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Journalism – reputation without pay

It is not my fault that journalists are the cheapest workforce, said not so long ago one of the Serbian press tycoons, who at the time owned two Belgrade daily newspapers, in response to being asked why "his" journalists were paid miserably and treated in a humiliating manner. At the time, there were many reasons to consider the said boss to be the most unscrupulous among the media industry owners: his newspapers paid no attention whatsoever to the Law on Labour and many journalists were illegally employed, without any rights at all. They used to wait for months for their miserable salaries, and any kind of insurance was unheard of. However, in the meantime, our media scene has significantly worsened: there are only a few media owners who have not used the alibi mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph. Most of the journalists and their fellow sufferers in the media are now fighting for their survival, while there is an increasing number of those who should by any criteria of social statistics be counted among the impoverished.

The global economic crisis has had a profound effect. Monthly salaries of media employees – which can barely qualify as salaries – have long lost any relevance to the calendar and are constantly decreasing. The income of most of the journalists is below the average salary in the country, the number of those who have been laid off is constantly rising, while those who still have their jobs work and live in fear from further "downsizing" measures the owners might implement. This fully justified fear is made even worse by the inability of the few existing trade unions in media companies to protect the minimum of workers' rights. The social dialog in the media and collective contracts change depending on the employers' desire to achieve further savings. Most of the media companies do not have any trade union nor a collective contract, and labour relations usually consist of an individual contract between the employer and the employee which mostly defines the rights of the former and obligations of the latter.

The idea that a journalist with no labour rights cannot be a free journalist sounds so true in today's Serbia. Everyone is aware of it – journalists themselves, their marketing experts, owners and manager, including the politicians. The first group admits it only in internal discussions, the second one views democracy only from the viewpoint of the market and capital, while the third group keeps saying that the crisis is over.

Unlike our leaders, the American president, Barack Obama, spoke at the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents' Association that was held twenty days ago about the current crisis of the media industry and its dire consequences for the political system. The leader of the most capitalist country in the world spoke about the huge difficulties experienced by the media and journalists, and expressed his concern because of increased dismissals of journalists and closure of newspapers. He gave a crucial warning that success of democracy depends on strong and independent journalism. European politicians voiced similar opinions. They offered media industry more than just words: who has not heard about the 600 million euros of financial assistance given by France to the media hit by the crisis?

Our state prefers to avoid a hard look at the reality, but wastes no time trying to regulate and prettify it. Therefore we have recently seen adoption of the law on mobbing that forbids any form of abuse at the workplace. The Law on Prevention of Abuse at Work defines mobbing as any repeated active or passive behaviour towards an employee or a group of employees that violates their dignity, reputation, personal and professional integrity, health and position. According to the law, mobbing is a behaviour that causes fear in employees; creates hostile, humiliating or offending environment; worsens working conditions; isolates the employee; or forces him/her to quit work. The employer is obliged to protect employees from abuse and is responsible to compensate any damages caused by the abuse...

All of this sounds very nice – just like any other political or legal fairy tale at the Balkans. But is it possible that someone actually believes that our media bosses, like the one mentioned at the beginning of this text, will pay the employees for "violation of their dignity, reputation, personal and professional integrity, health and position". And perhaps the media clique will try to convince us – with the help from their political and other allies – that regular and decent salary, the right to daily and weekly rest and annual vacation, health and pension insurance, are in no way related to dignity, reputation, and personal and professional integrity.

Svetozar Rakovic

About the authors

MC Newsletter, June 4, 2010

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