Transformation of B&H Radio-Television

Dzenana Aladzuz

THU, 18 MAY 2000

Sarajevo, 8 May, 2000 - Year 1998: after numerous forms of pressure exerted by the international community, especially its High Representative, members of B&H Presidency have agreed to sign the Memorandum on Understanding with which they stressed the necessity of the fastest possible transformation of B&H Radio-Television into two new electronic media.

Year 2000: B&H RTV is still as it used to be, only persons who decide about its destiny have changed - the 1998 high representative has gone and the new one has come; one member of the former Presidency is watching TV in the Hague, the second one is out of the game because he is the president of a new party, and the third is still here, but he is busy choosing his successor in the party.

The two electronic media which should be the leading ones in the Federation and the state of B&H still exist only on paper. In fact Public B&H Service (PBS) and Radio-Television of the Federation of B&H (RTVFB&H) have not even applied yet for registration and broadcasting of program to the Independent Media Commission (IMC).

According to the decision of High Representative of July 1999, transformation of B&H RTV (controlled by official Sarajevo) into Public B&H Service should have been completed by now. However, very little has been done, and primarily the ruling Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and Croat Democratic Community (HDZ) are responsible for it, but the responsibility of the international community in B&H, or rather that of the Office of High Representative for the job not done is not negligible either.

First, it took OHR a few months to find money and the right person for the job of international agent for division of property of B&H RTV, that is, for laying the foundations of Federal TV and Public B&H TV Service. Without this agent and his estimate which part of the property should belong to PBS and which to Federal Television, these media cannot start making serious programs. On the other hand, OHR has underestimated the strength of the interest of ethnic parties for B&H RTV to remain as it is: SDA refuses changes because it has controlled B&H RTV for years and still has the greatest influence on its editorial policy, and HDZ does not wish its transformation because such as it is B&H TV justified the editorial policy of Erotel (Mostar TV controlled by HDZ), and the present status quo helps it in its demand for a purely Croat TV in B&H (i.e. HDZ TV in B&H) because they are allegedly not equally represented in the existing B&H RTV.

However, in the end of last year OHR started acting slowly but efficiently. In November it sent a demand to SFOR to shut down Erotel, which was one of the conditions for the beginning of work of RTVFB&H test channel (one of the two channels of future Federal TV), and in February, SFOR, OHR and IMC, more by stick than by carrot policy, ended the life of Erotel. Then came the promise that Federal RTV would be established within two months. However, to this day only the management has been chosen - director Vladimir Bilic and his deputy Fahrudin Balvanovic - and the logo of this media. Nevertheless, in comparison with PBS which has nothing but the founding board and its executive commission, but not the persons who will actually form it, it seems that Federal RTV with the known names of the directors and logo is making great progress.

Then the Americans promised money for financing the international agent, and John Shearer, an experienced worker of BBC came to Sarajevo and brought Jeff Baker and Mike Gilmore with him. "Baker will try to identify what there is of technical equipment in RTVB&H, and Gilmore will try to look into the financial situation of the company. I wish to help establishment of the two new services", said Shearer.

A new phase in the life of RTVB&H has begun with the arrival of Shearer. Those who had been in charge of it were quite panic-stricken. Just before Shearer came, the founding board of future PBS which is now in charge of RTVB&H had made its decision public according to which with the arrival of the agent, the mandate ends of director general Mirsad Purivatre, the man who is a close relative of Izetbegovic. SDA immediately reacted to this decision and once again confirmed that this media is controlled by it. However, Purivatra had to leave, although he did his best to make this departure appear as an irreparable loss, for instance, by failing to transfer the signatory right to other persons, so that the account of the company could not be used without Purivatra. On the other hand, two months before the end of his term in office, employees of RTVB&H finally started receiving their salaries regularly, so they were sorry that the former director was leaving. "I will strengthen this house to the last minute", Purivatra used to say while paying regular salaries, "because stronger RTVB&H means a better start for the new institutions".

The transitional management took over this media anyway. At the moment they are Bilic and Balvanovic, although their main job is the federal and not the present so-called state TVB&H, but soon another member may be elected. Nomination of the director of PBS is also expected, although the deadline by when it should be completed has not been set, they say in OHR. It is also necessary to finally determine what PBS should be. Shearer himself admits that "tasks of RTVFB&H are defined much more precisely than those of PBS, and it will be a real job to decide what PBS should in fact do".

Although nothing has been definitely established or done, millions of marks are passing through B&HRTV, and all time limits in connection with transformation of this media have been exceeded a long time ago. According to the draft operation plan for implementation of reconstruction of the system of public broadcasting in B&H, the whole organisation of RTVFB&H and PBS should have been constituted by the end of April, and the editor-in-chief and his deputy of Federal RTV and the editorial team on PBS should have been nominated by the middle of March.

Shutting down of B&HRTV in fact means depriving SDA of the most powerful electronic media and establishing of public television which will be equally influenced by both the Federation and RS, as well as of Federal RTV with two channels – one oriented more towards Croat and the other to Bosniac viewers. The now already certain transformation of this media has disturbed the blissful peace of “starry sky” of journalists and editors who have many times proved loyalty to one ethnic group, one party and one leader.

The panic that has stricken them has resulted in putting the mandate at the disposal of the Transitional Administration by the editor-in-chief of B&HTV, Senad Hadzifejzovic. However, quite a few TV workers are suspicious that the influence and control of SDA will merely be replaced by the influence of OHR and that there will be no true independence and freedom of electronic media. For instance, Haris Pasovic, director and former editor of B&HRTV claims that “in the structure and law of future federal RTV, OHR has more influence than the central committee of the League of Communists had before the war”.

It is impossible to predict how and in what direction the international community will direct its influence once the struggle ends with the ruling ethnic parties for control of the media space of B&H. It has not become famous for high-quality moves so far. Alexandra Stieglmayer, spokeswoman of OHR, says that although this is a matter of transformation of B&H Radio-Television nobody knows the conception of transformation of B&H Radio, for example!? However, Bosnia has already learnt that the one who gives the money is the one who decides. One can only hope that the decisions will be good for Bosnians and Herzegovinians, not just for foreign diplomats in this country.

Original article