The South East Europe Media Organisation is supporting the Serbian Media Coalition that sent a request on 30 April to the Serbian Ministry of Culture and Information and the Ministry of State Administration and Local Self-Government, demanding that they take all necessary steps to end the abuse of public funds that are intended for the media at the local level.
The Media Coalition consists of the following journalistic and media associations in Serbia: Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM), the Independent Journalists' Association of Serbia (NUNS), the Journalists' Association of Serbia (UNS) and Local Press The request delivered by the Media Coalition points out:
1. That numerous local self-governments view informing the public at the local level as no more than an extension of their PR departments and routinely allocate their money only to those media outlets that are willing to report positively about their work, completely disregarding the interest of the public and the needs of the local community for unbiased, timely and complete information in the context of realization of the public interest;
2. That many local self-governments have been abusing public procurement procedures in order to give money to “appropriate” media outlets, as was recently evident, for example, in Nis, Nova Varos and Pozarevac;
3. That some of the EU reports have emphasized that the inadequate system of budget-based financing does not allow equal treatment of all media outlets on the market and that it enables the so-called “soft censorship”, which prevents the development of free and independent media and hinders the fundamental right of the citizens to freedom of expression, one of whose components is the right to information;
4. That the Media Strategy clearly and unambiguously stipulates that the public interest in the field of public information has to be realized by co-financing of projects, by using a single methodology, and taking into account the regulations on the control of state assistance, regardless of whether the money is allocated by the Republic, Autonomous Provinces or units of local self-government (City or Municipality);
5. That the interest of the public in the media scene, in accordance with the Media Strategy implies, among other things, the production and publication of “general informative and specialized media content of significance for everyday life and work of citizens in local and regional communities”; that the criteria for selection of projects are based on quality of the content offered by the specific media outlet; and that the projects are selected by an independent committee comprised of competent representatives of the public, professional associations and sectors that is not financed by the budget.
The Media Coalition expects that the new government will systematically and completely deal with this phenomenon and appeals that media laws be adopted as soon as possible.
SEEMO hopes that the Serbian authorities will seriously consider this letter.