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Local media in Serbia

Lull before the storm

The unfinished process of privatization, problematic effect of past privatizations, enormous number of electronic as well as print media in comparison to the population and economic state of the market gives a real but sad picture of the media field in Serbia. There is no doubt that many resources are not rationally spent. The situation is the same with radio and TV frequencies, and ecologists are fully aware that many trees are wasted to produce paper used for printing tabloids and similar newspapers. Given the poor regulations and legal practice, it becomes evident that Serbia needs new media strategy.

The Ministry of Culture could not choose a worse period than the long summer to present draft media strategy. Nevertheless, even this period is better than to further postpone solving the chaotic media situation in Serbia. The draft of the strategy will be well discussed and publicly debated. The storm will begin the moment the majority of still uninformed owners, editors and journalist discover the content of the strategy, especially when the fledgling owners of electronic media discover that what was sold to them in the process of privatization now has to be returned to the state with no compensation or to continue to broadcast program over terrestrial signal until their permissions expire and than use Internet or cable broadcasting.

This will definitely decrease the number of potential listeners and viewers and thus the interest of their advertisers. Many local media are threatened to close due to lack of money. Trying to put some order in financing of local media from city and municipal budgets, the Ministry of Culture and Ministry for state administration and local self-government accepted the initiative of the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS), Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) and Local Press to deal with this issue.

At the recent joint meeting, Minister Milan Markovic said that the manner of allocation of funds from local budgets to local media is not clearly legally defined. The Minister concluded that in those conditions financing of local media depended on the quality of local politicians and their awareness of importance of local media and authentic public information. The idea has been put in practice in several towns, which may be observed.

In Cacak, the Mayor signed contracts with selected local media without any competition or public tender. TV Cacak, Radio Cacak, TV Galaksija, Cacanski glas i CA video signed the contracts, but not Radio Ozon, Cacanske novine, and TV Telemark whose offers were orally accepted by the mayor two months ago. However, the Mayor is using different excuses to avoid signing the contracts. Just for any case, the contracts contain a clause of summary abrogation, so if the authorities do not like something…

In Krusevac, public invitation was published, but the precondition was that the written local media owns two printing presses. Therefore, the condition was fulfilled only by newspapers “Pobeda” which owns their own printing firm. The redaction of “Grad” newspapers was unable to compete since they publish their newspapers in printing firm of the “Vecernje novosti” daily in Belgrade.

Last spring, a competition was published in Pirot which demanded “a proof of good cooperation with the local self-government”. The second condition implied “local media with tradition“, therefore the local “Pirotske novine”, well known for its criticism of local autonomy, was eliminated on both conditions. The condition for electronic media was “qualitative programme”. Who makes a decision what is a qualitative programmme - municipal scribes???

Putting some order in financing of local media from city and municipal budgets would be useful both for local and the state media. In administrative words, local media are important for the processes of decentralization, while regionalization and development of local communities is not possible without quality public information.

Stojan Markovic

About the authors

MC Newsletter, August 27, 2010

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