappearance would be a disaster for the country’s divided media scene. 

by Igor Spaic, BIRN, Sarajevo

Bosnia’s main broadcaster BHRT may close down altogether, experts and journalists warn, as the financial woes that have plagued the broadcaster for years already continue to worsen.

BHRT director Belmin Karamehmedovic told local news portal Klix on Wednesday that because of rapidly falling revenues, staff now have no health insurance, and their salaries are being paid late.

“The income that the public broadcasters get from the BH Telecom and M:tel [the entity Telecoms] is not enough even for a minimal existence,” news portal Klix quoted Karamehmedovic as saying.

BHRT’s main source of income comes from a tax of 3.8 euros that every owner of a TV is obliged to pay each year.

Two local telecom operators, BH Telecom and M:Tel, currently collect the fee.

But the new model, which has been implemented for nearly a year, seems to have failed. The funding collected this month was only half the amount collected the previous month.

Bosnia’s public electric company recently warned it might have to cut off its electricity as the broadcaster owes the company 1.3 million Bosnian Marks, according to Klix.

If BHRT does disappear, Bosnia would be the only European country without a state television – apart from the problem of several hundred employees losing their jobs.

Moreover, as Bosnia is highly fragmented into two semi-autonomous entities, home to three major ethnic groups, the consequences would be even more dire.

“Killing off BHRT would … be one of the final steps towards the division of the country on entity or ethnic lines,” Elvira Jukic, from Mediacenter Sarajevo, told BIRN.

Usually, in terms of its editorial policy, BHRT is rated as neutral – which may be both the reason [for its plight] and the consequence of a lack of political will – because of this, there is no interest in it surviving, let alone improving,” Jukic said.

Meanwhile, the entity public broadcasters [Radio Television Republika Srpska and Radio Television Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina], which have a clearer political agenda, serve the ruling parties,” she added.

The European Broadcasting Union and the European Federation of Journalists last week called on international institutions and the Bosnian government to head off the problem.

“The collapse of public service media in Bosnia and Herzegovina would have a devastating effect, not only on the media system, but on a society already split with ethnic divisions,” they said.

Bosnia’s government should, together with international institutions present in Bosnia, “find a long term, sustainable solution” to fund BHRT, they added.

The article was republished from Balkan Insight with permission. 

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