What is happening with the amendments to the Law on Public Information and Media – Tapping in place

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The process of amendments to the Law on Public Information, after the initial enthusiastic flight, stopped somewhere. It is only possible to guess what it is about, because there are no indications from the competent ministry why the text of the amendments has not been determined yet, nor has a public hearing been called.

As a reminder, on June 30, 2021, the Ministry of Culture and Information of the Government of the Republic of Serbia decided to form a Working Group to create a draft version of the Draft Law on Amendments to the Law on Public Information and Media, consisting of 35 members representing journalists and media associations, state bodies and institutions.

The working group had the task to submit the text of the working version of the draft of the mentioned law to the Ministry of Culture and Information by September 30 this year, after which a public debate will be held in accordance with the regulations.

The working group rolled up its sleeves and in September a version of the Draft Amendments to the Law appeared, including “alternative solutions”, which immediately became a stumbling block. Media and journalistic associations and associations informed the Government of Serbia and the Ministry of Culture and Information that they were concerned about the work of the working group for drafting amendments to the Law on Public Information and Media so far.

In the letters to the Government and the Ministry, among other things, they pointed out that the new proposals of the Working Group for drafting that law deviate from the previously adopted Media Strategy with which those associations agreed, as well as from the Action Plan for its implementation.

The Prime Minister Ana Brnabic reacted by stating that the Proposal of the new Law on Public Information and Media must be in accordance with the adopted Media Strategy and that “there is no compromise” on that.

And not a move since.

“After the last meeting of the Working Group, communication was interrupted, in the sense that we did not receive any new information from the Ministry of Culture and Information. We expect the final draft from them, which we should read and see if we will sign. The condition of our members of the Working Group is that, when they send us the Draft, we have ten days to read and declare “, says Tamara Filipovic, Secretary General of the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia (IJAS).

Veljko Milic, a member of the Working Group and executive director of the Independent Journalists association of Vojvodina, says that the reason why it is still unknown what the draft law will finally look like lies in the methodology that the Ministry decided on when forming the working group.

“The methodology envisages that solutions on which no consensus is reached will be included in the law as alternatives. However, it is not foreseen who will decide which alternative proposal will be included in the Draft Law, which will be the subject of public debate. Given that the working group had a large number of members, and that it was heterogeneous, there were relatively many alternative solutions on which no final agreement reached. “Some of those solutions are completely unacceptable for one part of the working group, while some solutions are completely unacceptable for another part of the working group,” Milic explains.

He emphasizes that the representatives of the members of the Coalition for Media Freedom, Association of the Independent Electronic and Journalists Association of Serbia (JAS) have repeatedly emphasized that they will not accept any solution that is contrary to the Media Strategy, the Action Plan for its implementation, international documents ratified by Serbia and the Constitution of Serbia.

These are objections related to the introduction of certain rules that should prevent abuses during the competition co-financing, the obligation of the Press Council decisions for members of competition commissions when assessing whether the media complied with the provisions of the Code of Journalists of Serbia, solutions to reduce the influence of national Council for the Editorial Policy of Media Published by National Councils for National Minorities…

Lawyer Kruna Savovic, also a member of the Working Group, points out that the proposed answers to questions that are extremely important for the functioning of both the media and journalists are very distant and that this is a serious problem.

“As an example, I would cite the issue of defining the title of journalist. Journalists’ associations and media associations are of the opinion that this definition should not be included in the Law. On the other hand, there is strong opposition to this proposal. Why would it be important not to include the definition of a journalist in the Law? Because that will protect the performance of the journalistic work itself. We know that journalists are not the only ones who are important for public information. If a journalist’s job were to fall under the definition of a journalist, one who performs journalistic duties and is not a journalist – would be left without the protection he should have precisely because of what he did (presented information relevant to public information), and not what he is because maybe he is not a journalist, but a comic book artist, for example, explains Savovic.

In such a situation, the Coalition for Freedom of the Media drafted its own proposal for amendments to the Law, which sublimates all their objections.

“We consider all the solutions proposed by the representatives of the Coalition for Media Freedom to be very important. There are certainly among the most important provisions that refer to the Press Council “, points out Veljko Milic.

Kruna Savovic emphasizes that the Working Group did not reach an agreement, among other things, on certain provisions related to the realization of public interest in the field of public information, co-financing of projects in the field of public information, content of the Media Register and Media Content Producer Register.

“These are the areas in connection with which the association that I represent in the Working Group has given its proposals, and the same will probably be among the offered, alternative, solutions,” emphasizes lawyer Savovic.

What is also a problem are deadlines. It is the beginning of December, and even if the proposal of the Draft Amendments to the Law on Public Information and Media arrives at the addresses of journalists’ associations and media associations these days, the question is whether all interested actors will have enough time for a detailed analysis of the proposed solutions, and when a public debate would be conducted because it would be well within the New Year’s and Christmas holidays.

For now, there are no answers to all these questions and dilemmas, because until the moment of publishing this text, the Ministry of Culture and Information has not clarified many dilemmas.

 

The article was created as part of the project “Improving Dialogue between Journalists’ Associations and Parliaments in the Western Balkans for a Stronger Civil Sector”, funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN).

 

The content of this article, as well as the information and views presented, do not represent the official views and opinions of Sida and BCSDN. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in this text is entirely copyrighted.