Press Release

Regional conference on media freedom and the safety of journalists

15 September 2023

On the International Day of Democracy 2023 and marking the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights brought together over 60 professionals from the region at a conference on media freedom and the safety of journalists, in Sarajevo. 

Participants discussed defamation lawsuits and similar practices targeting journalists, hate speech against journalists, and violence against women journalists.

Journalists, editors, journalists’ associations, trade unions, media experts, lawyers, representatives from the academic community, governments, and national human rights institutions, gathered from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia to exchange experiences and good practices to tackle pressing challenges affecting the media community in the region.

“Freedom of opinion and expression is a cornerstone of democracy that cannot be taken for granted”, said Ingrid Macdonald, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina when opening the conference. 

Edin Forto, Minister of Communications and Traffic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, warned that ”If we do not protect media freedom, we will lose a free media space, which will prevent us from joining the European Union.” He highlighted the need for transparent media ownership and to address the challenges posed by artificial intelligence to the freedom of expression. Duška Jurišić, Deputy Minister for Human Rights and Refugees of Bosnia and Herzegovina underscored the critical role of media in shedding the light on human rights violations. 

"Media freedom is an indicator of the level of human rights protection," said Borka Rudić, Secretary- General of the BIH Journalists Association, noting that violence against journalists had increased by 154% in the last year. She pointed out that from May 2022 to mid-September 2023, the association registered 150 different forms of human rights violations against journalists, including hate speech, death threats, and gender-based violence, especially hate speech and harassment of female journalists. Rudić highlighted that authorities are proposing or adopting laws that are neither in line with international human rights standards, nor with the conditions that Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to fulfill if it wants to join the European Union. 

Jovana Kisin Zagajac, a lawyer from Banja Luka, stressed the importance of holding prosecutors accountable when they fail to prosecute hate speech, while Jelena Zorić, a journalist from Serbia, called attention to the increasing number of verbal attacks on journalists and the necessity for collective action and public awareness to combat hate speech. Leila Bičakčić, Executive Director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIN), expressed concern about female journalists leaving the profession due to attacks they face and urged for proactive measures against hate speech. Duška Pejović, a journalist of the national broadcaster in Montenegro, called for an end to misogynist and homophobic statements, and emphasized the importance of solidarity between journalists and of building networks of journalists.

Participants in the conference expressed concern about the recent criminalization of defamation in the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the impact this could also have in the region. Journalists also recognized the need to unite if they are to tackle the significant challenges they face to safely and freely exercise their profession.

Journalists and media organisations from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia taking part in the conference affirmed their commitment to promoting human rights and media freedom, upholding high standards of professional journalism, and countering hate speech, in the pursuit of a more inclusive and democratic society. 

The conference was organised under the Global Media Drive for media freedom and safety of journalists, supported by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and implemented by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Link to the video of the conference:    

Ajla Becirspahic

Ajla Bećirspahić

Communications and Advocacy Officer

UN entities involved in this initiative

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Goals we are supporting through this initiative