Bosnia: Public broadcaster BHRT set to go off air due to debt

30 May, 2016 — The board of directors of the Radio and Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BHRT) announced on Monday that it will temporarily stop broadcasting from 30 June, 2016 due to its critical financial situation, regional website Balkan Insight (BIRN) reports.

BHRT primarily relies on funds from a TV license fee via a tax, but reportedly only 50% of the Bosnian citizens reportedly actually pay it.

In recent years, as BIRN reports, BHRT has faced increasing financial problems, due to the constant fall in revenues. Each owner of a TV set is obliged to pay – around €3.8 euros per year – which constitutes the main source of income for Bosnia’s public television service.

In a public statement, the BHRT board of directors said that the two television networks, Radio-Television Republika Srpska (RTRS) and Radio-Television of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FTV), owes BHRT around €13 million.

Earlier last week, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has voiced its concern over BHRT’s debts by revealing the BHRT owes the organisation around €5.41 million. If the ongoing talks on reaching a repayment settlement, based on monthly installments, between EBU and BHRT fail, it would result in removing the broadcaster from the EBU broadcasting services, such as news and sporting events, the EBU website writes.

As BIRN reports, BHRT has repeatedly asked Bosnian Council of Ministers to approve a reform of the law on the public radio-television system, in order to solve the long-standing problems of its financing.

“If a solution to the debt problem [of FTV and RTRS] and a stable source of financing for the public television service is not found before 30 June, this measure will enter into force and it will last until an agreement is found,” Esad Gotovusa, a member of the board of directors of BHRT, told Bosnian media.

But the BHRT Workers’ Union and the Association of BH Journalists (BH Novinari) has criticized the move, noting that from the legal point of view “only the union can decide to interrupt the programmes and only under the conditions set by the law on strikes”, it said in a statement on Monday.

“We will organize an extraordinary assembly on June 1… and we will ask for the resignation of the board of directors, because they have trespassed over the legal limits provided by the law,” the union added, reports BIRN.

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic voiced her concern about the broadcast halt:

“Even a temporary shutdown impedes citizens’ right to receive crucial public information and should not be seen as the solution to financial difficulties.”

According to the steering board, the decision to temporarily shut down its production and broadcasting was necessary because of the lack of political will on the part of BiH institutions regarding the implementation of public service broadcasting.

“I call on the authorities and the steering boards of the public broadcasters to act immediately to ensure the full implementation of relevant laws, and prevent a total shut down of BHRT,” Mijatovic said.

Latest news

* - References to Kosovo are without prejudice to positions on status. They are in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244/99 and the opinion by the International Court of Justice on the Kosovo declaration of independence.