Lost in advance: the battle against pubic
Media in the media
council? God forbid!
Daily Danas, June 11, 2003
By Srecko Mihajlovic
…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.