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Media Landscapes

Serbia

Written by Jovanka Matic, Larisa Rankovic

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The Republic of Serbia is one of seven new independent states, formed in the last 20 years after the break up of Yugoslavia. It is a country in transition - post-communist, post-conflict and post-war – oriented now towards a pluralistic society, parliamentary democracy, market economy and membership of the European Union.

The country's transition process bears the stamp of its recent past; Serbia lags behind other post-communist countries in many respects. Its democratic transformation started as late as 2000, after an entire decade of rule bythe reformed Communist Party, the Socialist Party of Serbia led by Slobodan Milosevic, which was preoccupied with the building of a nation-state that would unite all Serbs living in the various Yugoslav republics and secure them a dominant position among other ethnic groups. A decade later, the country is still battling with the consequences of the former regime’s centralisation, re-traditionalisation,and nationalistic and war-oriented policies.

Along with other social systems, the media system is undergoing transformation, which is proving to be slow, incoherent and incomplete. Its pace and range have depended greatly on the political will of the new elite. Democratisation of the media system has failed to become a factor in the democratisation of society as a whole, which was a widespread hope in 2000 based on the achievements of the decade-long struggle against media repression in the Milosevic regime.

During the 1990s, the social struggle for reconstruction of the communist media system could not achieve more than the very first step of de-monopolisation of the media environment. This was the abolishment of state monopoly over information, and the introduction of independent media. The very survival of independent media was an important achievement, since media autonomy has been a major point of strong conflict since the very introduction of political pluralism in 1990, and throughout the entire subsequent decade.

Throughout the 1990s, Serbian media was sharply divided into two camps: regime-controlled and independent. The former functioned as an ideological propaganda tool of the ruling party, committed to maintaining the existing distribution of power. They openly affirmed the definitions of a society formulated in the ruling elite and delegitimised any opposition discourse. In a strong political conflict, they promoted the status quo, directly favouring the ruling party whilst marginalising and obstructing the opposition. The regime media prevented any public dialogue, as their main function was to mobilise public support for the government policy of a nation-state building, and in this way they promoted an authoritarian political culture. They were characterised by aggressive intolerance and militant rhetoric.

Until 2000, the media system remained structurally dependent on state authorities and the state managed to preserve its control of the most influential media. The government's control was enabled by deliberate maintenance of legal chaos in the media field, as well as its monopolies in the legal regulation of the media system, in distributing frequencies, ownership of terrestrial transmitters, production and import of newsprint, printing facilities and distribution networks. It also purposefully made transformation of media ownership more difficult and created a negative image of independent media, intimidated journalists, harassed media advertisers, jammed and forcefully shut down media outlets. Media control was reaching grotesque scales in situations when the regime's hegemony was endangered, such as election periods, mass anti-regime demonstrations in 1996-1997, the war in Kosovo in 1999, etc.

Nevertheless, the media in Serbia were numerous and the number of independent media among them was still large. The development of independent media was helped by civil society and international donors, as this was the only way for them to survive as an alternative to state propaganda. According to the Association for Private Broadcasting Development, in 2000 there were 480 radio and TV stations in Serbia. About two thirds (more than 300) of them were privately owned, while the rest were public media, founded by local municipal governments.

The regime-controlled media changed their content practically over night on 5 October 2000, with the fall of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime. The following day, all of them switched to support the new election winner, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS). Top officials in the regime media were replaced, either from within or by new official appointments. This political change made room for radical reconstruction of the media sector.

 

However, neither the first nor the second post-Milosevic Serbian governments (led by Zoran Djindjic and Vojislav Kostunica, respectively) were ready to start the structural change of the media system. In a devastated society, without a firm consensus on the future direction of development, they did not dare to risk the public support they had, and rather kept the status quo in the media field. An elaborated media policy, based on a long-term strategy for re-regulating the media scene, remained lacking in the new decade, throughout the 2000s.

Without a reform policy, the government measures took place with a long delay. Many of them were carried out only partially and incoherently. The new legal framework is there but it is incomplete and contradictory. After a two-year process of licensing, the media sector is more transparent: 523 print media, 201 radio stations, 103 TV stations and 66 online media were registered in January 2010. However, there is still no definitive order among hundreds of media, some of which continue to operate without a permit, and all share a rather small advertising pie that cannot secure the financial sustainability of all concerned.

The privatisation process has not yet been completed and mechanisms for political influence on the media have not been fully dismantled. Yet, Serbian citizens do use the media regularly. They are world leaders in average TV viewing time (more than five hours per day) and almost 2.2 million regularly read print media every day and listen to radio for on average almost three hours a day.

In recent years, the media have been facing new pressures. A growing concentration in the field of advertising business is underway; this allows large businesses to put economic pressure on the media. The media have no means to resist this pressure if economic players are tied with political parties, as is often the case. On the other hand, the global economic crisis has significantly influenced media operations due to decreased revenues.

Serbian journalists have a number of professional organisations available, but these cannot provide efficient protection and secure professional dignity. Journalists are poorly paid and the public reputation of the profession is very low. Three journalists were killed in the last 20 years and the culprits have never been discovered. In 2008, there were 138 attacks on journalists whilst performing their jobs. Still, young people show considerable interest in joining the journalistic profession.

According to the May 2010 data of the Serbian Business Registers Agency (Agencija za privredne registre) there are 523 print media in Serbia. Out of that number, there are 20 daily papers, 84 weekly publications, 186 monthlies, seven biweeklies, 74 bimonthlies, 67 quarterlies.

It is estimated (since official data is not available) that between 800,000 and 1 million copies of papers are sold in Serbia daily.

In 2010, approximately 41.4 percent or, in absolute numbers, 2,198,362 people aged between 12-65 read at least one daily paper (according to Ipsos Strategic Marketing Data). Most people read Blic (14.5 percent), Vecernje Novosti (9.0 percent), Kurir (7.3 percent), Press (6.6 percent), Alo! (5.1 percent), 24 Sata (4.2 percent), Politika (2.5 percent). Other dailies are read by less than 1 percent of the surveyed population.

Among political and economic weekly and monthly magazines, the most read is NIN (0.8 percent), Vreme (0.4 percent), Arena 92 (0.3 percent).

According to the Nielsen survey results for 2009, print media accounted approximately for 22.4 percent of the total media revenue in the country, or 36 million euros.

