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Does the law not matter?

Ekonomist magazine, issue# 152, of April 21, 2003
By Milan Obradović

 

Are transformation and change in the media possible if the provisions of the legislation which should finally regulate everything in this field are not honoured at the very beginning of this Sisyphean labour?  Can the public, after the appointment of Broadcast Council members, screen the people who clear up and cloud over our broadcast skies?

If frequencies are one of the most valuable resources of every country, then it is logical that the choice of people to regulate broadcasting should be given the closest attention.  This is the reason the Broadcast Act prescribes that the Serbian Parliament should publicly release the biographical facts on all candidates at least thirty days before deciding on the appointment of Broadcast Council members.  This provision makes it possible for the public to voice their opinion on the candidates for the Broadcast Council before they are appointed.

This is because the procedure for their dismissal is so complicated as to be almost impossible.  And it was designed this way so that Council members would be free from bias and under very little influence from day-to-day politics.  However, this kind of protection would pose a problem in the case of someone who does not meet the criteria making it onto the Council.  The power of the public is demonstrated in the case of a candidate for the Deputy Dean of Belgrade University’s Electrical Engineering Faculty whose credibility and connections with the former regime were questioned in public.  The candidacy was withdrawn.

However the Serbian Government announced its candidate on April 8, Nenad Cekic, the former director and editor-in-chief of Radio Indeks (and now an assistant lecturer at the Faculty of Philosophy).  The Serbian Parliament also nominated its candidate on April 11, the very day the Council members were to be appointed.  This candidate was Vladimir Cvetkovic (an associate of the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory and a former member of the Radio Indeks Board of Management).  What is curious is that the procedure for Broadcast Council nominations was stalled for so long when the legislation was passed in July last year and why the nominations and appointment of these two Council members was then carried out with such haste.  Is this an irrelevant procedural error and, if so, why does the law contain this provision at all?

The principal question raised by the fast-tracking of Council appointments is that of conflict of interests.  Just how unbiased are these candidates and have they broken all ties with media companies.  Milos Zivkovic, lawyer and member of the working group which drafted the Broadcast Act, believes that there is one procedural error in connection with this:

“It concerns statements on conflict of interest which should have been taken before the appointments and, as far as I know, this has not been done.  Because the process of relieving people of office is complicated, it requires 126 votes in the Parliament and only once it is established that there is a conflict of interest, or if there is some other reason envisaged by the law.

“As for the procedural error, that is the failure to honour the thirty-day requirement for the publishing of biographies before the appointment.  As far as I am aware, this has not been done in the case of candidates Nenad Cekic and Vladimir Cvetkovic.,” said Zivkovic.

This provision was modelled on British legislation and allows a public review of the candidates’ qualifications.  In Cekic’s case, many people are asking whether he has only formally broken his ties with companies which hold broadcasting licenses, which calls his lack of bias into question.

“Cekic also took part in public debates where he questioned the entire legislation, and how he is supposed to implement it.  And what is the reason for Cvetkovic’s appointment to the Broadcast Council, does he have anything to do with media?” asks Rade Veljanovski, journalist and a member of the working group which drafted the Broadcast Act.

Violations of legal regulations, even if they are only procedural errors, are not a good start for introducing order into Serbia’s media chaos.  If the procedures are not important, why were such provisions incorporated into the legislation in the first place and why did the Parliament adopt them?  And does the United Kingdom, as the cradle of the rule of law, poor legislation which prescribes the public’s judgement on important issues?  Are there grounds to believe that in this way someone is attempting to put “his own people” in such important positions.

We were unable to contact those who nominated these two councillors or Vladimir Cvetkovic.  Nenad Cekic declined to comment on these questions.

Legal academic Vojin Dimitrijevic warns of the seriousness of the situation:  “As the public has not given its opinion on the Council members, perhaps proceedings should be instituted in the Constitutional Court.

Front page of special

News

Chronology of events

 


DOCUMENTS

Media situation in Serbia, May 2003

Invitation to dialogue between government and media

Full text of the demand to replace two members of the Broadcast Agency Council

 


ANALYSIS

Srecko Mihajlovic: Lost in advance: the battle against pubic

Does the law not matter?

IFJ Warns of “Damage to Integrity of Broadcasting Law”

SEEMO Concerned over Press Freedoms in Serbia

 
FORUM

OSCE urges new election for broadcast monitoring body

CPJ concerned about government harrassment of the press

IPI Serbia Alert

RWB Call for re-election of council

OSCE urges transparency in media appointments

ANEM: repeat Broadcast Council election

NGOs shun Broadcast Council debate

EC Charge d’Affaires: Cause for concern

US Ambassador Extremely Disappointed at Status of Media

Verena Taylor: Legal procedure was not respected

OSCE Chairman: Laws may never be broken

Head of OSCE Mission: (1) “Aware of certain criticism”

Dimitrijevic: Against flouting of law in name of public interest

Head of OSCE Mission: (2) The law was broken in the Broadcasting Council’s constituting

Andric: Decision will stand

Milivojevic: If there is suspicion about autonomy form outset, Council will not be able to operate.

Veljanovski: There is deliberate negative pressure from the authorities.

Lucic-Cavic: Angry that candidate of professional associations, one of our greatest media experts, won’t be sitting on the Council

Matic: Not only an issue for our profession, it is a problem for the entire society

Lucic-Cavic: We could have survived another month

Milenkovic: Will broadcasters follow Parliament’s suit in breaching law?

Radulovic: Guiding principle was bad

Zink: Govt and parliament should consider grounds and response


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