Given that initiative aimed at declaring journalists as officials do not have sufficient support, it seems that model on the legal solution in the Republic of Serbia, granting the status of a job of public importance to journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) would undoubtedly be a big step forward, and with a widely covered, high-quality and well-argued debate in the media, it would certainly have a chance to gain sufficient support in the entity and/or state legislatures.
In the last few years, through initiatives at the entity and state level, certain attempts have been made to (in the legal sense) improve the position of journalists, with the aim of protecting journalists in their work, ie. granting them the status of officials through amendments to criminal laws.
However, all initiatives failed because of the lack of support from MPs.
The latest example is the rejection of the initiative for amendments to the Criminal Code of the Republic of Srpska by the National Assembly of the RS, on June 16, 2020. By doing so, preventing journalists from performing their professional duty was not prescribed as a special criminal offense.
The reason for the refusal is that the Criminal Code, among other things, prescribes the criminal offenses of bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, as well as endangering safety, and it equally treats and protects all citizens and professions from attack, such as doctors, professors, teachers and many others who are exposed to the possibility of attack whilst on duty.
The explanation also adds that “the possibility of prescribing the aforementioned criminal offense as well as special protection of journalists in performing their duty would be considered when preconditions are made to include criminal offenses against honor and reputation in the Criminal Code.”
Last year in April, an initiative was submitted to the House of Representatives of the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) by the MP Senaid Begic (SDP BiH). The initiative had enough support, 54 votes for the initiative out of 74 MPs present. Most MPs from the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and the Croatian Democratic Union of BiH (HDZBiH) did not support the Initiative.
The explanation of the chairman of the HDZ BiH Representatives’ Club, Mladen Boškovic, was interesting. He said that apart from journalists, there were other endangered categories that need adequate protection and therefore there was no common position of the HDZ BiH Club.
In the end, the initiative did not receive sufficient support in the House of Peoples of the FBiH Parliament, so the changes to the FBiH Criminal Code were never made.
When it comes to the state level, on February 26, 2020, the MPs of the House of Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH had the initiative of the deputy Damir Arnaut, which stated:
“Pursuant to the Article 8 of the Rules of Procedure of the House of Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, I submit a parliamentary initiative suggesting the competent entity institutions and institutions of Brčko District (governments and legislatures) prepare and adopt amendments to the Law on Protection against Defamation, incorporating different standards of acceptability, tolerance and proof when it comes to alleged defamation against public figures in relation to private persons, in accordance with the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights”.
In the end, at the fifth session of the House of Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH, the initiative did not receive the required majority. SNSD deputies were against the initiative, SDA and HDZ abstained, while DF, SBB, NS were “for”, and PDP and SDS deputies did not vote at all.
Therefore, it is obvious that initiatives that would give journalists the status of an official in the current convocations of legislative entities and state bodies do not have sufficient support.
On the other hand, for example, in the Republic of Serbia, similar initiatives also did not have support, but the status of journalists within the law is still more advanced than in BiH.
Penalties prescribed by the Criminal Code of Serbia for endangering a person who performs duties of public importance in the field of information related to the tasks a person performs are as follows: for endangering safety – six months to five years, grievous bodily harm – five to 10 years and for murders at least 10 years of prison.
So, although journalists in Serbia do not have the status of an official, their job status is certainly better than the status journalists have in BiH.
Either way, the protection of journalists and their profession should undoubtedly be one of the priorities of any democratic society, which is often repeated by key political figures in BiH political (at least on a rhetorical level).
In that process, the role of the non-governmental sector and society, in general, must be higher and more proactive, which should ultimately lead to positive changes.
The non-governmental organization ”Pro Educa” is implementing the project ”Sloboda narodu”. The goal of the project is to promote freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and promote the rights of journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina, thus contributing to the development of a more open, advanced and orderly BiH society.