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The 2018 report explicitly mentions the unbalanced media coverage of the 2017 presidential elections, dominated by the candidate from the ruling coalition, a climate not open to criticism and human rights defenders that are subject to negative statements made by government officials and harsh criticism from tabloid newspapers.
According to the report, the overall environment is still not conducive to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. Cases of threats, intimidation and violence against journalists are still a concern, while investigations and final convictions remain rare. For this reason, the Serbian authorities are recommended to react promptly to and publicly condemn hate speech and threats against journalists.
Additionally, even the existing legislation on the media still needs to be fully implemented. According to the Commission, Serbia’s legal framework needs to provide for greater transparency of ownership and funding of media outlets, while co-financing of media content to meet public interest obligations needs to be implemented in line with the legislative framework, through transparent and fair procedures without interference by the state administration, especially at local level.
Serbia also needs to strengthen the independence of the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media and ensure adequate funding of public broadcasting services.
One of the things required from Serbia explicitly, is to adopt the new strategy for the development of a public information system (Media Development Strategy), in a transparent and inclusive manner.
Media Development Strategy is an important policy document that was adopted, for the first time, in 2011. Back then, with the adoption of largely criticised amendments to the 2009 Law on Public Information, the absence of an accountable media policy became so evident that, in order to compensate for it, the government was forced to offer to media and journalists’ associations to be its partners in the process of drafting the Strategy for development of media in Serbia.
The 2011 Strategy managed to set certain basic guidelines for the development of sector and define certain priority areas in which the than existing situation needed to be changed. Subsequently, the laws that bestowed a normative base for the major goals of the Strategy were adopted in 2014, and the legislative framework was completed by the adoption of a number of by laws in 2015 and 2016.
However, the 2011 Strategy did not provide suitable indicators to show either progress or stagnation in specific areas. Additionally, it expired in 2016 and its replacement is long overdue.
The draft of the new Media Development Strategy was finally published by the government and the public consultations process over that draft commenced on 31 of January 2019.
According to the draft itself, the general goal government wishes to achieve in this sector is to improve the media system through a harmonised legal framework that guarantees the freedom of expression, freedom of media, safety of journalists, media pluralism and the developed media market; which empowers journalistic profession, educates citizenry, and builds the competences of the institutions to the level that would make them capable of implementing the new legislation.
Major improvement over the 2011 Media Development Strategy is in a clear effort of the new draft to provide measurable indicators that would allow for the progress, or the lack of it, to be measured.
On the other hand, it appears that this policy document mostly addresses problems from the past. In that extent, the Strategy marks four problematic areas that should be addressed by 2023 (which were also challenges of former media policy). These are: journalist safety and non-favourable economic, social and professional environment for performing journalist activities, undeveloped media market and the need for limitation of the state participation in that market. The latter includes completing the mandatory privatisation process, clear, transparent and non-discriminatory allocation of the public funds, media concentration etc.
The Strategy also addresses the lack of the capacity and independence of the institutions in the field of media, particularly in relation to the regulator for electronic media and public media services, the non-existence of media pluralism, including the lack of media content intended for the people with disabilities. Other areas include gender sensitive language in media content, informing of the ethnic minorities, community media etc., and lack of digital competencies and professional skills, including the need for improvement of the media literacy.
In addition, the draft lacks the global perspective and thorough understanding of challenges media encounter globally as if it expects that, for Serbia, it would be enough to deal with its own local issues and leave global challenges to someone else to solve.
For example, the EU is amending its Audiovisual Media Services Directive with the aim of changing market realities in an effort to regulate video sharing platforms. However, the Serbian draft Media Development Strategy fails to even mention those same video sharing platforms, although there is an indication that Serbia will follow the acquis in this particular issue.
Changing market realities are only addressed to the extent that the government accepts that it lacks competences to assess and understand them. The draft aims to, through anticipated measures to be implemented, secure the improvement of institutional competences for research and creation of the legislation concerning digital technologies. The draft also aims to make comprehensive, reliable, and science-based research of media available, as well as media market, media content, and audience, in all segments of importance for public policies.
The government intends for the new Media Development Strategy to cover the period until the 2023. The Ministry of Culture and Information will, in cooperation with the competent public authorities and in dialogue with civil society organisations, prepare a three-year Action Plan for the Implementation of the Strategy for the period 2019-2021.
Based on the evaluation of the implementation of this Action Plan, another action plan for the period 2022-2023 will be prepared. It is expected that by then, improved institutional competences and readily available science-based research of media, media market, media content, and audience expectations and preferences would allow for the implementation of more targeted instead of broad and general measures.
The interested parties will have an opportunity to submit their comments and proposal until 01 March 2019. In the meantime, the government will organise four public events in major Serbian cities (Belgrade, Novi Sad, Čačak and Niš).
The government expect that the document could be adopted by the end of April, which depends on whether or not the snap election will be announced in the meantime. Namely, in case of the election, until the election of new government the old one would act in its technical capacity only, and would not be authorised to adopt the strategic policy documents.
For the time being, Serbian media professionals might, at least, expect threats against journalists to
be handled with greater urgency, persistence and tenacity, as well as the improved transparency and
fairness of proceedings in which subsidies for production of media content to meet public-interest obligations are awarded.
Public Consultations Over the New Media Development Strategy,
Aiming to Achieve an Accountable Media Policy in Serbia
Zivkovic Samardzic Law Offices
Serbia officially applied for European Union
membership in 2009, received full candidate status in 2012 and had its accession negotiations officially opened in 2014. So far, the country has opened 16
and completed two out of 34 accession negotiation chapters. Chapter 10 dealing with Information Society and Media is yet to be opened. According to the latest available EU Commission reports monitoring the accession process, Serbia is moderately prepared for accession in the field of information society and media. However, the Commission also stated that, over the past year, no progress could be reported regarding the implementation of its previous recommendations.
Slobodan Kremenjak is practicing law since 1996 and is with Živković Saradžić since 1998. He is a long-standing legal adviser to several established Serbian and international telecoms operators, broadcast, print and on-line media and their associations. Slobodan served as a policy advisor to the Serbian government concerning harmonization of national legislation with the ECHR case-law, relevant CoE treaties and standard-setting instruments in the field of media and the EU regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services. Moreover, Slobodan is an experienced competition lawyer as well as media, telecoms and intellectual property litigator.
Milos Stojkovic graduated at the University of Belgrade Faculty of Law in 2007 and is with ŽS since 2012. He is currently Head of Digital and Senior Associate specialized for IT, data protection, IP, electronic communications, media, competition, data and advertising. Prior to joining ŽS , he was the Legal Advisor and Head of Legal Department in the Sector for electronic communications within the Ministry responsible for electronic communications. From 2005 until 2008, he was the Project coordinator at the Belgrade Center for Human Rights. Miloš was policy advisor to the Serbian government, in relation to the various legal and strategic documents, such Law on Electronic Communications, Law on Electronic Media and Law on Advertising. In addition, he was the member of the working group for drafting the Code of Ethics in Marketing Communications within the Serbian branch of IAA and Press Council Guidance for implementation of the Journalist Code of Ethics in Online Environment. Recently, Miloš was the Chairman of the Expert Group in the process of adopting of the new Media Strategy.