BIRN Report Says Media Freedom Declining in Serbia

A new BIRN report on the state of the media in Serbia notes abuses of funding, lack of pluralism in terms of content, an unclear legislative framework and administrative pressure on independent media as some of the most concerning issues.

A BIRN report on the media in Serbia, presented on Wednesday, emphasises a decline in freedom of expression and media pluralism, citing an absence of social, political and economic conditions conducive to the development of a professional and sustainable media sector.

“This report focuses primarily on the allocation of state funds in the media sector, as BIRN’s long-term monitoring indicates that this is one of the key preconditions for the economic sustainability of media outlets, and, as such, a powerful instrument of misuse and corruption,” it reads.

According to the report, independent media and journalistic organizations monitoring the allocation of funds reported abuses in the distribution of some 10 million euros in the media sector.

BIRN has submitted the report to the EU Delegation in Serbia as its contribution to the compilation of Serbia’s next European Commission Country Report.

It was produced in partnership with the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia and the Slavko Curuvija Foundation, as part of the EU-funded project.

The report says pluralism in terms of media content is largely missing, the media’s legislative framework is not fully implemented and administrative pressure on independent media is increasing.

Significant abuses of funds through project co-financing scheme still persists, and media are often discriminated against because of their editorial policies, it says.

Most of these issues should be deliberated through the Coordination Body, an ad-hoc mechanism established as a dialogue platform between media associations and government.

But the report says the results have been disappointing.

“So far, four monthly meetings were held and the media community submitted 13 requests to governing bodies. The success of this mechanism has yet to be proven, with mild results achieved in the previous period,” it says.

Another issue is the state’s unwillingness to divest itself from ownership in the media sector, the deadline for which expired in October 2015.

Despite this, privatisation process is still not fully finished. The daily newspapers Politika and Vecernje Novosti still function as partly state owned companies, while the news agency Tanjug exists and operates in a legal void, according to the report.

Originally published on Balkan Insight.

BIRN Film Charts Rise of Serbia’s Ruling Party

A new film by BIRN Serbia, ‘SNS – the start,’ follows the origins and rise of Serbia’s ruling Progressive Party, SNS – and how it became the most powerful political force in the country.

A new film by BIRN Serbia, “SNS – pocetak, 2008” [“SNS – the start, 2008”], delves into the origins and rise of the Serbian Progressive Party, SNS, which has ruled the country since 2012.

During the making of the film, BIRN journalists talked with many  individuals from Serbian public life, but also from the US, who had a role in the creation of the SNS.

Among them are the leader of the hardline nationalist Serbian Radical Party, Vojislav Seselj, and his party colleague, Vjerica Radeta.

Others include Serbia’s former president, Boris Tadic, a former vice president of the government, Bozidar Djelic, a former US ambassador to Serbia, Cameron Munter, and the Balkan analyst and former US diplomat, Daniel Serwer.

BIRN journalists also spoke with the Economist correspondent and political analyst Tim Judah, from Britain.

The movie starts back in 2008, when a group of Radical Party members, then advocates of the nationalist “Greater Serbia” idea, turned into “Euro-fanatics”.

Journalists have used extensive archive material to tell a thriller-style story about how a faction composed of minor political individuals became rulers of a country.

The movie will be shown on Monday, November 26, at N1 regional television, at 8pm.

Originally published on Balkan Insight.

Documentary Co-Produced by BIRN Serbia Wins Award

The documentary ‘The Dark Shadow of Green Energy’ by film-maker Dragan Gmizic, co-produced by BIRN Serbia, Al Jazeera Balkans and WWF Adria, was named the best Serbian film at the Belgrade International Green Culture Festival, Green Fest on Tuesday.

The Dark Shadow of Green Energy’ follows Irma Popovic Dujmovic, a WWF Adria activist, on the road through Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, discovering how the regional plan for the mass construction of small hydropower plants creates multiple new problems instead of solving them.

The destruction of the natural environment, people’s resistance against small hydropower plants and the corruption involved in their construction are some of the issues covered by the film.

The documentary was aired on Al Jazeera Balkans, and was screened at the Free Zone film festival in Belgrade.

