In Australia, journalistic freedom of expression, opinion and information is an acceptable and welcomed practice. In fact, very rarely in Australia are journalist labelled as traitors or spies for doing their job.
In European countries such as Balkans old ways of government negative attitudes towards journalists have been around since World War II (Stevens, 2016). In some cases, independent journalists who are exercising their right to inform are vilified as traitors and are subsequently murdered. Very little investigation is conducted into who or why they were killed (Stevens, 2016).
So the question remains, does journalistic freedom within the Bosina and Herzegovi (BiH) region exist? The answer lies within government officials.
Western Balkans journalist, Tomislav Kežarovski suggests that it has never existed due to his unfair prosecution of simply reporting the truth. Kežarovski was arrested in late May 2013, spent five months in pre-trial detention, and was ultimately convicted of endangering a protected witness in an article he wrote in 2008 (Media Freedom Under Attack, 2015).
This example of egregious government interference is why the Human Rights Commission is concerned of the safety of international and local journalist.
According to the annual US Department of State Human Rights report (2015), the past four years have demonstrated a consistent increase in press freedom restrictions and is therefore a key concern in the region.
As journalists, such as Tomislav Kežarovski base their stories around corruption, war crimes or mismanagement of public funds. It is evident that journalists are an easy target for blame and prosecution.
Tomislav Kežarovski arrest “sent a clear message of censorship to other journalist in the country,” according to Dunja Mijatović an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative on Freedom of the Media (2015).
Tomislav Kežarovski is not alone. According to Human Rights Watch, in BiH, it was documented that there were 20 cases of attacks or threats on journalist within the region, including five physical attacks, 14 cases of threats, editorial pressures and one death threat. All of which failed to be investigated by officials which deemed them “empty threats with little or no intent behind them.”
The Human Rights Watch (2014) indicated that constant threats and attacks on media professionals lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and/or Stockholm Syndrome. Amer Bahtijar, a journalist who has experienced over 40 physical threats since he started his career in BiH, told Human Rights Watch that,
“I have tried to report criminal acts [threats]on numerous occasions… They basically didn’t do anything. Every day that I manage to survive makes me happy… You constantly think someone may kill you.”
It is not only the attack on journalists that have authorities concerned. Cyber-attacks on news website is also a common practice to deter media professionals from exercising their right to express freely. Žjelko Raljić, the owner of Istinito news website has had his website attacked three times during a one-week period. He has expressed his concern for government official’s weak response to protect journalist safety.
Raljić states, “I have reported all cyber-attacks to the police. It’s difficult to identify the source of these attacks but whenever I have articles about [President] Dodik where I criticize him or the government, there is an attack on the website”
It is evident through the failure of government officials in the BiH that journalistic freedom does not exist. Urgent attention is required to ensure the stability of journalists physical and mental health within the BiH region.