Project Financing of Media ‘a Challenge’ – BIRN Debate

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Project financing is the way best way to distribute budget funds for the media – but the task will be a tough one, a BIRN conference on the New Media Economy heard in Belgrade on October 31.

The debate, which gathered around 40 participants, including media experts, journalists, professional associations, NGOs and representatives from Serbia’s government, followed BIRN Serbia’s presentation of a report on project financing of the media.

“The best way to distribute budget funds is through project financing – but all these projects should be implemented with greater professional standards,” Tanja Maksic, from BIRN Serbia, told the conference.

Project financing of the media means media outlets receiving state funds only via applications for projects under fair and transparent conditions.

Vukasin Obradovic, head of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, NUNS, said project financing of the media was “a tough task,” especially for local media outlets.

“Local communities first need to make budgets for project financing of the media, form a specific commission and define what the public interest is,” Obradovic said, adding that this would take time.

Participants in the debate also addressed another important point – the privatization of the media, which should be completed by July 1, 2015.

“If media outlets are not privatised by that date, capital will be distributed free of charge to the employees,” Dusan Sutanovac, from Serbia’s Privatization Agency, told the conference.

According to the BIRN Serbia report, media financing through the state budget has so far been implemented in two ways: most of the funds were distributed directly (through public procurement procedures, directly from the budget or through direct contracting), while smaller amount of funds were distributed through open calls for content production.

The new media regulations, however, prescribe significant changes and introduce new practices in budgetary financing of media content under which open-call procedures are the only legal way of financing.

BIRN Serbia also presented analysis of the current practices of open-call procedures, earmarking potential pitfalls – lack of standards and criteria, lack of programme quality and lack of broadcasting possibilities.

The report has been presented at various regional centres in Serbia.