BIRN Serbia Submits Shadow Report on EU Chapter 23

BIRN Serbia has submitted its shadow report to the EU Delegation in Serbia as a contribution to the compilation of next European Commission country report on Serbia.

The BIRN Serbia shadow report focuses on negotiations for Chapter 23 of the EU acquis, which covers the judiciary and human rights, particularly the section on freedom of expression, offering insights and an alternative narrative on state of progress in this area.

The shadow report puts special emphasis on freedom of expression and media pluralism issues as a precondition for overall democratic dialogue in the country.

BIRN Serbia found that the constant shrinking of media freedoms and freedom of expression and absence of a social, political and economic setting conducive to the development of professional and sustainable media sector is a matter of concern, influencing the country’s overall democratic capacity.

The shadow report also calls for changes related to media legislation and the cessation of pressures on media by state bodies.

The report is a result of BIRN Serbia’s overall engagement in the field of media development and media freedoms, but also as part of activities under the project ‘Public Money for Public Interest’ supported by the EU through the IPA Civil Society Facility instrument.

Follow this link [in Serbian] on our project site to find out more.

Documentary Co-Produced by BIRN Serbia Nominated for Award

The documentary ‘The Dark Shadow of Green Energy’ by film-maker Dragan Gmizic, co-produced by BIRN Serbia, Al Jazeera Balkans and WWF Adria, has been nominated for an award at the Belgrade International Green Culture Festival ‘Green Fest’, in the Serbian film category.

The Dark Shadow of Green Energy’ follows Irma Popovic Dujmovic, a WWF Adria activist, on the road through Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, discovering how the regional plan for the mass construction of small hydropower plants creates multiple new problems instead of solving them.

The destruction of the natural environment, people’s resistance against small hydropower plants and the corruption involved in their construction are some of the issues covered by the film.

The documentary was aired on Al Jazeera Balkans, and will be screened at the Free Zone film festival in Belgrade on November 12 at 11 am, The Cultural Centre Of Belgrade.

BIRN Report Sparks Salary Declaration from Serbian MP

After BIRN Serbia reported on ruling party officials working illegally at the Medical College in the town of Cuprija, one of them, Aleksandar Martinovic, reported his income from the college, admitting he works there.

Аleksandar Martinovic, one of the officials from Serbian ruling Serbian Progressive Party who has an illegal contract with Medical College in Cuprija, as a Ministry of Education inspection has confirmed, reported his salary from the college to the Anti-Corruption Agency  for the first time after BIRN’s article was published.

BIRN Serbia published the article ‘Cuprija: Political Employment at Medical College’ on October 23 about officials from the Serbian ruling party who work at the college.

Several months earlier, BIRN asked the college about these contracts, but its director, Hristos Aleksopulos, responded that “everything is legal”.

An inspection by the Ministry of Education found that all the contracts are illegal and that the college is obliged to terminate them due to the lack of proper documentation for their employment.

However, two of them – Aleksandar Martinovic and Darko Laketic – are still on the Medical College’s list of teaching stuff for the new school year.

Martinovic, the head of Serbian Progressive Party’s parliamentary group, reported his salary as 60,000 dinars, with a start date of October 1, after BIRN’s report about him working at the college.

However, documents show that Martinovic has been working there much longer.

Beside his salary from the college, Martinovic has five more salaries from the state budget – a total of 264,000 dinars per month.

Another Serbian Progressive Party MP, Darko Laketic, reported his salary from the college for the new school year to the Anti-Corruption Agency, as he has for the past few years. However, Laketic is also among those whose contracts are to be terminated.

After BIRN published the report, there was a discussion in parliament about it, on the initiative of an opposition MP.

Martinovic and another member of the Serbian Progressive Party, Vladimir Orlic, who was also working at the college, rejected an official document from the Ministry of Education about their unlawful jobs.

At the same time as Martinovic and other Progressive Party members got their contracts, several employees of the college were laid off after their temporary contracts expired and were not renewed.

BIRN Serbia Launches Support Programme for Local Media

BIRN Serbia has partnered with Serbian portal Juzne vesti to offer support for seven selected local portals over the next two years.

