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Coalition calls for transparency in government funding of Serbian media

(ANEM/IFEX) - Belgrade, November 8, 2012 - The Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM), the Journalists' Association of Serbia (UNS), the Independent Journalists' Association of Serbia (NUNS), the Independent Journalists' Association of Vojvodina (NDNV) and the Local Press business association, which together form the Media Coalition, have requested that the relevant authorities provide for the urgent implementation of the Media Strategy as it pertains to project-based media financing and control over state aid.

The Media Coalition has pointed to yet another example that demonstrates how the state and local governments, in a non-transparent and arbitrary manner that is not guided by public interest but rather by political interests, have influenced the media market to such an extent that they are practically determining the fate of the media. Less than a week ago, after operating for 18 years, the Nis-based, top-rated regional media company RTV 5 had to shut down its transmitters and stop broadcasting due to financial difficulties that ultimately resulted in their license being revoked over unpaid fees. On the same day, the Nis City Council gave 2.5 million dinars (approx. US$28,500) to the publisher of the daily Narodne novine for the co-financing of the "U susret Konstantinu" project, which is to be carried out by the newspaper.

Narodne novine had previously entered into an agreement with the city of Nis for production of a daily newsletter about the work of the city's administration. The agreement, which was signed in early March by then Mayor Milos Simonovic, is worth 13 million dinars (approx. $US 148,000). Similar contracts were signed with the same publisher in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Additional funds were also approved via a special procedure a week before the expiration of the term for submitting projects for which the media were eligible under the Education, Culture and Sports Office's open competition.

The Media Coalition hereby asks why the Nis City Council failed to advise Narodne novine to apply via the Education, Culture and Sports Office's regular competition, where their project would have been evaluated along with projects proposed by other media outlets and funds would have been received in a competitive procedure based on the quality of the project. The Media Coalition notes that, precisely in order to avoid non-transparent financing of media with public funds, the Media Strategy prescribes that the Republic of Serbia will provide - fully in keeping with regulations governing the control of state aid - for the co-financing of media sector projects that are in the public interest under a single methodology, with equal and non-discriminatory conditions via public competitions in which decisions to award funds will be made by independent commissions.

The Media Coalition stresses that any additional delays in the implementation of the Media Strategy will enable further abuse of public funds with an aim to exert unacceptable influence over the media market and shut down critical voices in the public arena.

The Media Coalition requests that the Government of the Republic of Serbia refrain from redefining the Media Strategy and promptly move forward with its implementation, specifically with respect to the sections are beyond question and constitute an obligation for Serbia, not only under the Strategy but also under the Stabilization and Association Agreement and the Interim Trade Agreement with the European Union.

The Media Coalition expresses its solidarity and full support for all media in Nis and throughout Serbia that face serious financial problems and unfair market competition due to the absence of state aid, namely due to arbitrary and opaque expenditures of public money for helping only the "chosen" media and ignoring all public and measurable criteria and procedures.

As an IFEX member, ANEM further clarifies that:

"Although there is no evidence that the shutdown of the RTV 5 is solely due to a lack of state aid, given that it has been experiencing financial problems for a long period of time, the fact is that the RTV 5 is only one of a number of radio and TV stations in Serbia which are currently experiencing the same fate.

"In September and October alone, the regulatory body for broadcasting (RBA) initiated 67 procedures to revoke licences for failure to pay broadcasting fees. The first 35 procedures were initiated on 5 September, while another 32 proceedings were launched on 26 October. The first five licenses were revoked on 26 and 30 October.

"Concurrently with the shutdown of a great number of primarily privately-owned stations, the state has continued to fund in non-transparent ways both state-owned media and certain privately-owned media, which, in the absence of clear rules and criteria for financial assistance, gives serious reason to believe that the authorities are choosing to help only those media that are seen as obedient and not critical of them.

"ANEM and other members of the Media Coalition in Serbia insist on prescribing clear criteria that would prevent the misuse of state aid to silence professional and critical media voices while financing servile media."

Association of Independent Electronic Media

CO-SIGNATORIES:

Journalists' Association of Serbia (UNS)
Independent Journalists' Association of Serbia (NUNS)
Independent Journalists' Association of Vojvodina (NDNV)
Local Press

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