CONFERENCE PROGRAM
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS/GUESTS
CONCLUSIONS
PRESS PHOTO GALLERY SRPSKI
TELECOMUNICATIONS ACTS AND LAWS OF FRY AND REPUBLIC SERBIA

FRY PRESIDENT KOSTUNICA SPEECH AT THE CONFERENCE OPENING

Dear friends, Comrades in arms, Ladies and gentlemen,

The expression "comrades in arms" that I used at the beginning of my address defines, I hope very clearly, my attitude towards the media. I am convinced that the media play an immense, even a key, role in our society’s move towards democracy. As a liberal politician, a thorough reader of de Tocqueville, and an advocate of true social pluralism, I cannot but highlight this role. The freedom that we won on September 24, as a people and as a country, would have been hard to win without the help of the media.

Still, I must point out a paradox. The forces of democracy were greatly helped by the independent media, which articulated and presented their programmes to the public. However, so too were they helped by those media which not only promoted the previous regime but were harnessed to it in a totalitarian fashion. These media defamed the opposition and extolled Milosevic to such an exaggerated extent that it became hard to believe them even when they were presenting basic, mundane information. What they were describing was simply not reality, but some fictitious, parallel world, simulated identically in the Forbidden City, in the exclusive Belgrade suburb of Dedinje or on the Serbian mountain of Crni Vrh. Put simply, they overdid it. They underestimated the readers, the viewers and the listeners in the same way that the communist regime had underestimated the people from the war until October this year. They were not aware of the existence of another Serbia which, although elbowed aside, had remained authentic. A Serbia that was made up of more than just imitations. So high and mighty were they that they seem to have overlooked it.

Authoritarian regimes destroy or at least pollute all institutions they lay their hands on. And that is what happened here. And hence these times of real challenge for all of us. We must pick up and rescue all the pieces – of the state, of the economy, of political, social, scientific and cultural insitutions. And also of the media. The newly liberated society demands and deserves a new liberation of the media scene. Just as the state and society need to be cured, so too do the media. That is your job and by doing it, you will help make our society a healthier one. The task that awaits you is not an easy one, of that we must be aware. And the responsibility is immense. Our 1888 Constitution and the 1903 one both read: "The press in Serbia is free". And that is how things should be today. The media should be truly free and truly independent.

However, freedom calls for responsibility. In fact, there can be no freedom without responsibility. Responsibility for the truth of the information published; for the absence of any bias; for respecting privacy; for respecting the audience regardless of whether they are readers, listeners or viewers; and for respecting the subjects of reporting. I am referring to factual information. Comment, of course, is a different matter.

Independence also calls for responsibilty. To the public, to one’s own media house, to the state and to the market. I am convinced that if the media are to be genuinely good and objective, they must be financially independent. This means they must not rely on either state or foreign funds.

This is the only way for them to continue serving the truth and really help us move towards democracy. They must be open about their funding, as this is one of the preconditions for the functioning of a legal, democratic state. I do not believe that subsidised media can be objective and unbiased, I think that what I know about human nature tells me that. So any aid to our media, whether from abroad or home, must be approved in the form of restructuring programmes and training courses for journalists and other experts. I do not think journalists should be politically partisan like under Tito’s rule, nor should they criticise anything and everything. Neither of those alternatives is a happy solution because of the great power that the media have, and should have.

Just for a minute I will go back to the paradox I already mentioned. The Milosevic or pro-Milosevic media helped enormously in toppling his regime not only by fabricating their world and hiding the truth from the public, but also by misleading that very regime. It is unfortunately very easy for a regime to become removed from reality, and it is dangerous not only for society but also for the politicians themselves. Luckily, a democratic society can easily rid itself of such politicians. However, it must be very hard for such politicians to get rid of their false picture of themselves. I sincerely hope that I will never have to face such a problem. And I am sure that you will help me avoid it and that we will all work together to build a nice, maybe slightly boring, country where we can enjoy moderation in all things.


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