The Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (IJAS) and the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina (IJAV) believe that the press release of the Government of Serbia regarding the shutting down of the Vranjske weekly newspaper and the hunger strike started by the owner, Vukašin Obradović, seems worse than if it had been written by Željko Mitrović and Dragan Vučićević. It is a cheap manipulation that serves to divert the attention from the state-run operation of killing media and media freedom in Serbia, which threatens to transform the entire media scene into Pink and Informer. The government has not responded to any of the burning issues and problems in the media sphere that journalists and media associations have been pointing out for a long time, whose consequence, among other things, is the shutting down of Vranjske.
The Government of Serbia in this statement clearly shows that the money of citizens intervening in the media sphere is taken as their own private possession and, according to this, spent at will. We would like to remind everyone that this is not the Government’s money, but the money of taxpayers, and that according to the law, it should not be used to finance the media, but the public interest in the sphere of public information, and that the quality of the proposed projects should be evaluated by independent, expert commissions. The fact that representatives of the authorities do not understand the meaning of the Law on Public Information and the Media is reflected not only this announcement, but also in the fact that the government has turned this process into a kind of caricature, i.e. a mechanism for financing the regime media that play the role of its PR service, and that the overwhelming majority of commission members are inexperienced and politically instructed persons, who only carry out previously made political decisions.
We would also like to remind the public that at this year’s public information contest in Vranje, two of the most significant and the most professional media in that city, Vranjske and OK radio were granted small amounts, which they refused to receive, while the “expert commission” gave the money to the media close to the authorities. TV Vranjska plus, for example, received more than 40 percent of the total funds identified, i.e. 6.3 million dinars. This television was founded a little over a year ago and the owner is Mirjana Dodić, a former spokeswoman of the Serbian Progressive Party (SPP) in Vranje.
The competition in Vranje is, of course, only the tip of an iceberg, and the professional public has been warning for years that there are numerous problems in the process of tender co-financing of public interest in the media – there is almost nothing but problems – which in turn have the best project proposals dismissed, and fund the regime and newly established media, that are also close to the authorities. Citizens’ money is measured in billions of dinars, which are spent by the government on its self-promotion through this mechanism. In the period from April 2015 to April 2016 alone, according to the investigations of the Media Coalition, the state spent more than two billion dinars for media competitions.
While suffocating media that are not close to the authorities, the government denies them access to public interest funds and sends out all possible inspection services, with the intention of constantly exhausting them financially and preventing them from normal work. The government is also financing their media through public procurement, as well as through public companies. According to a recently published research by Transparency Serbia, many public companies are signing agreements on media co-operation, and significant funds flow from public companies and through sponsorship agreements. It is additionally worrying that many public companies hide data on their media financing.
The government also does not mention the advertising market, which is also controlled by marketing companies close to them. The government practically rackets companies, urging them to spend money for advertising in the regime media. Authorities have produced such an atmosphere that small local private companies refuse to advertise in “inappropriate media”, because they can experience a number of inconveniences, such as frequent visits of inspections, as well as numerous other business problems.
The Serbian government will naturally say that it has nothing to do with this, but it is more than clear that a series of illogical verdicts against non-regime media is a form of political pressure on media freedom, and so is the absence of any sanctions for those who attack journalists, threaten them with death and scare them in various ways.
We could list similar situations like the ones above for a long time, and also mention that the non-regime media are having difficulties in obtaining information, that they are prohibited from attending press conferences, that in the sphere of access to information of public importance there are numerous retrograde procedures, that the regime media is financed by state money and through affiliated companies, that regime journalists are also taken care of with direct contracts with state institutions, etc. Not to mention the inadvertent privatization of the media, which were purchased by the party tycoons of the SPP, or evident violation of numerous laws in the case of Tanjug, which is also financed by millions of state money.
However, we are sure that the Government will not give answers to any of these problems, since it is the main generator of listed problems.
Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (IJAS)
Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina (IJAV)
Belgrade – Novi Sad, September 20th 2017