Serbian students finish tour of Dutch media outlets


In the past, Sladjana Lazic’s adventures outside Serbia resulted in nothing but trouble.

About 24 years ago, she happened to be born early, interrupting her parent’s travels through Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Her surprise birth created years of headache over passport issues, leaving Lazic seemingly unable to obtain a visa to travel outside her native Serbia. Its citizens don’t have the right to free movement between the member states of the European Union.

“We really feel it on our skin,” she said, shaking her head as she referred to visa policies which have in the past curbed her efforts to travel abroad.

But despite living with different government and economic policies than her peers in the Netherlands, Lazic says young Serbs are optimistic about the future.

She and nine other top journalism students from the University of Belgrade were in May selected for a month-long study trip organised by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to put on the program, “Strengthening political reporting in Serbia.”

The Dutch embassy provided about 90 percent of the funding for the program.

Five of them spent the past month visiting media organizations throughout the Netherlands, using Maastricht as a base of operations. They leave the Netherlands on Sunday.

The European Journalism Centre helped orchestrate their trip, which began with the EJC’s three-day seminar on innovation journalism.

The other five Serbian students selected for the program travelled to the United Kingdom.

For some, like Lazic, who graduated earlier this year from the faculty of political science’s department for journalism, the trip was their first to Western Europe.

“It’s a nice chance for them to get out and about,” said Janna Van der Velde, the head of international cooperation at the Dutch Embassy in Belgrade. It provided nearly all the funding for the year-long political reporting project, about €95,000.

“Many young people do not have a lot of chances to do that.”

Van der Velde said the Dutch embassy is particularly interested in programs that support media development in Serbia.

Lazic said she noticed both similarities and differences between Dutch and Serbian media.

“I can’t say it’s the same, it’s simply not the same,” she said.

The global trend toward free newspapers can be seen in both places.

But the tabloid press is more popular in Serbia, she said, as it is quite profitable. Also, Lazic had not heard about concepts like citizen journalism before her arrival in the Netherlands. News outlets in Serbia don’t have as much technical support, she said.

And while young Serbs are interested in the future of new media, she said, they’re not as active on blogs as their peers in Western Europe – or at least her friends are not.

But Lazic, a former volleyball player who now teaches fitness classes, stressed the similarities between young people in Serbia and Western Europe rather than the differences.

At each media outlet she and her classmates visited in the Netherlands, she said, the questions they were asked seemed to reflect a certain bias, or misunderstanding, about Serbia.

They were asked about state controls on media.

Media in Serbia is not controlled by the state, Lazic said.

They were asked about a lack of press freedom.

There isn’t a lack of press freedom in Serbia, she said. Serbians have a right to free speech and press.

“There are many influences on any newspaper - economic influences, cultural influences, social influences,” she said. “It’s hard to be objective and hard to be independent.”

After she returns home this weekend, Lazic hopes to become a media analyst. She’ll have to battle the economic influences which have left about 30 percent of Serbs out of work.

“I worked as journalist in my high school newspaper and with television, then I came on faculty to be a ‘big journalist,’” she said. “But during my studies I found my interest is in theory… That’s much more interesting to me.”

Alenka Kulic, the program manager of the OSCE Mission to Serbia, said she hopes some of the students return to the University of Belgrade to share their observations and, hopefully, new ideas.

The year-long political reporting program included five seminars for continuing education for media professionals - in addition to the month-long media studies trip for students. Kulic said she’s most excited about focusing on Serbian youth.

“You have many senior journalists already highly qualified who do very good work,” she said. “But most of them used to work during communism time, when the concept of reporting was completely different. It’s much easier to educate the young ones who are just about to start working and prepare them properly for working in the media outlets here in Serbia.”

Kulic said the OSCE would like to run the program again next year, be it through the Dutch embassy or a different one. Another project proposal has been written, she said, but no new funding has been secured.