by ANEM Legal Department and Media Monitoring Agency
 a brief summary 


The “democratic revolution” on October 5, 2000, fundamentally changed the media scene in Serbia.  The large state-run and state-connected media which were once the main propaganda tools for the Milosevic regime suddenly opened their programs to the presentation of different political options.  Opposition leaders and NGO activists who had been denied access to those media before October 5 began appearing daily on various programs.  This gave rise to the hope that the overall media picture in Serbia would rapidly improve with the end of the period of rigid political control and that it would soon reach the level seen in other countries in transition.  Unfortunately, two months after substantial democratic changes began, it seems that the vision of a rapid and successful media transition was too optimistic and that the depth of the inherited problems in most broadcast state-run and state-connected media was such that rapid and substantial transformation was impossible.


It must be noted that the regulatory framework, in other words the legal regulations governing broadcast media have not changed at all since October 5.  The reasons are very practical and come down to political problems related to the establishment of a federal government and a transitional government in Serbia, with the Parliament dissolved.

First of all, the Public Information Act is still in effect in Serbia.  This law was adopted in 1998 and the Serbian Parliament has not repealed it, although this was on the agenda at the last session.  Because this session was focused on the establishment of the transitional government and the calling of Serbian elections, this item was lost on the agenda, pushed out by more pressing political issues.  There has, however, been no further implementation of this repressive legislation because the social climate in the country has changed substantially and magistrates have been able to find ways to avoid acting in accordance with this act.  This is demonstrated by the case of the Vranjske Novine newspaper and one of its journalists, Sladjana Veljkovic, who were sued by the local Forestry Company in the town of Vranje.  This was the only case of the act being invoked since October 5.  Magistrate Dragan Stojanovic, on November 10, decided to dismiss the complaint.  The Federal Constitutional Court, on November 24, finally acted on the numerous demands it had received since 1998 and began a public appraisal of the legislation.  After the elaboration by the reporting judge it may be expected that most of the repressive clauses of this act will be ruled unconstitutional and so declared legally invalid.

The situation regarding legal regulation of broadcast media, including the Radio Television Serbia Act and federal regulations for the allocation of broadcast frequencies, has also remained unchanged.  Nor can any change be expected in the near future.  Moreover, the existing situation of frequencies allocated according to political criteria during Milosevic’s rule still survives.  This means that state-connected media which established vast national coverage thanks to privileges granted during that period, still enjoy those privileges.  The former regime did everything possible to pack the spectrum of frequencies with loyal stations and there are now no frequencies available for any new stations, independent or otherwise.  This leads to the conclusion that there can be no change in the air without the reallocation of frequencies.  In other words there can be no development of those media which stood for professional, unbiased journalism in spite of threats and severe reprisals.  There is further cause for concern: the new Minister for Telecommunications, Boris Tadic, has announced that there will be a moratorium on the redistribution of existing frequencies and the allocation of new ones until new regulations are adopted. It may be the end of next year before new regulations are adopted. There is also major concern over the recent announcements of foreign investors buying into pro-Milosevic media.  For example, a Liechtenstein-based foundation named Mitsui, whose owners are unknown, is reported to have bought into TV Pink, and there are also reports that Greek and German investors have expressed interest in BK Television.  TV Pink is owned by a former senior official of the Yugoslav United Left, the party led by Slobodan Milosevic’s wife, Mira Markovic.  BK Television is owned by the Karic family, who collaborated closely with Milosevic and whose leader, Bogoljub Karic, was once a minister in the Serbian government.

ANEM’s legal department took part in an expert group set up by the Media Centre to focus on the transformation of the media system and drafting legislative proposals which would regulate media operations in Yugoslavia.  These combine the existing Yugoslav models with relevant international standards and recommendations.  This is a very serious and extensive task which should results in completed draft laws.  There is no guarantee that the proposals will be adopted by the new democratic authorities, but they will present the opinion of local experts on all relevant aspects of the media and broadcast system.  ANEM’s legal department, drawing on its years of focus on issues relating to the broadcast media, believes that transitional solutions should be adopted urgently and has informed the appropriate state bodies on its views and offered every kind of assistance possible.  These solutions would ensure a level playing field for all media in a new open competition for the allocation of broadcast frequencies which would be announced in accordance with new legal regulations.  They would also redress the obvious injustice of decisions made during the rule of the former government.  These solutions would be an important factor in the successful and efficient transition of the whole society, given all the problems in the operation of the newly-liberated media which were formerly under state control.  Unfortunately none of these ANEM initiatives has received a positive response from the relevant state organs.