The first newspaper appeared in Serbia in 1834 and the first modern, civic-oriented daily, Politika, was launched in 1904 and still exists. Politika was the first paper to provide fact-based reporting, to nourish an impartial analytical approach to public life, to launch editorials written by people from all spheres of life, to promote sports as an important part of personal and public life, to employ female journalists – in sum, it introduced modern European journalism standards in Serbia.

After 1945, Serbia – by then part of the socialist state of Yugoslavia – was building a Soviet-type social system in which the press functioned as a propaganda tool of the ruling Communist Party. The newly established print media landscape was dominated by Borba, the Communist Party daily, which published the views of the political leadership only. Politika was restored as the paper of the People’s Front, a wide union of anti-fascist and socialist forces. The gradual liberation of the Serbian media from the Party’s absolute dominance started in the 1960s, within the system of self-management and introduction of some forms of market economy.

With the rise of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime at the beginning of the 1990s, when the ideology of nationalism was affirmed as a form of new collective legitimacy, the media split into two groups: those that supported it, and those that fervently opposed it. Influence and circulation of alternative independent papers had been rising throughout the period 1990-2000, despite obstacles and threats from the regime. In the period preceding the collapse of Milosevic’s regime, they were considered among the main pillars of democratisation. The dailies Politika and Borba, two old rivals, are a good illustration of media developments in the 1990s. At the beginning of the pluralistic period, the two dailies completely reversed their roles. From the most appreciated and professional daily which had succeeded in keeping a distance from the government to the degree allowed by the communist system, Politika became an obedient servant of the ruling political elite. On the other hand, Borba, the former daily of the Communist Party and the most official voice on the media scene, from a typical regime daily became a free and critically oriented paper. (Matic 2004)

In the post-2000 period in Serbia, tabloid newspapers spread rapidly. Political stabilisation resulted in the rise of the commercial and entertainment press.

In the same period the process of privatisation and the arrival of foreign capital began. Some of the papers (for example Vecernje Novosti and Press, or those launched and already folded in recent years) are owned by trust funds whose origins are unknown.   

Swiss company Ringier owns three dailies in Serbia (Blic, Alo! and free paper 24 sata), and three weeklies (NIN, Puls, Blic zena, and monthly Blic zena kuhinja), and has an important position in the market. Their dailies are the first (Blic), fifth (Alo!) and sixth (24 sata) on the readership list. NIN is the first among political and economic magazines; in March 2009 Ringier bought 70 percent stocks of the old Serbian newsweekly NIN, and in April 2010 the company purchased an additional 13.2 percent. The company claims a 25 percent increase in circulation, now 16,200, since it has become the majority owner. Blic zena is first among women’s magazines and Puls third among celebrity magazines. In March 2010 Ringier and German publishing concern Axel Springer formed a joint venture that unites their business activities in the east and southeast of Europe, including Serbia.

In spring 2010, the company reported five million euros profit for their Serbian businesses in 2009, 150 percent more than in 2008.

The Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung(WAZ) Media Group has been represented in the Serbian media market since October 2001 by a joint venture with newspaper publisher Politika AD, based in Belgrade. The WAZ Group holds 50 percent of the shares in the company. In Serbia,WAZ publishes national daily Politika, regional daily Dnevnik and licensed car magazine Auto Bild.

Other foreign media companies publish lifestyle, fashion and various specialised weeklies and monthlies. They include but are not limited to: Adria Media (Story, Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health, Lisa, Elle, Gala, National Geographic, Kuhinjske tajne, Moj stan, Basta, Zivot sa cvecem and Sensa), Europapress (Gloria and OK!), and Attica Media Serbia (Grazia, Maxim, Playboy and Sale & Pepe).

 

One of the specifics of print media in Serbia is the issue of ownership, which is in some cases unclear, or not completely clear. This mainly applies to daily political tabloids, which are often short-lived and during that time are regularly used in campaigns against persons, companies and organisations in the spheres of politics, finances and so on. Their editorial policies are characterised by conservativism, nationalistic ideology, hate speech, and disregard of professional and ethical norms. Their sources often remain murky, and their possible ties with secret services and shadowy businesses are frequently discussed in professional and public circles.

Leaders among independent papers in the 1990s (daily Danas, weekly Vreme) met numerous obstacles in this period. The paradox in the status of the Serbian quality press is that the papers that contributed most to the democratisation of the country in the difficult period of the 1990s and that served the public interest, are the poorest and still have a limited influence on the public. The major problem of the high quality press is economic sustainability. These papers are barely profitable – they suffer financial losses or survive with minimum income. Support from international donor foundations, which helped independent media in the previous decade, has now become scarce. As a result, the press is kept alive through underpayment of professional work. In terms of content, the quality press faces the problem of an inability to expand its thematic diversity and attract new readers. Additionally, most reporters specialise in the coverage of political issues; the quality press lack highly-qualified journalists for reporting other issues that have become important in the meantime. Recruiting new experts on banking, environmental problems or social welfare reform is difficult in itself, but for these papers they cannot attract new reporters with the very low pay that is all they can afford to offer.

By contrast, the market for lifestyle and celebrity magazines is blooming.

Among Serbian publishers, the most influential in the sphere of lifestyle and celebrity magazines is NID Color Press. Its publications include: Gossip magazine Svet, magazines Lepota i zdravlje, Lea, Ljubavne price, FHM, Junior, Cool Girl, Bravo, Bravo Girl, Moja beba, CKM, Joy, and a number of crossword magazines. There are also numerous editions of these magazines in the countries of former Yugoslavia.

Ekonomist Media Group publishes economy-oriented weekly Ekonomist as well as monthlies Preduzece and Bankar, along with a number of annual publications on business and finances.

Intensive development of local press in Serbia started after 1945, in the socialist period. Government media policy encouraged its development and most municipalities had a paper, usually financed and controlled by the local authorities. In total, more than 200 weeklies, biweeklies and monthlies were launched. Around 30 of them continue, and some maintain an important position in their local community with circulations of over 10,000. Since 1990, numerous private local print media have appeared.

Radio is a widely available source of information and entertainment in Serbia. An average Serbian household has more than one radio set, while 73 percent of automobiles have a receiver. Radio is still mostly listened to using classical radio transmitters. According to 2009 data by Strategic Marketing, 11 percent of people said they listen to radio on the Internet. Most often, the Serbian radio audience listens to music (86 percent), news (36 percent) and sport programmes (12 percent).

