PRESIDENT KOSTUNICA SPEECH AT THE CONFERENCE OPENING
Dear friends, Comrades in arms, Ladies
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
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
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.