The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has expressed concern over the introduction of new measures against spreading panic and "fake news" regarding the coronavirus outbreak in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Harlem Desir, and the head of the Vienna-based organization's mission to Bosnia, Kathleen Kavalec, said in a joint statement on March 23 that imposing censorship and limitations to freedom of expression was not the best response to concerns about the spread of "fake news" about the virus.
The warning comes after the government of Bosnia's predominantly Serb-populated entity, Republika Srpska, on March 19 introduced fines and other punitive measures for spreading "fake news" in the media and on social networks, causing panic.
The measures are due to last for the duration of the state of emergency declared over the pandemic, which has infected at least 153 people in Bosnia and killed two.
Authorities in Bosnia's northern district of Brcko have also introduced a prohibition related to reporting "fake news," while the interior minister of the Bosniak-Croat Federation, Aljosa Campara, called for similar measures, according to media reports.
"I fully understand the aim of tackling the dissemination of false information which creates panic and disorder during this health crisis," Desir said in the joint statement.
But Desir added that "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,'" the OSCE representative said.
Kavalec called on the Bosnian 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," she added.