The most popular radio stations are Radio S and Radio B92 (each accounting for 18 percent of the audience). The former focuses on music, while the latter offers more diverse radio programmes. They are followed by Radio Belgrade, the national public service broadcaster (11 percent), Roadstar Radio and Radio Index (6 percent each).

Radio has a long history in Serbia. The oldest station, Radio Beograd, has been operating since 1929. Radio broadcasting was the enterprise performed by the state. The first local radio station was established in 1944 in the city of Zajecar. Growth of these stations began in the early 1960s. Radio stations were founded by local municipalities, while technical and programmatic assistance came from Radio Beograd. Local stations used to rebroadcast some of Radio Beograd's programmes, and were usually part of local public enterprises, together with a local paper and, later, a TV station.

A predecessor of commercial radio stations in Serbia (and other countries of former Yugoslavia) was Belgrade-based Studio B. The station was established in 1970 by a group of journalists who worked at the time in the daily paper Borba. They wanted to produce an interesting service that would be informative and educative but also entertaining. Its concept was based on plenty of music and very brief local news,  similar to some Western radio stations, for example Radio Luxemburg, which used to be very popular in the former Yugoslavia. No one, even the most important public figures, was allowed to talk more than three minutes at a time. Studio B insisted on topics related to the everyday lives and issues of Belgrade citizens and tried to help the citizens to resolve them, in contrast to the official national station Radio Beograd which stressed a paternal mode of address and talked about ideologically important issues. Studio B was commercially successful, paving the way for the future developments in the field of Serbian radio.

In the 1990s, a number of radio stations grew dramatically. More than 500 stations (about 700 or even more, according to some estimation) operated across the country, most established and run without licences. While a number of radio stations were launched for commercial purposes and broadcast music only, information-oriented radio stations, like other types of media, were divided in regards to their relationship with the ruling regime. The government exercised strict control over the work of most influential radio stations, Radio Belgrade above all, and other stations in large cities, which were financed by the state budget. Private stations positioned themselves as alternative information sources. A special place among Serbian radio stations was reserved for Radio B92. It started as an experimental temporary youth program in Belgrade in 1989. The station mocked main political actors and took an ironic approach to serious issues. This was appealing to a young urban audience which was additionally attracted by radical music that demanded not only listening, but thought and engagement. From an underground station with limited audience, B92 soon developed into the most prominent alternative media which promoted liberal and humanistic spirit and antiwar and anti-nationalistic orientation. The regime tried to suppress its work in a number of occasions: the station was closed four times, but each time the repression initiated ever stronger support for Radio B92.

In the second half of the 1990s, B92 initiated the creation of a network of independent local radio stations across Serbia, ANEM. These stations ran the main news programs produced by B92, alongside their own programs. When B92 was closed by the regime, it still made news programmes for these stations and remained a reliable source of information, sometime the only one. B92 won an MTV Free Your Mind award in 1998, and many other awards for journalism and fighting for human rights.

The chaos in the radio field, which was deliberately nourished during the 1990s, was eventually subjected to regulation by the 2002 Broadcast Law. However, it took four additional years to complete the process of frequency and licence allocation. Altogether, 277 licences were issued: 5 nationwide (Radio B92, Radio Index, Radio S, Roadstar Radio and Radio Fokus), not counting 3 channels for a national public service broadcaster Radio Belgrade, part of the RTS system; 37 regional and 235 local. A total of 14 radio stations received broadcasting permits in Belgrade. In January 2010, 201 radio broadcasters operated legally in Serbia.

Long awaited regulation did not meet the expectations of the media industry. The market is oversaturated: too many stations compete for a humble advertising market. Radio got 4 percent of all advertising expenditure in 2009, as opposed to TV’s 59 percent. In total, 6 million euros were spent on radio advertising, six times less than on press advertising. Radio stations additionally compete with pirate stations. A majority of more than 100 (170-180) illegal broadcasters are radio stations. Furthermore, some radio stations have not yet been privatised and continue to rely on both public revenues and market earnings.

Among radio stations, the major sources of news are public broadcaster Radio Belgrade and commercial Radio B92. Radio Belgrade managed to rebuild its credibility and get respect as the best station fornews, documentaries, cultural, educational and children programmes. Radio B92 is also highly respected for these types of programmes, although it has shifted its schedulemore in line with a commercial station profile. It has advantages over Radio Belgrade due to its more modern presentation.

Although the 2002 Broadcasting Law enables the establishment of civil society media, this opportunity is rarely utilised. It is stipulated that the founders of civil sector media may be non-governmental organisations and other associations. These broadcasters do not pay a license for use of frequencies, but they can only cover a local territory and cannot profit by their work. According to the Republic Broadcasting Agency, there are 26 media of this type, 20 radio stations and 6 TV stations. Out of that number, there are 11 religious radio stations and 2 religious TV stations.

Radio stations or specialised programmes in languages of national minorities are particularly important in the multicultural region of Vojvodina. There are 114 such stations in 11 languages.

Serbiais the regional leader in number of TV stations per capita, in popularity of television and in duration of average viewing time. Some Serbian TV stations set regional standards for good TV programmes, for example, TV B92 is the leader in the current affairs genre and TV Pink leads in entertainment. At the same time, in comparison to other countries in the region, Serbia lags behind in advertising revenue, respect for TV journalists, implementation of new communication technologies, harmonisation of broadcast regulation and stabilisation of new institutions. 

Television broadcasting in Serbia was introduced in 1958 by a state-run station, Television Belgrade. The same station launched the Second Channel in 1972 and the Third Channel in 1989. The Serbian broadcasting system evolved from a public monopoly (including regional centres in provinces of Vojvodina - TV Novi Sad and Kosovo and Metohija - TV Pristina) into a dual system of public and private stations, whose transition process is still underway.

Television is by far the most widespread and most popular medium in Serbia. About 96 percent of households own a TV, making an average daily audience of 5.5 million people (73 percent of the population over the age of 4). A typical Serbian TV viewer spends more time in front of a TV set than any other European citizen. In 2009, the average viewing time was 303 minutes a day, i.e. more than 5 hours (in 2003 it was 271 minutes and growing steadily each year).

Television is the most popular source of both information and entertainment. About 85 percent of citizens obtain news and information from television, 11 percent read the press, while 2 percent rely on radio and 2 percent on the Internet. At the same time, among the top 15 programs with the largest share of audience in 2009, 14 belonged to entertainment genres.