On November 28, 2000, it was announced that the Yugoslav Minister for Telecommunications, Boris Tadic, had been appointed as a member of the board of management of the Politika publishing company, which is the proprietor of several daily and weekly publications as well as a radio and a television station.  This appointment continues the former regime’s practice of appointing state and party officials to the boards of media companies.  ANEM responded with a press release (attached).


Despite the state media having completely opened up since October 5, there are still very serious problems in their operation.  On the one hand there are major problems with the financial and staff structure of these media, the unclear management structure of Radio Television Serbia and, on the other, equally serious problems with the work of journalists and the output of their present staff.  On the presumption that the financial and management problems will be solved after the Serbian elections on December 23, we shall focus on problems related to the staff employed in the state media.  This is a problem which cannot be solved quickly, because the training and education of journalists is a long-term process.  The basic problem with the work of the state media is their non-critical attitude to state officials and organs.  Although there is no doubt that this habit developed because of the internal repression of the former regime, it is now clear that the practice has taken root and exists even when there is no more political control.  This, and a certain political influence on RTS, has been documented in several cases.  When the new Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica, appeared for the first time as a guest on Radio Television Serbia, the host, Aleksandar Mandic, addressed him by his first name.  This is professionally unacceptable (although due to the fact that this journalist and Mr Kostunica are well acquainted in private).  In late October, the state media dropped the documentary series “Images and Words of Hate”, which focused on the nature of reports carried by the state television during the wars in the former Yugoslavia.  The makers of the series, Isidora Sekulic and Lazar Lalic, claim that the program was taken off the air because of intervention from the ranks of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia.  Later, on November 20, Radio Television Serbia’s Channel 3 cancelled a debate between a former senior official of the Serbian Renewal Movement, Borivoje Borovic, and Zoran Lilic, a former senior official of the Socialist Party of Serbia.  Borovic and Lilic said that the program had been dropped because of pressure from their former parties which are currently in the Serbian transitional government.  The acting editor-in-chief of Channel 3 and the host of the cancelled program, Igor Miklja, announced that the program had been cancelled by senior management within Radio Television Serbia, with the explanation that “Borovic and Lilic are the leaders of new political parties which have not signed certain agreements on the presentation of election campaigns on Radio Television Serbia”.  It is evident that this problem can be solved only on a long-term basis with training programs for journalists and other staff and the establishment of a management structure which would relieve Radio Television Serbia of any direct political influence on editorial policy.  It is also important to be aware of the fact that Serbia and Yugoslavia need professional media right now, because it is of vital importance for the process of democratic reform and for the development of a different political culture.


After October 5, the independent media worked without hindrance and with evident relief in terms of working conditions.  In other words, both independent media, both print and broadcast, kept their critical distance in their reporting on the activities of the new government.  The most important change is that these media no longer have to fight for survival and the security of their staff.  Recent audience surveys show that radio and television programs produced by ANEM and its members meet the highest standards in all aspects and that the only real competition in terms of quality is Yu Info television, the only state-run station in which the management has not changed directly, either on October 5 or since.  This television station has substantially stepped up the professional level of its output, but remains close to the former regime, as evidenced by the fact that Slobodan Milosevic now makes public appearances only in this station’s programs.  The station also had exclusive, privileged status among all media in covering the recent extraordinary congress of the Socialist Party of Serbia.  On the other hand, the repression of the independent media ended on October 5.  There is no longer any fear of closedowns, arrests or government takeovers.  The primary problem of the independent media in the period ahead is that they need to be transformed in order to adapt to new conditions.  The print media are in some way in a better position: they have their regular readership and now that there is no repression or government restrictions on the supply of newsprint, they are in an excellent position for future development.  The broadcast media have much greater problems: if they want to develop they need a cooperative response from state bodies over transmission frequencies.  Such a response has not yet been forthcoming.  Thus the activities of the independent media in their relations with the new democratic government will remain directly linked to the establishment of a level playing field for the broadcast media market.

Belgrade, November 28, 2000