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Lost in advance: the battle against pubic

Media in the media council? God forbid!
Daily Danas
, June 11, 2003
By Srecko Mihajlovic

An excerpt

…Our authorities constantly run hot and cold in their treatment of the public. One minute we a fair attitude, an approach of respect, praise for common goals and cooperation, the next we an attitude which can only be described as vulgar and arrogant. An example of an arrogant, and in many ways irrational, act is the appointment and constitution of the Broadcast Council, the special media senate which, according to the original idea, should not be lacking in honesty, temperance, democracy and sound judgement. As it has turned out, however, the election of the councillors has not conformed to the legal criteria adopted and even the founding session of the council was closed to the public.

A decision was made, ostensibly by the parliament (although of course we know where that decision was in fact made), to ignore the regulations it adopted the previous day. Why? Because they’re in a hurry, we’ve been waiting so long, we’ve had enough waiting. The usual justification. Democracy has been criticised from its infancy for its slow pace. And it is slow. One person makes a decision more quickly than two (although we are familiar from recent practices with the exceptions to this rule). The hundreds of members of any assembly are even slower. Everything is clear, of course, if we accept haste as the overriding criteria. In any case, the government is right in this case.

Can an illegally and illegitimately constituted council function at all? Of course it can. This was the crucial public argument by the official interpreters of government and parliament policy. Illegality under the roof of the parliament? Is this possible? It is, if the parliament decides it is! And is such behaviour democratic? It is almost irrational to say that illegality and democracy do not sit well together and that democracy is seriously imperilled even in a clash with legitimacy, let alone illegality. (In the Serbian parliament, if we were able to watch it on television, legality is sometimes verified by the majority of votes. This absurd usurping of “royal power”, that other brand of megalomania, has its comic side but in the end, being about us, it is only tragic).

Why does the government need a council on which it has a majority? First of all, the institution of a council does not even require a majority in that sense. Is the council advisory, or does it make decisions? If it is only advisory, why does the government need a majority? But if it makes decisions, then the issue of majority suddenly acquires importance for the government. Of course the government doesn’t want an independent council but one which will execute its wishes. And that’s the catch. A dependent institution is being established which will be a mouthpiece for the government, but with the appearance of the council making its own decisions. That’s Balkans democracy for you! That’s why the need a majority on the council, but not in the same way as the Anti-Corruption Council.

“It’s not so bad,” they say, “the election procedure was a little flawed, everything else was in order, there are no major objections to the people elected.” Democracy is something much more than mere procedure. But in order to have “much more”, something “much less” must be respected and that is procedure. This is the guarantee against wilful behaviour, and the hope for those who want to be treated in the same way as everyone else. Procedure is “often the only form of justice we can achieve,” says Robert Dahl, the academic who has dealt more with issues of democracy than anybody else.

This is as though someone wanted to use the establishment of the media council to display all the deficiencies of local politics: wilfulness, lack of foresight, support of factional interests, taking sides instead of working for the general good, death wish, extortion and vote trading, imposition of decisions, lack of democracy, disregard for the public, underestimation of public opinion, arrogance. The only thing lacking this time was ignorance: they knew exactly what they were doing.

Is this all to do with the rule of initial capital accumulation in post-Communist countries? “Don’t ask me about my first million”. This appears to be the message coming from the media senate. You’ll see, we’ll be democrats (there’s plenty of time for democracy). Just don’t ask about the democratic procedure under which we were founded.


Front page of special


Chronology of events



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



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


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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© 2003, B92