WED, 09 FEB 1994 20:32:40 GMT
AIM, Belgrade, January 12, 1994
The state and the media
The independent media in Serbia operate in difficult circumstances. The state strives in various ways to obstruct, and even prevent the work of the media which stimulate expression of different opinions and which are critical towards the authorities. The assistance some of the editorial staffs get in paper and technical equipment is sufficient for survival, but not for undisturbed, continuous operation. The latest anti-media strike of the state concerned the issue of frequencies and legal regulation of foreign aid.
The novelty, which never made the news - it was not published in a single newspaper, on radio or television, states: the Government of Serbia decided to nominate members of the Commission for the use of radio frequencies. Members of the Commission are the Vice-president of the Government, Stanoje Andjelkovic, Minister of Information, Milivoje Pavlovic, Minister of Transportation and Communication, Zarko Katic, three Assistants of the mentioned Ministries and two Directors of Radio-Television Serbia - all of them members of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) or its sympathizers, men who were, regardless of the post they held, always a part of the establishment. Not a single name from the ranks of public workers, scientists or culture workers, which could inspire some hope that the frequencies might be distributed objectively, without bias.
The decision was published in the "Official Gazette" of the Republic of Serbia on December 22, although it bears the date of November 24, 1993. It means that it was made in the interregnum, when the Parliament was dissolved and none of the deputies could even pose any questions about it. - Such action on the part of the authorities is disgraceful, deputy Director of the Independent TV Studio B, Milorad Roganovic, says. - This absolutely questions equality of the media, because again, people from state television will be making decisions about the distribution of frequencies to the independent RTV stations. Whenever they had any impact on this, it was difficult to get a ferquency.
The request of NTV Studio B for the extension of the time limit to use three television frequencies, it had got from the Government of Milan Panic, was rejected with the explanation that the request was a few days late. Although the request was rejected by the Federal Radio-Communication Administration, and not by the new Commission of the Reopublican Government, the coincidence is too obvious, especially when everyone knows that the frequencies were taken away on the very same day NTV Studio B was covering the completely legally announced preelection central rally of the Democratic Movement of Serbia (Depos) in Belgrade.
This detail verifies the long time ago observed trend of depriving the federal authorities of their power by the Republican in management of frequencies. The mentioned decision was made pursuant to Article 11 of the Law on Radio and Television, which specifies that the Commission "considers the requests for the use of radio-frequencies and proposes decision for their usage", but about their "dispossession and cancellation", too. The Law itself is a subject for a separate story.
The law was adopted in a hurry on July 31, 1991, after the war in Slovenia had already begun, and the first decision pursuant to this document was dismissal of the leading personalities in Radio-Television Serbia who supported the non-party editorial policy. According to this Law, the most comprehensive purge in the history of Yugoslav media took place - about a thousand and a half of employees of RTS were sent to "forced vacation", and among them some of the most renowned experts. Legislature which regulates the electronic media in Yugoslavia leaves much to be desired. It practically does not even exist. Neither the federal state, nor Serbia and Montenegro have a law on radio-diffusion.
The Serbian Law on Radio and Television attempts to regulate with just a few general provisions, radio-diffusion in general, but it is vague and inconsistent. On the basis of this document it is impossible to conclude how the operation of Studio B or Radio-Television POLITIKA is legally regulated. The position of more than 60 local or regional radio programs is also not quite clear, as well as of the increasing number of TV stations, and there are about ten of them only in Eastern Serbiab. Pursuant to this Law, the Government of Serbia has full authority in the matters concerning the state, or public enterprise RTS, which, ever since the introduction of the multi-party system, has never been so strictly single-party oriented.
This enabled the ruling party incessant - and especially during the election campaign - promotion of its personnel, activities, program issues. That the state, the ruling party and the state television completely coincide has got another proof in the past few days. On January 6, an information was made public that several new transmitters became operational, as a result of joint efforts of municipalities and state Radio-Television. They are the municipalities with local SPS administration - by such activities, budget funds are spent on amplification of TV signals which propagate a single political option.
- Concerning the general conditions in which independent media operate, we should be happy that we exist at all - Roganovic says - but nothing more. The state brags about pluralism of the media which serves as the evidence of its being democratic, but it constantly strives to shut us down. Should the draft amendment of the Law on Public Information be adopted, and it strictly controls or imposes heavy taxes on the aid to certain media, we will find it hard to survive. It is, after all, a well-established fact that the managers of the firms who are members of the SPS are forbidden by their party to have business relations with the Studio B, and there are information that some private enterpreneurs who deal with us, become victims of extortioners. And we have not asked for help from anyone abroad, but we receive it if someone offers it without any conditions - Milorad Roganovic says. - The state should aid the media - both those it controls, and the independent ones, and if it cannot do that, then it should at least allow them to find their way round, Miroljub Radojkovic, professor of communication science at Belgrade University says.
The situation is the same as in health : if there are no drugs or surgery materials, the hospital is forced to seek help everywhere, and from abroad. The attitude inherited from previous decades about unique editorial policy in all the existing newspapers and radio-television programs has still not disappeared. On the contrary, the representatives of the authorities strive to let evryone know what they expect from the media. The journalists and editorial staffs which do not wish to transgress the fundamental norms of their profession and their personal moral integrity, are constantly subject to pressure from those who have power. The example of Studio B is not the only one, there are other independent media too, which testify about it. The state is trying to narrow down as much as possible the space of operation of the independent media. It is a question whether the enthusiasm of the employees and occasional aid coming from various sources will be sufficient for their survival.