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Does Bosnia and Herzegovina really need a public service and what does this service have to be?

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Radio and Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BHRT) Board of Directors, after holding a meeting session in January 2016, sent a strong and dramatic warning message to all governing authorities and general public: BHRT has entered a dramatic crisis period that may lead to the termination of broadcasting signal! This estimate cannot be abated by the fact that the Council of Ministers of BiH has extended the validation of present model of collection of RTV tax fees until the end of June 2016.

For regular and standard monthly operations (and this relates to the maintenance of minimal operational functions), BHRT requires and lacks around half a million BAM. This resembles the situation when a person driving a car with an empty fuel tank (emergency fuel quantity) drives his car downhill and he would turn the engine off, thus avoiding fuel wasting and this would eventually enable him to pass few extra meters due to inertia, rather than driving the car itself. Continuing the collection of RTV tax fees, as the amount attached to telephone (landline) bills is certainly not a solution; instead it only exceeds the agony so “the head could sustain a little bit more above the water, before it drowns”. Due to massive subscriber’s contract cancelling with telephone operator, the number of subscribers was reduced by half of what it had been and is still decreasing.

All of this sounds rather complicated. In order to understand the issue it would be necessary to explain how the public TV financing works, why the BHRT has found itself in most difficult situation, how I percept the public broadcasting system and why the Corporation has not been established yet and what are the options for public broadcasting system in order to survive and sustain. I shall try to explain all of this and outline those responsible for this situation.

System blockage

Law on Public RTV System in BiH was passed at the end of 2005. It was based on the following idea: three broadcasters with a single logistics. Logistics was supposed to be a famous corporation that should have been established by the broadcasters within 60 days from the law passing and as we know, it has not been established yet.

By establishing the Corporation public services would have been disengaged with any additional technical support issues, cameras and studios, signal transmission (relays), technology development (digitalization process).

Corporation would coordinate operations regarding collection of RTV tax fees, marketing operations, purchasing programs on behalf of public services, represent broadcasters and system in international radio – diffusion organizations etc. Entity radio television would, in terms of program, cover the Entity territory and BHRT would create the program and the signal would cover the entire country. This was the idea and also drafted in the Law. However, this, rather ambitious project Paddy Ashdown pushed by force, gave birth to a dead baby child.

During the late spring 2005, it was possible to establish the system and form the Corporation. However, a common sense demonstrated by the international community, OHR to be precise proved different: system was to be established by local forces after the Entities pass their own laws on public services! And this is the reason why we wasted two following years and enable the dissolution: the Republic of Srpska passed its own law and the Federation followed two years after that and both laws were in collision with the Law on Public RTV System of BiH. When RTRS buried the fundaments of its own building it actually lost the interest for the Corporation in terms of capacities defined by the Law. It was certainly a farewell to the Corporation. The trend of strengthening and reinforcing the BiH state institution was still well alive by until 2006.

At the end of 2006 Paddy Ashdown had left and the story on establishing the system had neither future nor someone to push it. OHR abolished media department, public services were no longer as priority tasks by the international community – although the public service was clearly outlined as the 16th condition in the document on stabilization and admission – and the system of public broadcasting was consequently left on a thin ice. All attempts of establishing the corporation had been unsuccessful. Frankly speaking, the desire vanished after this. RTRS, assisted by the RS Government got its own building and in political sense, the process of RTRS independence as entity television had begun. Banjaluka political view was that the establishing the Corporation was out of the question. There was no will to establish the Corporation with even minimum functions, not even the Corporation that would serve as network operator managing the future developed digital channels (so called MUKS –A and MUKS – B) with significant incomes deriving out of this function. No, Dodik said NO!

Technology exterminating the model

Let us go back to financing and BHRT position in this process. The Law prescribed that all incomes by public television houses, RTV tax fees and marketing incomes, dispersed (pursuant to formulae) as per following: one half to BHRT and the remaining half shall be dispersed equally between the RTRS and Federal TV. Now, why does the BHRT receive half the total income? This is because BHRT has international duties to fulfill, including memberships in Euro song contest and other international associations (this debt has already exceeded the amount of BAM 8.0 million). It also includes the transmission of international competition events (Olympic Games competitions, world championship competitions, national squads’ competitions etc), signal coverage throughout BiH and maintenance of technical equipment and logistics that should have been maintained by the above mentioned Corporation. This why the large number of employees engaged with the BHRT exceeded the number of 900 until recently.

Marketing incomes had never been dispersed and this occurrence violated the Law in the first place. Federal TV, supported by the Entity Parliament, was advised to keep the marketing incomes to itself. Incomes collected by the dominant telecom operators are directed to mutual / joint account and this amount is dispersed according to the Law. However, all these years, incomes collected by the collector services, FTV and RTRS kept for themselves.

According to this and this information is still incomplete and unofficial, BHRT was deprived of around BAM 5.0 million in 2015 only.

But, the key problem is the existing model of collection of RTV tax fee, its unsustainability, and new model is still to emerge. Number of subscribers in BiH, counting from 2009 with over 902 000 subscribers, almost reduced to half of this number in 2015, as a result of cancelling the landline telephone contracts with phone operators in households. If you multiply the difference by BAM 7.50 you could easy come up with the deficit in all three public services accordingly. This trend was even fastened last year, and it preserves this year as well. According to the information provided by the Communication Regulatory Agency (origin. RAK), during December

2015, over 690 000 people were watching TV program via cable operators or Moja TV programs, Open.iptv or Tria. RTV tax fee is not listed on cable operator bills. Again, if we multiply this number by BAM 7.50 we shall estimate the deficit with three pubic broadcasts.