The saturation of the TV market is greater in Serbia than in other countries in the region. By 2008, the regulatory authority issued 129 licences for TV broadcasters. Seven have a national reach, 31 target regional audiences and 91 are of a local character. Many critics argue that all of these TV stations cannot survive on the advertising market, which is lower (95 million euros) in comparison to markets in neighbouring countries: one Serbian TV station had an average annual share of around 1 million euros in the advertising revenue in contrast to 6 million share for a Croatian station in 2009. Indeed, by January 2010, a number of stations ran out of business and altogether 103 TV stations were recorded in a newly established mandatory register at the Serbian Business Registers Agency.

A high number of TV stations along with a relatively small amount of advertising revenue and very high licensing fees, make the financial sustainability of TV outlets a difficult task and the entire TV sector highly competitive. The economic realities of the Serbian broadcasting market force broadcasters to favourcheap programming and light entertainment and to neglect a high-quality in-house production of all genres and decent pays for media professionals. As a result, the programming schemes of seven national broadcasters get more similar each season.

Television stations proliferated in the 1990s. In June 2001, according to official data, there were 253 TV stations and 504 radio stations, plus an unknown number of unregistered broadcasters which operated without any type of legal permit. A huge number of TV broadcasters were a result of a deliberate chaos strategy in the media field. The regime of Slobodan Milosevic did not allow for development of a nationally accessible alternative to the state-controlled Radio Television of Serbia (RTS), but was tolerant to development of regional, and especially local, stations of purely entertainment nature and also of small news stations favourable to the government. When political parties opposed to Milosevic started gaining power in local municipalities, they favoured TV stations with a critical attitude to the central government. For entertainment stations, the business was financially lucrative - in an unregulated business environment they could run an unlimited amount of advertising without producing any of their own programming.

The reform of the broadcasting sector is still under way 10 years after the Milosevic regime was toppled down in 2000. The structural changes are slow and incomplete, making the broadcasting system inconsistent. Although the process of making the legal framework took several years, some important legal provisions are still lacking. Media-related laws are only partially implemented. More than a hundred (170-180) illegal radio and TV broadcasters are still operational. The process of privatisation of municipal stations is not over yet – about 50 radio and TV stations still await the ownership transformation.

In practice, the broadcasting system is a mixture of public service broadcasters, commercial stations and yet non-privatised budget-financed stations of regional and local nature.

Serbiahas two public broadcasters. The first is the national public service, Radio Television Serbia (RTS), with two channels available nationwide (RTS1 and RTS2). The second is a regional service in the ethnically mixed province of Vojvodina, Radio Television Vojvodina, which also has two channels (RTV1 and RTV2). Its second channel airs programmes in 10 languages of ethnic minorities. Public broadcasters are financed by a subscription fee (5 euros a month) which is paid for by receiver owners. They also have the right to run commercials, twice less than their commercial competitors (10 percent of the hour programming).

The first channel of the public broadcaster, RTS1, is the most popular Serbian channel. It attracts 26 percent of daily television viewers, while the closest competition is TV Pink with 23.8 percent audience share. RTS1 is appreciated for its news coverage but even more for its fiction programming. In contrast to Milosevic-controlled RTS, today’s RTS respects professional standards of balanced reporting but lags behind the commercial station B92 in the amount and influence of investigative reporting. It is however, the leading producer of domestic drama, which is the most appreciated program genre in the Serbian audience. The second channel of RTS is much more devoted to fulfilling the role as a public broadcaster than RTS1 is. The former runs children's, educational, cultural and religion shows, while RTS1 neglects these genres and other special social groups it should cater for (for example minority ethnic groups). The programming schedule of RTS differs a little from other commercial broadcasters. RTS1 in fact, competes with commercial stations for better ratings by providing a considerable amount of reality shows and other entertainment programs.

Transformation of state-controlled RTS into a public service television, although promised in 2000, was delayed in practice until 2006 when its management board was fully appointed. Despite formal changes made in accordance to the Broadcasting Act, the functioning of this company of about 4,000 employees is not transparent. Mechanisms for the public accountability of RTS are still missing and it often appears as a one-man company, led by Director Aleksandar Tijanic, a controversial journalist who proved successful under different regimes and served as Information Minister in Slobodan Milosevic’s government. In more recent times, RTS was shattered by several scandals which questioned the way it spends public funds (a fraud in conducting a game program, controversies over the costs of Eurosong organisation, salaries of prominent TV personalities, etc). 

The next most popular Serbian channel after RTS is TV Pink. It is the leading station for television viewers under 55 years of age. It is typical, highly commercialised television, with an enormous amount of entertainment programmes (reality shows, music talent competitions, Latin American telenovelas, American sitcoms and films) and a small segment of news. In-house entertainment programmes are very closely tied with parts of entertainment industry owned by the owner of TV Pink. Advertising occupies almost the maximum time allowed. TV Pink was launched in 1994 and soon established its popularity with an entertainment-focused format. It was the first national broadcasting outlet in Serbian history that completely disregarded the idea of social responsibility of media and followed only profit. The small number of information programs that TV Pink did have favoured the ruling party. It is during this difficult period of Serbian history that its owner Zeljko Mitrovic established his media empire, which continued to prosper in the coming years. TV Pink has been dominating the broadcast advertising market (according to its own data, it gets 40-45 percent of the total marketing spent for TV and radio). The company it belongs to includes seven other enterprises; two are TV stations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia and the rest include a film production studio, CD production and replication studios, a design house and a company for aviation services. In addition, Pink runs several cable channels with entertainment programs only, which are accessible across the region and has a satellite program targeting the Serbian diaspora.

A unique part of the Serbian TV scene is TV B92, a commercial station which applies standards of responsible journalism and performs roles associated with public service media. It is a part of the media company B92, which is a symbol of independent journalism against Milosevic’s media repression policy, media orientation of anti-war and human rights, and of investigative reporting, in addition to being the medium most helped by international donors. At the beginning of the 1990s, B92 was just a small, Belgrade-based radio station. At the end of a decade, it was a leader of the ANEM association of independent local radio and TV stations across Serbia. B92 was listened countrywide and known far beyond Serbian borders for fighting for media freedom and for democratic transformation of Serbia. B92 launched a TV station in 2000, with a limited cover range. Although it was a private station, its programming stressed socially responsible journalism, investigative reporting and coverage of highly controversial social issues such as war crimes responsibility, reconciliation in the Balkans, criminalisation of Serbian society, political background of the 2003 assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, etc. These topics were out of the framework of commercial television and also not touched upon by RTS, which is poor in investigative reporting. New Serbian authorities however, were not in favour of helping with the development of TV B92 and its programming standards. TV B92 got a national licence in 2006 and was obliged to pay a high licence fee – the same as other commercial broadcasters. Competitive market conditions have forced B92 to skew its programming scheme towards commercial contents (it was the first to introduce the Big Brother reality show in Serbia), which is not well received by the traditional B92 audience. Today the station largely lags behind RTS and TV Pink in terms of audience share (8 percent), but it is ahead of other national broadcasters – Fox TV (7.9 percent), TV Avala (3.4 percent) and TV Kosava-Happy TV (2.5 percent).

