The Law on Broadcasting was adopted in July 2002. It was amended two times (the first time in August 2004 and the second time in August 2005). This Law recognizes two public national and two regional TV channels, which are obliged to produce and broadcast programmes regarding cultural history and identity, as well as art productions. It was mandatory that the network of public / local radio and TV stations be privatised over the period of the next three years to comply and harmonise with European standards. To prevent the direct commercialisation of programmes, the Law stipulated a public obligation for each TV and radio station to produce its own programmes in order to protect national culture and to foster employment of local artists and media professionals. There were a lot of controversies during the competitions for frequencies.
Public broadcasting was and still is a major producer of cultural programmes, such as drama and TV films, educational programmes, documentaries, etc., both independently and in co-operation with film production companies.
The privatisation of local public media is still an on-going process. From 2005-2008, 24 local media (owned by local authorities) were sold and 38 other local media organisations were in the process of privatisation. This process enhanced the “tabloidisation”of the media further, chasing ratings and commercial success.
Anti-trust measures to prevent media concentration are issued by the Law on Broadcasting. The Law limits foreign media ownership up to a maximum of 49% in the overall founding capital of a media company. It also regulates cross-ownership and media concentration depending on broadcasting coverage. Media concentration is prohibited for a broadcaster with national coverage which:
- has more than 5% of the ownership in another broadcasting company with a national license;
- broadcasts more than one television and radio programme in the same area;
- has more than 5% of the ownership in a daily newspaper company which publishes newspapers with a circulation of more than 30 000 copies, and vice versa;
- has more than 5% of the ownership in a news agency, and vice versa; and
- simultaneously publishes a daily newspaper with a circulation of more than 30 000 copies.
Media concentration is prohibited for a broadcaster with local and regional coverage which:
- has more than 30% of the ownership in another local and regional broadcasting company in the same area; and
- simultaneously publishes a local daily newspaper in the same or neighbouring area.
The Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance was approved in November 2004 (and improved in 2009 and 2010). Its aim is to enable both journalists and citizens to have easy access to relevant information. The outcome of the first phase of the law’s implementation was far from satisfactory. There were a lot of problems with supervision of the compliance with the law. Since then, the situation has changed, and although a lot of requests for information are not always welcomed by public institutions, government bodies, or public organisations, improvement is visible. During 2008, there were 55 850 requests for information from public bodies, which is six times more than in 2007. Out of that number, 71% of requests were from citizens and NGO’s, 22% were from the representatives of the media and 7% were from public institutions and political parties.
The majority of print media companies have been privatised over the past three or four years. The available statistical data on the number of newspapers shows nearly the same level today as in 1989. However, the data on circulation / copies shows a huge decrease of more than 50% in comparison to figures for 1989.
A certain number of radio stations, TV stations and newspapers are being broadcast and published in all languages of the ethnic communities in Serbia, which represents a solid base for further development and improvement of their activities.
The Ministry of Culture and Information publishes an annual call for media projects.
On public radio and television there are numerous programmes and channels devoted to arts and culture. Belgrade’s second and third radio channel are wholly devoted to arts and culture, while the second channel of the Serbian public television is mostly devoted to cultural programming (with exceptions for the days when there are direct transmissions of parliamentary sessions). The first and the most popular television channel has “Cultural News” every evening around 11 p.m. and “Cultural Centre”, a weekly magazine devoted to culture on Wednesday at 8 p.m. Numerous programmes are devoted to film, music and other different artistic expressions from “Bunt” (devoted to rock music) to “Big illusion” (devoted to film). During the daily news at 7.30 p.m., at least one item is cultural. Traditionally, the first channel also hosts daily chronic of the most important festivals (FEST, BITEF, etc.), usually late in the night after “Cultural News” and “Sport News”. The third channel, the so called digital channel of public television, is advertised as “24-hour-culture”. “Trezor”, a new digital channel, is devoted to television’s past, but also produces new debates and documentaries around television heritage.
In last three years, public television has produced and co-produced numerous feature programmes, TV films and serials. The serial “Nemanjići” is devoted to the founding of the Serbian medieval kingdom and its 800 year. It was a huge production that engaged 218 actors and around 2700 extras as well as numerous film and technical staff. However, the serial sparked discussions
as the script tried to use contemporary vocabulary while the audience expected medieval Serbian language. Nevertheless, the exhibitions of costumes and props from the serial gained popularity and interest in the shootings locations grows.
Although there are seventeen programmes at different Serbian universities devoted to journalism, there is no specific education for cultural journalism. Art critics and cultural journalists often have an educational background in in dramaturgy, philology, art history, film or media Major journals and TV channels with national frequency have competent journalists covering specific areas.
There is no official censorship (as article 50 of the Constitution defines freedom of the media), but acts of auto-censorship are numerous both on public and commercial television as well as in the press.
Despite a legal framework that guarantees freedom of the press and the 2012 decriminalization of defamation, media freedom is undermined by: the threat of lawsuits or criminal charges against journalists under other legislation; the lack of transparency in media ownership; editorial pressure from politicians and politically connected media owners; and high rates of self-censorship. The state and the ruling party exercise influence on private media in part through advertising contracts and other indirect subsidies. While many outlets take a pro-government line or avoid criticism of the leadership, some continue to produce independent coverage.
A number of critical journalists and outlets faced smear campaigns, punitive tax inspections, and other forms of pressure in 2017, and the local weekly newspaper from Vranje (Vranjske) closed in September, citing harassment from local officials and criminals. There were 92 attacks against journalists during this year, the highest total recorded by the NUNS since 2008. They included physical assaults, though most incidents involved aggressive rhetoric and other forms of pressure or intimidation. (Freedom House report, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2018/serbia). There are other examples of media intimidation. In November 2016, Interior Minister Nebojša Stefanović filed a defamation case against the weekly magazine NIN on an article they published which accused him of being responsible for illegal demolitions in Belgrade’s Savamala district, where a controversial urban regeneration project is planned. The court rendered judgment that the NIN has to pay a fine, thus giving an example that critical words against the government will not be tolerated.
The exhibition “Uncensored Lies”, prepared by the ruling party’s press service, was held in the Progres Gallery in July 2016. As the organisers claimed, the reason for this exhibition was the current situation in which journalists are convulsively try to present the president Vučić as a censor. The exhibition served as a threat to all those who made caricatures with the image of the president or voiced criticism in the press. It also was “a lesson” to media owners on what not to publish. Soon, the daily journal Politika dismissed its caricaturist Dušan Petričić in September 2016 as he declined to obey the demand not to draw the president.
Most of the press uncritically support the president and its ruling party, turning towards tabloidization and spectacularisation, which in turn raises its number of copies. Another problem is that there are no licensing requirements for journalists. Thus, a lot of unethical acts might be found within commercial press. In March 2018, the pro-government Informer ran an article containing details from independent reporter Stevan Dojčinović’s unpublished investigation, prompting some local media advocates to express concern about possible government surveillance of journalists).
Only few media are independent and critical,but they never get public funds after calls and rarely get advertisements, thus are on the edge of financial sustainability. Local press and media are in the most difficult condition as financial tax inspections are often controlling their work and local authorities do not give them any funds for projects (i.e. Južne vesti, the most read portal in South Serbia, has been under scrutiny five times and can get advertisers rarely as they are politically pressured not to advertise there).