BIRN Serbia and portal Juzne vesti from Nis will implement a support programme in seven local portals in Serbia for the next two years, as part of the joint project “Digital Media Action”.

The selected portals are Bujanovacke from Bujanovac, Presek from Kragujevac, Ozonpress.net from Cacak, Glas Zajecara and Zajecar online from Zajecar, SOinfo from Sombor and Loznicke novosti from Loznica.

The programme, supported by the British Embassy in Belgrade, is designed in accordance with the needs and capacities of these local media outlets, and offers support in the field of promotion, technical improvement of the websites and mentoring of journalists and editors.

Twenty-six portals applied for the support programme, with each assessed on three sets of selection criteria:

  • editorial orientations, formats and dynamics of content publishing
  • technical and personnel capacities
  • positions on social networks and in the local community

After making their choice of winning applicants, the selection committee said that the selected local portals have the potential to develop a quality daily informative production in the next two years, and to become the primary source of information in their communities.

In addition, the programme aims to modernise local media outlets, help them to develop a social media strategy, and find a self-sustaining business model.

BIRN Serbia Joins Initiative to Protect Personal Data

BIRN Serbia and more than 40 civil society organisations are calling for the country’s Law on Personal Data Protection to be amended to better protect the public.

BIRN Serbia has joined more than 40 civil society organisations in their call for parliament to amend the country’s draft Law on Personal Data Protection to clarify that citizens’ rights to data protection can only be limited if there is a legal basis to do so.

The initiative is being led by the SHARE Foundation, an NGO working to advance human rights and freedoms online, and Partneri Srbija, a civil society organisation devoted to upholding the rule of law.

The draft does not currently specify that a legal basis is required, which BIRN and other organisations calling for the amendment claim creates a risk that authorities or private companies handling personal data may restrict citizens’ rights at their own discretion.

The proposed amendment refers to Article 40 of the bill, which the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection has also been vocal in the need for it to be changed.

He told N1 television network on October 23 that it was “without any sense and reasonable explanation” that the article did not contain a stipulation that citizens’ rights can only be limited by law.

The organisations that signed the call expect that an amended and final text of the law will restore the provision that citizens’ rights can be restricted only by law and that they will be given the highest level of protection of the right to privacy and personal data protection.

More details are available on the SHARE Foundation’s website (in Serbian only).

Association of Online Media – AOM

PARTNER
Association of Online Media – AOM was established in 2015 and gathers more than 20 independent digital media outlets.

Its goal is to develop and promote ethical standards of reporting on the Internet as well as strengthening the role of online media in the democratisation of society.

AOM aims to improve the online media and civil society organizations cooperation and to raise citizens and authorities awareness about online media and their role in public information.

Web: http://www.aom.rs/

Public Money for Public Interest – Measuring Index of Transparency of Public Money in the Media

BIRN Serbia
Through this project, BIRN will encourage the participation of civil society in the process of increasing transparency of public spending for media.

Summary

In the cross-sectoral cooperation, 10 representatives of local CSOs throughout Serbia will be involved.

Donor: Open Society Foundation, Serbia

Information Sheet

Main Objective

To increase transparency and accountability in the spending of public money in the media sector through the involvement of civil society and joint activities of monitoring and public advocacy.

Specific Objectives

  • Mentoring, capacity-building and networking of 10 representatives of local CSOs, enabling them to adequately monitor budget money spending in the media sector.
  • Systematic monitoring of media financing from local budgets, through the methodology of the Transparency Index
  • Presentation of results and joint public advocacy activities that promote the transparency of public funding and procedures and practices of allocating public money to media

Main Activities

A1: Networking, capacity-building, learning by doing
A2: Data collection and monitoring
A3: Promotion of results and public advocacy
A4: Evaluation

Target Groups

Primary target group: an informal group of local CSOs that BIRN has gathered within the project Public Money for Public Interest.
Secondary target groups: decision-makers at local and national level, media, civil society organisations, professional associations and the general public.

Highlights

  • The Transparency Index reserch results
  • Local public debates
  • Policy briefs

Main implementer

BIRN Serbia

Partners

  • Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (IJAS)
  • Slavko Curuvija Foundation (SCF)