The significance of national channels over regional and local ones has been steadily growing in the last decade. In 2009, they attracted three quarters of the daily audience (77.2 percent in contrast to 70.1 percent in 2003).

The most important regional channel is Studio B, which was made a public service broadcaster for Belgrade area in 2007 although this directly conflicts with the Broadcasting Act.

Several other regional TV stations, such as RTV Kraguejvac and RTV Nis, obstructed the Broadcasting Act provision regarding privatisation of all broadcasters, and launched an initiative to change their status into regional public service broadcasters.

Serbiais lagging behind other regional countries in the process of transition to digital broadcasting. It is still in the initial, preparatory stage. The activities are carried out at the level of the Ministry for Telecommunications and Information Society, and the country is not well informed about this important change. The Ministry drafted the Electronic Communications Act and the national strategy for switchover from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting. On June 2009, the Serbian government adopted a national strategy, which sets a switchover for 4 April 2012. Serbia has chosen MPEG-4 compression standard and DVB-T2 standard for signal transmission.

Costs for a switchover are estimated to be 20-50 million euros. It is not clear yet whether the state will subsidise the purchase of set-top boxes to all TV subscriers or only to socially vulnerable strata.

The access of the population to digital signal is low. So far, RTS is the only station which broadcasts a daily digital programming. In 2008 it launched a special channel, RTS Digital, which broadcasts culture-related content. This action was done without agreement with state bodies in charge of digitalisation, and is not part of the existing digitalisation action plan.

The process of privatisation has characterised the field of film industries in the previous several years. In 2007, Beograd film (Belgrade Film) - the largest Serbian company for the production, distribution and showing films, founded in 1946 - was sold for 9.1 millions euros. Only one of the cinemas that were part of Belgrade Film has continued to operate. All the others were resold or rented to become restaurants, shops or casinos. Dunav film, the oldest film production company, which produced 504 films in the period 1954-2005, was also sold. Avala Film, a company with the biggest complex of production studios in the region is waiting to be privatised.

New multiplex cinemas have opened in previous years in shopping malls and in larger cities replacing old cinemas in central city zones.

The issue of piracy has plagued the film field since 1990s. The reasons for this initially included the international embargo - introduced by UN against Serbia after the beginning of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (in 1992) – making it impossible to obtain and pay for copyrights, and also the lack of sustained government action against piracy. Nowadays piracy is mainly done through the Internet.

In 2009, the Serbia Film Commission was established. Its goal is to promote and develop Serbia as a cost-effective, high quality, competitive destination for international filmmaking, and to provide information and support to international filmmakers considering using Serbia for their productions. International film productions including commercials are expected to bring in more than 16 million euros in 2010, up from 8 million in 2009 and 4.8 million in 2008, according to the Serbian Film Commission.

Filmski centar Srbije (Serbian Film Centre), an institution established by the Ministry of Culture in 2004, publishes on its website data about the number of films made in Serbia.  Some of the numbers for recent years in the category of feature films are: 2010 (until May) – 7 films, 2009 - 18 films, 2008 – 13 films. The number of documentaries and animated movies are: 2010 (until May) – 9 films, 2009 – 7 films, 2008 – 4 films. According to the same data, there are 22 film festivals held annually in Serbia.

Jugoslovenska Kinoteka (Yugoslav Kinoteka) is the national film archive, founded in 1949. Kinoteka is among the five richest film archives in Europe and contains a large variety of different film material from all over the world. Its collection contains over 95,000 film prints of various national productions, of all genres, silent and sound, black and white and colour, both nitrate and acetate.

The mobile telephone market has experienced growth in recent years. Public mobile telecommunication networks cover an increasing percentage of territory and population, while the scope of existing services continues to rise, with simultaneous introduction of new services based on the use of modern technologies.

Three operators are present on the market:

  • Telecommunications Company Telekom Srbija Inc. – Mobile Telephony of Serbia (MTS). Telekom is a company with majority state ownership. Currently, the state is considering privatisation and looking for the most suitable form of selling and the most attractive offer.
  • Telenor Ltd. Belgrade – A Norwegian company, present in Serbia since 2006.
  • VIP mobile Ltd., - An Austrian company, which became owner of the third mobile telephone license in Serbia in late 2006, and started operations in 2007.

With the arrival of new telecommunications companies, the level of services has improved. In the process of establishing their market positions, these companies were, especially in 2007 and 2008, among the biggest media advertising clients.

According to Republic Telecommunication Agency (Republicka Agencija za telekomunikacije – RATEL), the total number of mobile phone users in Serbia at the end of 2008 was 9,618,767 which is 128.27 percent of total population in the country (about 7.5 million people).

Telekom has around 6 million mobile phone users, Telenor approximately 2.8 million, and VIP around 1 million users.

In Serbia 79 percent of mobile subscribers are prepaid mobile subscribers and 21 percent are postpaid (monthly paid) mobile subscribers.

As of February 2010, Telekom Srbija is no longer the only operator to own a license for public voice telecommunication services. The second license, obtained by Telenor company, ended the monopoly in Serbian fixed telephony.

All three mobile operators offer their users Internet access through mobile phones, which is mainly used for reading news, weather forecasts, sports results, and access to bank accounts. Downloading pictures, music and ring tones are also very popular. Recently, there is a growing trend of using mobile phone for access to e-mail and social networks.

Mobile operators have their own web sites. Telekom’s Mondo portal offers variety of news – from politics to entertainment – and is one of the most visited web sites in the country.

Telekom also provides (since 2008) the service of watching TV channels through IPTV (Internet Protocol TV).

