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ANEM protests amendments to media laws

(ANEM/IFEX) - Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) is disappointed by the manner of changes of media laws in Serbia. ANEM reminds that, no more than a month ago, the National Assembly, acting on a proposal suggested by the group of deputies of the ruling coalition, without prior public debate, changed the Broadcasting Act, thus enabling the Culture and Information Committee of the Assembly to completely arbitrary make pre-selection of candidates for Republican Broadcasting Agency Council members, proposed by the civil and the media sector.

At the moment, the Assembly is debating on the National Councils of National Minorities Act, which, contrary to the provisions of the Public Information Act and the Broadcasting Act, empowers the National Council to establish media that will be financed from public revenues. Amendments to the Public Information Act are also in parliamentary procedure, which, like previous amendments to the Broadcast Act, have not yet passed public discussion.

ANEM understands the state's need to enforce regulatory measures in the situations when there are more and more open insinuations about sponsored campaigns led through the pseudo-information content in the media, and when some print media continue to be issued despite the long-term blockage of accounts and a number of unpaid debts for taxes and other court charges for defamation and damages for infringements of the rights of others. It is indisputable that the mechanisms of self-regulation of media and journalistic associations cannot deal with daily and open violations of professional standards in the media scene. ANEM, however, must point out that solutions should have been sought in the tax and criminal legislation. More important, some of the solutions, which the government offered in its proposal for amending the Public Information Act, miss the purpose and present an objective threat to freedom of expression in Serbia.

ANEM points out the unacceptable relating of penalties for violations of the presumption of innocence solely to the value of sold advertising space, or to the value of sold circulation and ad space in print media, without taking into account the circumstances of each individual case, even without taking into account the gravity of punishable offense of a person declared responsible before a decision of the court or other competent authority, all suggested by the government's Amendments to the Public Information Act. If such a solution is adopted, this will inevitably lead to a disproportion between the restrictions of freedom of expression, and goals committed to be achieved with such restriction. ANEM further emphasizes that seven times higher fines for the same offense are extremely inappropriate, in cases when these offenses are made in informative programs of the broadcast media, and points out that, if such a solution is adopted, it will have a discouraging effect on freedom of expression, and thus result in a significantly lower proportion of the informative content in programs of Serbian radio and TV stations, benefiting the entertainment content, which is less risky for the media.

ANEM urges the government of the Republic of Serbia to consider once again the validation of solutions proposed by the amendments of the Public Information Act, and to adopt reasonable protests of the media and professional associations.

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