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The media study

In the end of June, the Ministry of Culture of Serbia published a comprehensive Media Study, i.e. the strategy of development of the media in Serbia during the following years.

The preparation of the Study was financed by the European Union, but the Study emphasizes that its conclusions are not the views of the EU, but of the expert consultant's team of authors. It is also pointed out that the Study aims to offer the Ministry of Culture a basis for development of a national media strategy.

The Study has paid most attention to development of electronic media and the digital transition, and after that to development of local press and news agencies, as well as to e-commerce and the internet, intellectual property rights, education of users and media literacy. The Study has completely avoided the subject of leading national daily newspapers, without offering any explanation for this omission.

The Study states that the transition to digital broadcasting in 2012 requires important political decisions related to national broadcasting in Serbia, whether with regard to the public service broadcaster or the commercial broadcasters.

The Study concludes that Serbia does not need five national commercial TV broadcasters and suggests that their number be reduced to two at most.

The Study recommends that current municipal and regional TV stations, which are too numerous – whether privatized or not – should be merged and transformed into independent regional public service broadcasters who would air their programme within the programme of the national public service broadcaster i.e. RTS. There would be 10-15 regional public service broadcasters, and among them should be current provincial public service broadcaster (Radio TV Vojvodina) and Studio B from Belgrade.

Instead of using municipal budgets, the funding of regional broadcasters would be achieved via TV fee, i.e. the current TV fee that is paid for RTS would be increased by 20 percent and these new funds distributed to regional radio and TV broadcasters using various schemes.

In order to improve the collection of the TV fee, which is today unsatisfactory, the Study recommends formation of a special company for collection and establishment of a media fund that would receive the money and distribute it in accordance with the previously agreed system.

The Media Study insists on further strengthening of regulatory bodies – the Republic Broadcasting Agency (RBA) and the Republic Agency for Telecommunications (RATEL) – but at the same time criticizes their work.

With regard to the future of the local press, the Study's authors have a bleak vision. They propose that the government continue offering assistance only to regional daily newspapers, of which there are only two in Serbia – one in Novi Sad and one in Nis – and leave local magazines that are published weekly, bi-weekly or monthly to their own devices i.e. market forces. In any case, the print media outlets would cease to be the direct users of local budgets, while the government's support would take the form of funding of certain projects, increased advertising and similar.

The Media Study recommends that the news agency TANJUG be transformed into a non-profit public institution or a mixed-type joint-stock company, with the media being allowed to take a certain number of stocks. It is emphasized that TANJUG cannot remain a state-owned company, while the government would continue financing only the clearly defined non-commercial activities.

The Study provides a very detailed overview of the media environment in developed western countries, mostly in Austria, Denmark and Germany, and reminds of the European legal framework, the recommendations issued by the Council of Europe and EU standards.

At the same time, the Study points out the circumstances and relations in Serbia that could make difficult or jeopardize the whole project. Possible dangers lie in political and personal ambitions; political controversies and complicated political debates; the resistance of political leaders and their unwillingness to transfer the decision-making power to delegated bodies; insufficient media literacy of the population; too high expenses for the state; the broadcasters and individual households; as well as the lack of willingness to cooperate among the media.

The authors of the Study are aware that some of the offered solutions are largely based on traditions and maturity of the legal system, as well as on the stability of the economical environment and sustainable development, which – in their words – makes them unsuitable for Serbia today.

The Media Study concludes that the freedom of the media and the quality of journalism will have to be achieved "in the long term".

Vlado Mares

About the authors

MC Newsletter, August 13, 2010

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