According to the May 2010 data of the Serbian Business Registers Agency, there are 66 registered Internet media outlets. The total number of all online publications in Serbia is difficult to assume.

On March 30, 2010 Internet domain .yu (as in ‘Yugoslavia) was put out of use. The process of shifting to the new domain .rs (as in ‘Republic of Serbia) was carried gradually. The official registration of the .rs domain started on 10 March, 2008. According to Registar nacionalnog internet domena Srbije (The Serbian National Register of Internet Domain Names - RNIDS) in February 2010 there were 54,760 web sites with the .rs domain.

RNIDS is currently campaigning and accepting proposals for launching Serbian Internet domains in Cyrillic letters. It is planned that an official proposal to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will be submitted by the end of 2010.

According to research conducted by the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia during 2009, 38.1 percent of people used the Internet in the last three months; this represented a rise of 2.8 percent compared to the previous year and 9 percent compared to 2007. That is over 2,200,000 persons had accessed Internet in the three months prior to the research, while over 1,450,000 had used it every day.

The total number of Internet subscribers in Serbia in 2008 was 891,000 out of which 490,000 (55 percent) used a broadband connection. This means that the total number of broadband connections has increased almost twofold in comparison to the previous year, while the number of dial-up subscribers was reduced by almost  half. This has made broadband Internet access dominant in Serbia.

A significant increase in the number of users with ADSL modems has been noted; there are twice as many of them in comparison to the previous year. An increase in the number of cable modem users of over 70 percent was also noted.

The prevalence of broadband Internet connection is highest in Belgrade where it is 37.6 percent, in Autonomous Province of Vojvodina where it is 23 percent, and it is lowest in Central Serbia where it is only 16.1 percent.

In 2009, 46.8 percent of households in Serbia own a computer, which represents a 6 percent increase in comparison to 2008.

By the data of international traffic metrics web site Alexa, the most visited web sites in Serbia are: Google.com, Facebook.com, Youtube.com, Google.rs, Yahoo.com, B92.net, Wikipedia.org, Blic.rs and others. Among most visited Serbian web sites are media portals, news aggregators, social networks, and web sites dedicated to employment, car trade, online auctions and so on.

Internet still plays marginal role among media in Serbia in terms of profits. According to the Nielsen survey results for 2009, Internet media (and traditional media on the Internet) accounted approximately to 1.6 percent of the total media revenue in the country, or 2.5 million euros.

Traditional media in Serbia have been slowly shifting their presence to the web. The media convergence concept (joining and interlacing traditional and new media in creating new forms and content) has long been an unknown approach for most of Serbian media. B92 which has radio, TV and a very successful web site was among the first to introduce a so called ‘super desk’ in which one journalist would prepare news stories for all three platforms, likewise for teletext, and for sms and wap subscribers. This company was among the first to introduce a  mobile platform, this business decision coming from the fact that  mobile phones ownership is much higher than personal computer ownership. B92 started its web presence in 1995. Until 2000, Internet was very successfully used in the periods when some radio stations were banned by the regime.

Among social networks, Facebook is particularly popular in Serbia. According to Adriatalk.com data, there are around two million Serbian Facebook profiles as of May 2010. This ranks the country first amongst its neighbouring countries and 17th in Europe.

E-commerce is still underdeveloped in Serbia. According to official data, trading volume in this sphere was 100 million euros in 2009. While 94 percent of companies have Internet access, only 22 percent participate in e-commerce. Limiting factors are high customs rates, unfavourable taxation and the global economic crisis, as well as a lack of knowledge and interest among entrepreneurs

Serbiahas three national news agencies: state-run agency Tanjug, and private agencies Beta and Fonet. Due to public ownership and appointment of a director and editor in chief by the government, Tanjug is considered to be the official news source of Serbia. The other two agencies enjoy a reputation as independent and credible sources for the nation. Their market position is not favourable however, since they have to compete with the government-financed and supported Tanjug.

The state agency Tanjug is the offspring of the famous Telegraph Agency of the New Yugoslavia, which was established by the resistance movement to fascist occupation of Yugoslavia in 1943, and played an important role in the development of Tito’s communist regime. In the 1970s, it managed to become not only the most important source of news for all media in the former Yugoslav republics, but an internationally important agency as well, with a reputation as a credible source for events both in the West and the East, including Third World developments. During its peak, Tanjug ranked among the top 10 largest news agencies in the world, had a very important position in the Non-Aligned News Agency Pool, established by the Non-Alignment Movement, and disposed with a network of 48 correspondents abroad out of more than 900 employees. It produced about 400 news items a day.

With the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Tanjug lost its significance and its credibility. Based in Belgrade, it was put under control of Serbian authorities and became a propaganda tool of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime. This prompted newly emerging post-Yugoslavia states (Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, etc.) to establish their own news agencies as part of the process of nation and state-building. A number of journalists in Serbia left Tanjug in protest of its political control and disregard for professional standards. They established new private agencies, Fonet (February 1994) and Beta (May 1994), which managed to gain highly professional reputations in a short period of time. Beta and Fonet fed independent media during the 1990s, while Tanjug remained the main news source for the regime-controlled media. Due to government funding, Tanjug’s capacity was large and in the mid 1990s it had more than 500 employees - 30 correspondents from abroad - and offered daily services in English, French and Spanish, while Beta employed just over one hundred people.

In the post-Milosevic period, Tanjug was not affected by the initial reform of the media sector, which normatively denied the right of the state to own the media and promoted media autonomy. There was no political will to change its status as a public enterprise, financed by the state budget with a government-appointed management. The government amended the Public Information Act (2003), after public debate on a draft law was over, and legalised state ownership in only news agencies, out of all media outlets. Clearly, the government was not ready to give up on political control of one of the key elements of the media system. Many subsequent protests and actions against government ownership in the news agency have not changed the situation, which does not comply with European standards and is considered a violation of democratic principles. Tanjug continues to sell its services to government agencies, despite the annual state budget of about 2.5 million euros and in addition sells its products to other subscribers on dumping prices or free-of-charge offers, which imposes unfair market competition for private news agencies.

All three agencies have become modern multimedia agencies, providing classical (print) news services and photo, audio and video services on events at home and abroad. In a recent period, Beta and Tanjug have introduced SMS news.

