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Balkans Media and Judiciary Urged to Cooperate

OSCE mission head says justice needs responsible reporting of war crimes trials.
By Velma Šarić

A senior American diplomat has called on the media and judiciary in the western Balkans to work together to ensure responsible and accurate reporting of war crimes trials.

Ambassador Gary D. Robbins, head of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, mission to Bosnia and Hercegovina, BiH, delivered the opening speech at a conference called Transparency of the Courts and Media Responsibility that took place from September 1 to 3.

“In a society committed to democracy and the rule of law, the judiciary and media alike are responsible for informing citizens about the administration of justice,” Robbins said at the event, which was held in the capital of Sarajevo by the Balkans Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN.

“It is imperative that the judiciary as well as the media work together to ensure that this dialogue happens, critically. This means that both institutions have a duty to question and to contradict – publicly – the misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric about the judiciary that all too often obscures or even mutes the conversation,” Robbins said in his speech.

“Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done,” he added.

At the conference, regional war crimes experts, editors, journalists and legal experts gave lectures and held workshops and discussions to explore ways of bridging the gap which exists between judicial institutions, local authorities, and the media in the western Balkans.

Conference participants – who included representatives from the Hague Tribunal – discussed the importance of judicial transparency, as well as objective and reliable reporting on crimes committed during the conflicts in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

During these wars, much of the media was used as propaganda tools by the countries' respective authorities, armies and factions. Although since the Dayton Peace Accord was signed 14 years ago, work has been done to develop a free and fair media in the region, this has had limited success, and biased reporting is often blamed for fuelling lingering ethnic tensions there.

On the first day of this week's conference, representatives of judicial institutions from the region discussed their experiences of working with the media.

Meddzida Kreso, president of the Court of Bosnia and Hercegovina, said the court was well aware of the role of the media in reporting on judicial processes, adding that its court rooms have been open to the media since its work began.

“Our trials are public and the media are welcome to be there,” she said.

“We must also secure good working conditions for the media, because it is important for Bosnian citizens to know what is happening in the state court's courtrooms,” she added.

During the conference, a discussion entitled Limits to Freedom of Speech was held on the role of the media in reporting on conflict, justice, genocide and war crimes denial in the region. Editors and journalists from the public broadcasting services of Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Hercegovina said they regretted that public interest in war-crimes reporting was decreasing.

On the final day of the conference, a workshop for media representatives allowed journalists from the region to discuss their experiences of reporting on war crimes, and considered the most common mistakes made by reporters when doing so.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.

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