The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), is concerned about proposed Amendments to the Law on Public Information, which were drafted by the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Justice and accepted during the government session on 9 July 2009.
SEEMO supports Serbian journalists, journalists’ associations and representatives of the media industry in their call for changes to the proposed Amendments.
SEEMO welcomes the desire to create a legal system in Serbia in which the media are able to contribute toward the democratic development of the country, and also welcomes some parts of the proposed Amendments, including regulations for reporting on minors, and regulations that seek to prevent distribution companies from acting in a discriminatory manner against some print media for political reasons.
However, while SEEMO understands that there is a need in Serbia for a degree of media regulation and that the media needs to behave responsibly, it is concerned that the excessive size of the fines called for in the Amendments could discourage investigative journalism, and lead to self-censorship and the closure of some media outlets.
Moreover, SEEMO is concerned that the Serbian government supports a law that could potentially stop the democratic development currently taking place in Serbia. The state must be careful when putting in place legal regulations, especially with regard to the size of financial penalties. Media self-regulation, with its voluntary codes of practice, is the most credible solution for responsible journalism, not regulations imposed by the state.
SEEMO is also surprised by the Serbian government’s lack of transparency and public debate in drafting this law. According to information obtained by SEEMO, well-known Serbian and international media experts were only partly informed about the new law, and were not contacted during the drafting of the changes.
SEEMO is also disappointed in the handling of changes in media laws in Serbia over the past months, and recalls that some weeks ago the National Assembly, acting on a proposal suggested by a group of deputies of the ruling coalition, made changes to the Broadcasting Act without prior public debate.