Beta started with 12 journalists in 1994 and today has about 200 employees which produce about 250-300 news items, a couple of hundred photographs and about 40 audio and 35 video clips. Besides Serbian and English, it provides news services in minority languages such as Hungarian, Roma and Albanian. The agency places a strong emphasis on events in the Southeast Europe region. Its specific products are a weekly analytical bulletin about key political and economic issues in Serbia and the region (Beta Weekly), and a weekly review of economic news (Beta Monitor) in Southeast Europe. Beta is the founder of two radio stations: Belgrade based Radio Beta-RFI which launched together with Radio France Internationale, and Radio Sto Plus in the ethnically mixed province of Sandzak, in Novi Pazar. In addition, it runs a web portal, Argus, on fighting corruption and organized crime in Serbia, the Balkans, and throughout the world, and offers a service of news on environmental issues (Green Serbia).

Beta is owned by the group of journalists who also founded it. They never used dividends from the capital invested for personal use, but instead invested all profit towards development of the agency.

Tanjug produces about 280-350 news items, more than 100 photographs, about 20 video clips, and 50 news items in English. It is known by is valuable photo archives (3.5 million negatives about the most important events in former Yugoslavia, Serbia and abroad, starting from World War II) collected during its long history. In addition to general news service, it provides a daily service of economic and business news, sports news and news from foreign media. It has about 250 employees, half of which are journalists, with about 20 reporting from capitals around the world.

Fonet is the smallest of the three. It started by providing reliable audio reports from the world and Balkan centres during the 1990s. Today it has about 50 employees. They produce 100-120 news stories on daily events, 10-15 radio reports, about 10 video clips and roughly 100 photographs. Its original produce is Euroservice, a special service on news regarding the European Union and Serbia’s integration into the EU.

In contrast to a great number of media outlets, the number of journalistic and media organisations in Serbia is small. At the national level, there are two professional journalistic associations: the Journalist Association of Serbia (Udruzenje novinara Srbije - UNS) and the Independent Journalist Association of Serbia (Nezavisno udruzenje novinara Srbije - NUNS). The two organisations are in a strong conflict since the foundation of the younger one (NUNS) and rarely manage to join forces, although they have the same goals.

The Journalist Association of Serbia was formed in 1881 in the capital Belgrade. At the time, 22 newspapers were regularly published in the capital and at least 10 professional journalists worked in these papers. The association has been active ever since. It grew large and included a great percentage of professional journalists. From the outset, the organisation was oriented towards protection of journalists on the basis of solidarity. In post-World War Two Serbia, it defended the relative autonomy of the media which they enjoyed within the limits of the self-government ideology of the Yugoslav Communist Party.

The introduction of political pluralism in the 1990s resulted in sharp polarisation of journalists into 'guardians of national interests' and guardians of the profession. The former understood the media as a natural instrument of the state. The later considered that a pluralist society required new professional norms, above all impartiality and balance in the treatment of political parties, and tried to resist the attempts to put the media in the service of the reformed Communist Party, led by Slobodan Milosevic. This division was to remain and grew only stronger throughout the 1990s. Faced with the break up of Yugoslavia, the leaders of UNS firmly promoted the need for a defense of 'Serbian interests' and for 'patriotic journalism'. Many members left the association and in 1994 established a new one, adding the term 'independent' in front of the name of the old organisation. NUNS strongly opposed political instrumentalisation of the media and fought for free and independent media. As a rule, NUNS members either left or were purged from the media controlled by the regime. 

According to UNS data, in 2000, the Journalist Association of Serbia had 1,514 members, the Independent Association had 1,410 members, while 3,000 journalists did not belong to any of the two.

The behaviour of the two associations during the 1990s remains a controversial issue in the relation of two organisations up to present days. UNS did make some form of discontinuity with its policies during the time of Milosevic. In 2001, its Court of Honour excluded from membership eight leading journalists of the most influential media for disrespecting a professional code. NUNS however, insists on banning all journalists who took part in the regime's media promotion of war, hate speech, ethnic and political discrimination. In 2009, NUNS filed a criminal charge against unnamed journalist who worked in RTV Belgrade, RTV Novi Sad and dailies Vecernje Novosti and Politika in the 1990s. This coincided with the announcement of the Republic Prosecutor that the Prosecution investigated the role of journalists in war propaganda during the 1990s. This action stirred old conflicts between the two journalistic associations; UNS strongly opposed the idea of examining the media role during those years and described the initiatives as chases against people who ‘just did their job’.

In 2000s, UNS managed to stop the drain of its members and today is the largest professional organisation with about 6,000 members. NUNS remained detached from the parent organisation, and has about 2,400 members.

Both organisations are devoted to the protection of the journalistic profession, including: its legal and social aspects, promotion of free journalism and media pluralism, and development of professional norms and ethical standards. They are members of the International Federation of Journalists.

Trade unions have no tradition among Serbian journalists. Since the journalistic association has taken care of social protection of journalists in the past, the journalists did not see the need for organising a special trade union. This changed in 2003, when UNS initiated the establishment of Journalists Union of Serbia,which has about 800 members today. The Union’s main goal is to prepare a national collective agreement for journalists and help them bargain collective agreements with specific media owners, since the relations and mutual obligations have not yet been agreed upon. According to Union’s data, about half of the 800 media personnel without a permanent contract get irregular or minimal wages. The position of journalists in local media which go bankrupt because of unsuccessful privatisation process, is particularly difficult: they have no social protection of any kind.

Among media organisations, most prominent are ANEM, Local Press and Media Association.

ANEM -  the Association of Independent Electronic Media is a business association comprised of 28 radio stations and 16 television companies, as well as more than 60 affiliated organizations. ANEM was founded in 1993, in an attempt to strengthen independent broadcasters in a period that was very difficult for the media which opposed the regime. According to the quantity of program and service zones, ANEM members are big and small stations, local and regional, with diverse editorial policies. At present, this organisation strives primarily for the establishment of a politically independent legal framework, for an economically viable environment for the development of electronic media, and for the improvement of professional and technical standards in the media sphere. Their activities include lobbying for the media laws, education of media staff, legal help, and technical support for  its members.

Local Press is a media organisation gathering local print media. It was established in 1995, and currently there are 25 members. Its activities include representing the professional interests of its members, joint marketing and business initiatives, staff training and so on.

