Bosnia's Council of Minister has agreed on changes to the law on public broadcasters, allowing for the formation of a fourth public radio and television station, in Croatian.
The state government's move on January 11 drew criticism, as a step towards forming a third autonomous entity, alongside the mainly Bosniak [Muslim] and Croatian Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the mainly Serbian Republika Srpska.
The law proposed by the Prime Minister, Vjekoslav Bevanda, an ethnic Croat, envisages the new channel drawing 20 per cent of its revenue from advertising and 20 per cent from radio and television license taxes.
The Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina, HDZ BiH, one of Bosnia's ruling parties, which has pushed the idea for years, says the issue of the new channel is a test of the new government's willingness to improve relations within the six-party coalition.
“If there is no readiness for such an important issue for Croats, who are a constituent people [of Bosnia]... than the question arises of whether we can agree on anything that can improve the processes [of government] in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Marinko Cavara, of the HDZ BiH, said.
The Communications Ministry on Friday, emphasizing that the measure was adopted against its advice, said it opposed the idea of foundation of a fourth public broadcaster.
The ministry said it would undermine the whole concept of a public broadcasting system in Bosnia. One of the consequences would be the creation of "ethnic" broadcasters, it said.
“Bosnia needs a united, professional and independent public radio and television service, free from any kind of political influence,” the ministry added.
Three public broadcasters currently operate in the country: Bosnian-Herzegovinian Radio-Television, BHRT, Radio-Television of Republika Srpska, RTRS, and Radio-Television of the Federation BiH, RTVFBiH.
The two Serbian parties in the coalition, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, and the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, supported the formation of the third channel, although the SDS said it would not accept the plan if it meant any loss of revenue from RTRS.
The two Bosniak parties, the Social Democratic Party, SDP, and the Alliance for a Better Future, SBB, said they would vote against the plan when it comes to parliament.
An opposition Bosniak party, the Party of Democratic Action, SDA, said a new Croatian channel should not be an option. Instead, the public broadcaster of the Federation, RTVFBiH, should be improved to cater for all ethnic groups.
“Those who insist on a Croat channel within the public broadcasting system never paid their RTV taxes, nor have they proved they were able to finance even a local Croat channel,” the SDA said.
“Such demands are completely illegitimate and directed at the destruction of Bosnia,” the party added.
The board of the Association of Journalists of Bosnia and Herzegovina called on the employees of the RTRS, RTVFBiH and the BHRT to protest against moves to allow a fourth channel, noting that the communications ministry was not consulted.
“The formation of a new public broadcaster with programmes in only one of three official languages in BiH is a direct violation of the system of public media based on principles of respecting the right of all citizens to be informed,” the association said.