Why RTV tax fee collection in BiH and system building is considered a problem? It is because the RTV system should represent BiH institution, and Serb politics simply opposes this idea on one hand, and on the other hand, Croat politics demands their own national and ethnic channel and the problem is also because the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH and Council of Ministers do not implement the law; the problem is because the international community (OHR) from 2006 gave up the Law and concept that it had previously imposed and enforced. The financing problem is only the expressions of these factors.

The concept of paying the RTV tax as part of the telephone landline bill has been overrun after the subscribers have been provided with an opportunity to change their operators and phone service providers or simply use IPTV services (such as Moja TV, Trio and Open IPTV). While regulators imposed the rule that dominating operators must charge their subscribers for landline phone bills with the amount exceeding BAM 10, 00 private operators advertise their landline charges for BAM 0, 00! At the same time, cable operators refuse to charge RTV tax fees although pursuant to Article 42 of the Law on System they are obliged to do so.

Now, let us see what actions have the public services taken?

Financing: public or budget

In April 2015, legislative and executive government received the proposal for model on the collection of RTV tax fee attached to the electricity bills. The proposal was based on the assumption that in BiH there are over 1.1 million house- holds which enables efficient and comprehensive payment collection system. Neither the Parliament nor Council of Ministers have expressed their thoughts about this idea yet. In the meantime, RTRS suggested that the tax fee should be paid as part of income tax and means would then be collected and transferred into Entity funds and managed by RTRS and RTV FTV. This proposal, still to be analysed in details, was considered rather with a certain amount of scepticism since it would additionally burden the employees and introduce misbalanced ballast within a single household; it would mean that more persons within a single household would have to pay this tax fee. It would also additionally complicate legal changes because it would require and adjust at least 6 – 8 laws which, from this perspective, do not seem feasible.

Several proposals emerged along with these ones, especially in Federation. Bakir Izetbegovic, during an interview, mentioned budget funding but this idea was also not elaborated to details. Mladen Bosic, head of SDS (Serb Democratic Party) also advocated similar model: funding BHRT from state budget and accordingly, fund RTRS and FTV from entity budget. With the existing and overloaded budgets, it is unlikely to believe that certain funds could be directed from these budgets in order to finance public services. Besides, it would also allow political parties to have a complete control over public services. Budget funding is not European standard.

Novalic’s office recommended that cable operators should be in charge with RTV tax collection, since the number of subscribers could finance public services. Federal government addressed the initiative to the Council of Ministers. This model could easily be operated and maintained because the RTV tax fee would thus be listed on a single cable opera- tor’s bills / invoices and this would require minimum legal interventions.

Most interesting suggested model however, was the proposal by Mario Karamatic, an MP at the House of People, who recommended three ethnic channels. Although Karamatic represent the HSP formation, HDZ representatives also found this idea rather acceptable, because this party has been advocating and initiating the idea of newly formed Croat’s TV channel. It is surprising that according to announcements by proponents; it is actually about the idea of that was directed to parliamentary procedure although this certain document was still to be released. Regardless to the fact that all ethnic groups are entitled to their own ethnic channels, in BiH case it would certainly create a complete dissolution of public RTV system and complete ethnic division of public space. Karamtic and other proposers of the idea of having this ethnic channel formed promised that ethnic Croats in BiH will be willing to pay RTV tax fess if the above mentioned Croat’s channel is established.

Does Bosnia and Herzegovina really need public service and what does this service have to be? This is crucial issue and in this context it is also political issue. BHRT is scheduled as public service that would integrate BiH public space, develop political and cultural pluralism, and take questions that all citizens are concerned about into serious consideration. This kind of program is expensive and every state with minimum integrity and pride has one. The answer to the question of who would fund public services in BiH; citizens (via RTV tax fee) or government (via budget) depends on the question of who would be in control of three radio television houses.

European standard

European standard includes paying the RTV tax fee and it is considered as tax duty. In Austria it is EUR 360.00 annually, in Norway it is similar, in France it is around EUR 140.00 per year – along with local tax; in Finland it is EUR 40.00 to EUR 140.00 depending on the income value (all employees earning over EUR 8.500.00 per year are obliged to pay this); in Croatia it is HRK 80.00 per household (around EUR 11.00), in Turkey this tax is included in electricity bills so citizens cannot see it appearing separately on the electricity bill etc. In Sweden, a postman delivers bills for RTV tax fees every three months to home address of every household (around SKR 550 – BAM 125.00). In European countries it is considered a shame not to pay RTV tax fee for public television and there is also a very effective way of enforced payment imposed on those who do not make this payment.

Law amendments on RTRS

In October 2013, the RS National Assembly legalized the elimination of the CRA during the appointing of members of the RTRS Board of Directors and legalized the financing of missing funds from the RS budget. With these two interventions RTRS was formally out under the control of governing majority and the principles of the Law on Public RTV System were thus derogated. One more amendment reinforcing the RS National Assembly to dismiss the members of Board of Directors if they do not act as instructed is in process. At the same time, CRA allowed RTRS to establish another channel marked as the “additional program service” which leads to a complete emancipation from the public RTV system in BiH.

Bulletin “E-Journalist“/Fairpress

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