Bosnia and Herzegovina: Media Legislation

International Standards

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

Within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the:

Right to freedom of opinion and expression: Article 19 Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)

The resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966 adopted by the General Assembly came into force on the 10th of September 1978. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was ratified by Bosnia and Herzegovina on 1 September 1993. It states:

Article 19

  1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
  2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
  3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
    a. For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
    b. For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public   health or morals.

Article 20

  1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
  2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.

European Regional Agreements

Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

Section 1:  Rights and Freedoms

Article 10: Freedom of Expression

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
  2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

The Constitution (adopted as an annex of the Dayton Agreement in 1995) guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of the media. Article 2 at paragraph 2 states that “the rights and freedoms set forth in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and its Protocols shall apply directly in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These shall have priority over all other law”. In addition, paragraph 3 of the same article cites the right to freedom of expression as a right that “all persons within the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina shall enjoy”.


The Law on Protection from Defamation (Official Gazette RS No. 37/01, Official Gazette FBiH No. 31/01) decriminalizes defamation and libel. The law states (Article 2) that the intent of regulating civil liability is to attain the right to freedom of expression and “the essential role of media in the democratic process as public watchdogs and transmitters of information to the public”.

Article 5 of the law states that public authorities and public officials are barred from filing requests for compensation of harm deriving from defamation.

Defamation, libel and insult still remain civil offences but the aforementioned law encourages the party to solve issues related to defamation in the simplest possible way and if possible without recurring to a court.

The law also contains specific regulations concerning the protection of confidential sources. According to Article 9: “A journalist, and any other natural person regularly or professionally engaged in the journalistic activity of seeking, receiving or imparting information to the public, who has obtained information from a confidential source has the right not to disclose the identity of that source. This right includes the right not to disclose any document or fact which may reveal the identity of the source particularly any oral, written, audio, visual or electronic material. Under no circumstances shall the right not to disclose the identity of a confidential source be limited in proceedings under this Law”. It can be observed that the Article provides a rather extensive protection for journalists.

The Freedom of Access to Information Act was adopted in 2001 both in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republic of Srpska. It regulates the access to information held by public authorities, stating that the right to access this information is essential to the democratic process and that every natural and legal person has a right to access this information (Article 1). The Act’s objective is to “facilitate and encourage the maximum and prompt disclosure of information in the control of public authorities at the lowest reasonable cost”. Information can be refused by the authorities only if it could cause “substantial harm” to defense and security interests. Article 9 of the law gives the guidelines for a “Public Interest Test” to determine whether disclosure is justified by public interest.

Citizens who wish to contest a refusal for access to information can address a complaint to the Ombudsmen of BiH.

The Law on Freedom of Access to Information is currently in process of being amended.

State secrets are protected by the Criminal Code at Article 164 according to which  those who pass or render accessible a state secret can be punished with imprisonment for a term between one and ten years.

The broadcasting framework is constituted mainly by the Law on Communications (Official Gazette BiH No. 31/03, 12 November 2002). This law establishes that the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina has the power to fix the communication policy while the Communication Regulation Authority (CRA or RAK) has regulatory power. The Law on Communications also has some provisions about media ownership concentration. The CRA adopted several acts to adapt the broadcasting sector to the European framework.

Recently, the Code on Audiovisual Media Services and Media Service of Radio, launched in 2011, established new guidelines for content regulation in the audiovisual media.

The broadcasting framework is composed by a wider national broadcaster, the Radio and Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and two smaller broadcasters linked to the two administrative entities: the Radio and Television of Federation of Bosnia (RTV FBiH) and the Radio and Television of Republic Srpska (RTRS). The Law on Public broadcasting System of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Law on PB System, law 78/05) regulates the general framework while specific laws regulate the broadcasting in the two entities. The three other broadcasting laws are the Law on RTV FBiH, the Law on Public Broadcasting Service of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Law on BHRT, n.92/05) and the Law on the Radio and Television of Republica Srpska ( Law on RTRS, n.48/08).

Article 5 of the Law on PB System sets up the main responsibility of the public broadcasting which should be “to accurately inform the public […], support democratic processes, ensure an adequate proportion of impartial news […] as well as to ensure the highest quality programming is available to the public”.

As for the appointment of the governing bodies of the broadcasting system, the Law on Public Broadcasting System does not provide any specific indication. The Law on BHRT, the Law on RTRS and the Law on RTV FBiH have more specific provisions about the appointment method. Those are relatively strictly linked to the parliaments in the country, thus creating a risk of politicization in the choice of PBS’ administrators.

The funding for the public service broadcasting comes both from a radio television tax and advertisement revenues.

Rule 21/2003 seeks to prevent media ownership concentration and stipulates that a part-owner is a person who has a share of 10 or more percent in the overall structure of ownership, and further that a private person or a legal entity cannot own two or more radio or television stations that have the same audience coverage.

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