BELGRADE, 31.05.2019. – Serbian journalists and media associations signed below find the changes to the Draft Strategy for the Development of the Public Information System in the Republic of Serbia (Draft Media Strategy), as well as the manner in which they were included in the working document completely unacceptable. We think that the Serbian Government has thus put under question months-long work of media experts in the Working Group that prepared this act.
Unfortunately, our doubts that the establishment of the Working Group will serve only as a facade and an illusion of the democratic process of defining media regulation has realised. Its purpose was to portray Serbian political actors in the eyes of the European and other international officials as open for dialogue with the media community.
|Some key proposals that were rejected:
· Reducing the influence on the editorial policy of public media services and media founded by national councils of national minorities
· Depolitization of the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM)
· Reforming the procedure of electing the public media services management board members
· Reforming the procedure of appointment of the editor-in-chief of the media established by the national councils of national
· Exclusion of the Committee for Culture and Information of the Serbian Parliament from the process of proposing members of the REM Council and
· Exclusion of the Assembly and the executive bodies from the process of adopting REM Statute, its financial plans and bylaws.
Some provisions that were put in and cause concern:
· Proposal for a legal definition of censorship which is particularly dangerous as it can lead to censorship methods other than legally prescribed as prohibited being allowed
· Deleting Press Council from the document and adding a vague term a self-regulatory body.
The key proposals of the Working Group aimed at reducing the influence on the editorial policy of public media services and media founded by national councils of national minorities, as well as provisions related to the depolitization of the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM) were excluded from the Draft Media Strategy published by the Government on May, 28 2019.
The Government rejected proposals on reforming the procedure of electing the public media services management board members and that the editor-in-chief of the media established by the national councils of national minorities cannot be appointed and /or dismissed without the approval of editorial employees.
The Government also rejected the proposals to exclude the competent Committee for Culture and Information of the Serbian Parliament from the process of proposing members of the REM Council and to exclude the Assembly and the executive bodies from the process of adopting REM Statute, its financial plans and bylaws. In fact, it turned out that for the Serbian authorities the most controversial standards are those that enable the realisation of the interest of public in free and objective information, and that they intend to maintain political control over public media services and the regulatory body at any cost.
We warn that the new proposal for a legal definition of censorship is particularly dangerous as it leaves the possibility of finding new censorship methods that will not be covered by law. In this way, all forms of censorship except those legally prescribed as prohibited could be allowed.
An unprofessional attitude towards media community is also reflected in the fact that the text of the Draft Strategy includes new provisions justified literally with “spoke with colleagues”. For the Government of Serbia such “assertion” is more valid than experts’ justifications of the Working Group members. It is important to note that that despite the original agreement with representatives of the Government, the Working Group members were not consulted about the proposals submitted during the public debate.
It is obvious from the Draft that the Government has decided to ignore the Press Council – it was deleted from the proposed provisions and replaced with a term a self-regulatory body despite being the only self-regulatory body in Serbia and observing the Journalist’s Code of Ethics, a document often referred to in the Draft.
We hereby also draw attention to the latest Country Report in which the European Commission highlights the same issues that journalists’ and media associations had marked as crucial through the Working Group. It is exactly these provisions that were deleted from the Draft by the Government of Serbia.
The adopted Draft Strategy is not a document that can be supported by the Working Group members from the below signed journalists and media associations. It is exclusively a document of the Government of Serbia by which it has taken upon itself to regulate, or rather not regulate, some of the areas.
Independent Journalists Association of Serbia
Independent Journalists Association of Vojvodina
Association of Online Media
Association of Independent Electronic Media
Association of Local Independent Media “Local Press”
IJAS, Belgrade – Nis – Novi Sad – Kragujevac, 31/05/2019