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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    MON, 11 APR 1994 19:19:59 GMT

    AIM, BEOGRAD, March 27, 1994

    INFORMATION ROBINSONS

    What's new on the media scene of Serbia? Although the new Prime Minister announced major changes in the main political premises in the information area - that the entire world is not against the Serbs - the view of the authorities on informing as being propaganda, has not changed. This is attested to by the latest moves of the state - the distribution of radio frequencies, the attitude towards the establishment of the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia and towards the initiative for amending the Law on Radio-Television.

    When the Prime Minister designate of the new Serbian government Mirko Marjanovic, seen in the public as a man of Knin - Russian provenance, in his inaugural address announced changes in the area of information, many were surprised. Some analysts even assessed the intimated changes as the only novelty in the Government's programme. Marjanovic accused the media of "the conviction that everyone in the world was against the Serbs, and that they for those reasons needed no one", and explained the new information concept with the idea that the Serbs could not "live alone, as economic, political and cultural Robinsons" - at least not "unless they wished to be successful and happy". The promised "turnabout" in Serbian informing is, however, only of a tactical nature.

    This publicizing of reverse thinking propositions in respect of the basic political premises in this area seems important only because they have, in the interpretation of the two time Minister of Information, Milivoje Pavlovic, been unquestionable until yesterday. From the standpoint of the latest cooperative line taken by Milosevic towards the international community, the rejection of the platform on a global conspiracy against the Serbs, aided by the actions of domestic traitors, comes irreparably late. Marjanovic's intervention is thus, only aimed at synchronising the current political and propaganda orientations. The regime has, of late, offered several pieces of evidence that it has no intention of changing the dominating attitude towards public communications - characterized by the perception of informing as propaganda, and of the media as tools in the service of "spreading the truth in the national interest".

    Only a few days before Marjanovic's Government assumed office, the old government - just before the almost five month period expired between the dissolving of one and the constituting of the new Parliament, in which it functioned without any democratic control - passed the long awaited decision on the distribution of radio frequencies. It was to have, as announced by Minister of Information Milivoje Pavlovic "enriched the media space of the Republic". This enrichment, through an advertisment after almost three years after the passage of the relevant Law, was decided on - in contravention of the federal Law on Information - by the Republican Government, i.e. on its behalf by a commission comprising three ministers, three of their assistants and two RTS directors, all of them SPS members or sympathizers.

    The information space was enriched by admitting into the official media circles, out of 23 competitors for 8 TV channels and about 50 for 18 radio frequencies, 5 TV and 18 radio stations, all of local range which did not include some of the already established media houses, which have been working for years: the "Politika" radio and television, Radio B92, Radio Pingvin, "TV Palma", "Art kanal" and others... What kind of media pluralism the state wants is seen from the fact that of the five available ones, two TV channels (in Belgrade and Novi Sad) were allocated to the firm "BK Telekom", behind which is the newly created mega - company "Braca Karic", known for its close ties with the Serbian state leadership. Last year it expanded its activities to the information area, when it purchased the weekly "Intervju", which had gone bankrupt and had been a champion of "spreading the national truth".

    Those who were rejected can do nothing, but work without a licence like so far. They have no one to appeal to, because the Government which brought the decision ceased to exist a long time ago. We can not even suppose that the new - in fact the old - Minister of Information Ratomir Vico (who preceded Minister Pavlovic), for a time the director of RTS and these past few months as M.Vucelic's counsellor distributed fuel to the editorial offices, would have understanding for their complaints. His appointment to the new Government should probably symbolize a departure from Pavlovic's "hardline" approach - from his last term Minister Vico is remembered because he tried to involve science and the profession into the designing of the Serbian information - propaganda approach to the world. On the other hand, the appointment to this ministerial post of a man from the top ranks of RTS eloquently attests to the concept of journalism which will be considered desirable in his department.

    This comeback minister demonstrated this by organizing his first public appearance in his old house, a day before the founding assembly of the new professional association of journalists of Serbia, on March 26, on a TV show evidently aimed at discrediting the new association with the public. In the attack of the leadership of the old association - Dusan Cukic and Kosta Kraincanic - launched against the idea of "unpatriotic journalism" threatening to gain broad public legitimacy through the new association, Vico did not object to the names attached to this new professional association, even when it was called "the association of those who hate Serbia". But, while most of those on the show operated with the concept of journalism along the lines of simple dichotomy - "in the service of the people (in its most difficult historic moments)" and "in the service of the enemies of the people" - Minister Vico realized that divisions in journalism, among journalists and their associations were a result of different social perceptions of the national interest, i.e. a lack of agreement on the fundamental social values.

    While in that context the media can be seen as a public arena of democratic dialogue which will help in reaching consensus, so that pluralism is desirable and should be encouraged, the opposite concept prevailed in the Serbian state leadership: journalists were making the existing divisions even deeper and thereby preventing consensus. Pluralism therefore, should be limited, i.e. localized as much as possible. Divisions in the society are no longer insurmountable, as it once seemed, while the dominating stands are concentrated around those of the ruling party. The minister illustrated this stand by the reduction of differences in the stands of political factors towards the Serbs outside Serbia, as well as towards elections as the only legitimate method of rotating power, concerning which some agreement has nevertheless been achieved lately. It seems that the state leadership adheres to the stand that, in order to make this concept efficient, "other truths" must be small enough so as not to endanger the big one, and what is even more important - the erosion must not be allowed of the main producer of social consensus - the central media plant - the RTS.

    At about the same time when regular frequencies were denied to the mentioned stations, the Assembly rejected the request of the opposition parties to urgently discuss amendments to the Law on Information and the Law on Radio - Television. DEPOS leader Vuk Draskovic, for whom the RTS or as he calls it "TV Bastille" has become an obsession, persistently tried to squeze the story about changing these laws into the "deal" between the SPS and the opposition with respect to the constituting of the new Government. Since this deal fell through, the attempt to change the ratio of forces around the central state television was also abortive.

    The proposed amendments to the existing laws independently made by the SRS and DEPOS, will thus have to pass through the regular, slow Assembly procedure. One day, thus, perhaps... Despite the hysteria of the loudest patriots among journalists who have not yet realized that the stage of "ardent patriotism" has come to an end, it is clear that the alternative media will not be the target. It will only continue to be hindered in development as it has up to now. As agreement on certain social issues expands, so will its chances for expansion grow. Indeed, just one inaugural address was sufficient for a broad understanding of the fact that it was not true that everyone is against the Serbs and that they can be modern Robinsons.

    Jovanka Matic