The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in South East Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), is concerned about draft amendments to the Broadcast Act, which the Government of Serbia intends to put before Parliament.
SEEMO is informed that the Serbian Government would like to amend the three-year old Broadcasting Act and has sent the amendments to Parliament without consulting professional media organisations in Serbia.
According to our sources, one of the amendments would revoke the veto power of the Broadcast Council member nominated by the autonomous province of Vojvodina, who until now has had the power of veto in all decisions concerning Vojvodina. With this amendment, the Belgrade government has displayed a singular lack of understanding of the problems that are specific to Vojvodina as a multi-ethnic province.
In addition, SEEMO is informed that, instead of the ballot system that was used to randomly determine the term of appointment of individual members of the Broadcasting Council during its first working period, the new amendments propose a fixed length of term for each of the elected members that favours those members who have been elected by Parliament. Thus, those nominated by Parliament as party candidates would serve terms of six years, while those nominated by professional journalists organisations and NGOs would serve only for four years.
The amendments also extend the deadline for the privatisation of media operated by local government authorities until the end of 2008. According to the original Act, the deadline for privatisation was the summer of 2006.
"Instead of speeding up the process of political independence, the Serbian Government is leaving the electronic media at the mercy of local authorities until after the next local elections in Serbia in 2008," said Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General.
Under the new amendments, the deadline for the transition of Radio Television Serbia (RTS) from a state-controlled broadcaster to a public service broadcasting organisation has also been extended until 30 April 2006. "We are alarmed over this development," said Vujovic. "Public service broadcasting is one of the most important mediums through which diversity and the public's right to know can be fulfilled. It is therefore important for Serbia to finish this transition process as soon as possible, in particular since the original deadline was set for 31 January 2003."
"SEEMO calls on the Serbian Government to withdraw the draft amendments to the Broadcast Act and to enter into a wide-ranging consultation with media and other civil society groups before any further amendments are put forward," Vujovic added.