In its Report on Serbia’s progress in the implementation of reforms and European integration, the European Commission noted what the Coalition for Media Freedom constantly points out – that no progress has been made in freedom of expression in the past year. The experts of the European Commission note that REM (Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media) made the decision to grant licenses for national coverage to the same television channels that already have licenses even though they “received reprimands from REM for violating their legal obligations.”
Since the deadline for submitting applications for the granting of the fifth license for national coverage expired yesterday, the Coalition believes that this is an opportunity for the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media to show in action that it is an independent regulatory body, and that it will indeed award the fifth national frequency to the best license application.
Two months ago, the REM Council decided to re-grant licenses for electronic media with national coverage to Pink, Happy, B92 and Prva televisions, regardless of the fact that they have been violating the law and Serbian Journalists’ Code of Ethics for years, and have not respected the minimum conditions prescribed by by-laws.
In addition to the fact that no market analysis was carried out, even though it is recognized as an obligation by the law and all strategic documents, including the Media Strategy, which the Coalition pointed out from the very beginning of this process, in the previous round of license allocation there was the essential explanation as to why the existing media service providers got licenses again, and why the others did not. This absence of explanation is a significant violation of the procedure involving 14 applicants, which is evident by domestic judicial practice, as well as the practice of the European Court of Human Rights.
Not all relevant facts have been established, especially with regard to the existing media service providers when it comes to facts important for the assessment of the criteria for compliance with professional and legal obligations, where the REM Council selectively, incompletely, and even incorrectly determined the facts.
In addition, the criteria were evaluated selectively, incompletely and even incorrectly in some parts, which is evident especially in the evaluation of the criteria for compliance with ethical standards and obligations – whether a measure was pronounced to a media service provider and its conduct after the measure was pronounced, whether the application for license was respected, as well as the practice in fulfilling obligations from the law (where numerous segments were not taken into account at all).
Year after year, REM’s reports showed that none of these television stations fulfilled the obligation prescribed by the Rulebook on the minimum conditions for the provision of media services and the criteria for decision-making in the process of issuing a license for the provision of media services. On the basis of the conducted public competition, it was defined that a provider of general media service must have news, science and education, culture and arts, documentary and children’s programs, as well as program for minors. Also, none of these television stations respected the application on the basis of which they were previously licensed, and the members of the REM Council consciously ignored this fact.
Due to these and numerous other omissions in the first round of licensing, lawsuits have been filed by the Slavko Curuvija Foundation and the CRTA organization, as well as by some participants in the process of awarding licenses with national coverage.
We hope that the members of the REM Council will understand the seriousness of the moment and work towards unhindered fulfillment of freedom of expression. Their previous decisions have indirectly led to the disrespect of the Serbian Journalists’ Code of Ethics and the creation of an atmosphere that fosters threats and violence against journalists.
The Coalition for Media Freedom consists of the Association of Media, the Association of Online Media (AOM), the Independent Association of Journalists of Vojvodina (NDNV), the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia (NUNS), the Business Association of the Association of Local and Independent Media “Local Press” and the Slavko Curuvija Foundation.