The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, and the Head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Kathleen Kavalec, expressed their concern today following the announcement of the introduction of new measures against spreading panic and “fake news” regarding the coronavirus in the country.
The entity of Republika Srpska issued a decree last Thursday that during the state of emergency, it introduced punitive measures, including fines, for spreading “fake news” about the virus in the media and on social networks, causing panic. According to media reports, similar measures have also been adopted in the Brčko District, while the Interior Minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina proposed that the Federal Government should introduce a prohibition related to reporting “fake news” or claims.
“I fully understand the aim of tackling the dissemination of false information which creates panic and disorder during this heath crisis, but the concerned legislation should not impede the free work of journalists or their ability to report on the pandemic and to provide information necessary to the public. The press is an indispensable ally in the provision of important information to citizens and in the fight against ‘fake news’,” Désir said.
“The OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina is not familiar with the details of the new measures. The best response to concerns about the spread of ‘fake news’ is for authorities to communicate frequently with its citizens so that reliable information is provided to them about the measures taken, the rights and obligations of persons and businesses, and how to behave during these challenging times. Censorship and limiting freedom of expression are not helpful and can undermine trust in institutions.”
Désir and Kavalec referred to the joint statement published last week by the Representative together with David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and Edison Lanza, IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, which stresses that: “It is essential that governments and internet companies address disinformation in the first instance by themselves providing reliable information. That may come in the form of robust public messaging, support for public service announcements, and emergency support for public broadcasting and local journalism (for instance, through government health advertisements).”