Members of the Media Association (Asocijacija medija) include some of the biggest publishers in Serbia: Vecernje Novosti, Ringier Serbia, Color Press Group, Politika newspaper and magazines, Press Publishing Group, Adria Media Serbia, Dnevnik-Vojvodinapress, Ekonomist, Vreme and VojvodinaInfo. These media organisations participate in initiatives aimed at improving professional standards in journalism (such as the Press Council) and strive to better the position of their members against political and economic pressures

The reform of Serbian media legislation started in 2000. The painful experience of media repression during the regime of Slobodan Milosevic forged a consensus among democratic forces of the need for a radical reconstruction of the media system. In 2000, these forces set up to establish a new legal framework for the media industry including laws on public information, broadcasting, transformation of the state broadcaster RTS, and telecommunications.

Draft laws were prepared by a group of independent experts from professional and non-governmental organisations and subsequently adjusted to European standards. First, Serbia got the Broadcasting Act (2002) that was designed to establish order in the field of broadcasting.In 2003, a new Public Information Law was introduced, which regulates the principles of public communication. The Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance was adopted in 2004 and the Law on Advertising in 2005.

These laws introduced new principles and institutions in the media sector and brought the Serbian media system closer to other democratic countries. The Public Information Act stressed the principles of pluralism of ideas and opinions and outlawed censorship and information monopoly. It precisely listed the rights and responsibilities of journalists, state bodies and private persons in public communication, making a balance among them in the service of public interest. The Broadcasting Act institutionalised a dual broadcasting system, consisting of a public service (controlled by independent bodies) and commercial media. It prescribed transformation of state-owned media in public service operators and private media, each with different obligations and programming standards. It introduced a new body, the Republic Broadcast Agency, which was to independently regulate the broadcasting scene by issuing licenses to national, regional and local broadcasters,  according to technical and programming criteria.

However, despite a lot of effort invested in drafting new bills (the Broadcasting Act had more than 10 versions), the legal framework for media functioning is incomplete and inconsistent. It does not provide enough guarantees for media autonomy, for media diversity and for fair competition. The adoption of each piece of new legislation was done with a delay and was met with controversies. Greatest progress has been made in the implementation of the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance, which allows access to the documents of public authorities.

The government introduced last-minute changes in drafts of the Public Information Act and the Broadcasting Law which aimed at preserving the political influence on the media sector. While a draft version of the Public Information Actdenied the state bodies and enterprises a right to launch and run media outlets, the adopted law gave this right to the state with regards to a news agency. Other changes restricted a free distribution of information. In the Broadcasting Law, the number of members of the Broadcasting Agency Council – a newly established independent regulatory body – was reduced from 15 to 9 and procedures for their nominations were set up in such a way that the government can influence the nomination of at least half the members. This discredited the idea of introducing a new regulatory authority right from the very beginning.

The Broadcasting Act from 2002 made mandatory privatisation of all radio and television stations (except for public service broadcasters RTS and RTV) by the end of 2006. However, the deadline for privatisation was later postponed, first on the eve of the January 2007 parliamentary elections and later before the 2008 parliamentary and presidential elections. In addition, several later laws created new possibilities for avoiding the privatisation of public media outlets: the Law on the Capital (2007), the Law on Local Self-Government(2007), and theLaw on National Councils of National Minorities (2009) allowed specific state bodies – namely, the town hall of Belgrade, authorities in municipalities with ethnically mixed population, and national councils of ethnic minorities - to establish media that will be financed from public revenues. In 2009, there were 58 radio and TV stations whose privatisation was postponed on the basis of these laws.

Due to legal inconsistencies and a blockade of the privatisation process, there is not a fully functional media market in Serbia, and no basis for economic stability and autonomous editorial policies of the commercial media. These media have to compete with the media which are financed both by the state budgets and advertising revenues. Furthermore, they have to compete with illegal broadcasters which also earn advertising revenues and have no expenses for a license fee, VAT and other taxes. Pirate stations continued to operate after 2008 owing to a legal loopholeon who has the right to stop their operation.

The issues of ownership transparency and ownership concentration will be settled in a separate law. This law is still in the drafting procedure.

The latest controversy in regard to media laws was caused by government-initiated amendments to the Public Information Act in summer 2009. Without any public discussion, the government introduced several changes which are considered by opponents as serious threats to media freedom. The amendments drastically increased the fines for law offences such as violations of the presumption of innocence, violations of rights of minors, etc, so that they could even lead to a financial death of a media outlet. In addition, they introduced a prohibition of activities as a measure for failure to register a media outlet in a newly established official register and to hide the fact it has a long-term blockage of accounts and unpaid debts. These amendments were provoked by a long and unsuccessful fight of some government branches with irresponsible coverage by some tabloid papers, and with their (legitimate) manoeuvres to escape paying penalties according to former articles in the Public Information Act.

In former Yugoslavia, journalistic codes of conduct were mainly in line with the general principles of professional journalism, except that in Yugoslavia they also included journalistic responsibility to represent the politics of the Communist party through the media.

In the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, a number of documents of regulation and self-regulation of media have been adopted. Different media organisations have however, adopted their own codes.

The Journalist Association of Serbia (Udruzenje novinara Srbije – UNS), has its own code, and the Independent Journalist Association of Serbia (Nezavisno udruzenje novinara Srbije – NUNS), its own also. Both journalistic associations agreed on the common Ethical Code of Serbian Journalists (Eticki kodeks novinara Srbije) in 2006. The Association of Independent Electronic Media (Asocijacija nezavisnih elektronskih medija – ANEM) has since 2002 had its Ethical Code for Broadcasters. Since then, this document has regulated the adherence to professional and ethical standards. Just like similar international documents of the type (for example IFJ Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists), this Code places truthful reporting at the top of its principles and rules. In the following part are provisions dealing with the sources, diversity of editorial policies, resistance to pressures such as censorship or bribe, avoidance of hate speech, and respect of privacy.

The Ethical Code is an important step in advancing professional self-regulation. However, it has been violated a number of times. The violations have been particularly frequent in daily political tabloid papers. The Press Council was established in 2010, after years of planning and debating its structure, decision-making, and sources of finance. Its members are the nominees of press publishers and professional journalistic organisations as well as public representatives. It will monitor the way the print media respect the Ethical Code of Serbian Journalists which was adopted in 2006, deal with complaints filed by individuals or institutions in regard to press content and mediate in conflicts between the newspapers and damaged individuals.

Regulatory function is performed by several agencies, all introduced quite recently. The main agency in the field of broadcasting is the Republic Broadcasting Agency (RRA), which was established in 2005. The Republic Telecommunication Agency (RATEL) is in charge of the telecommunications field. Print media are not regulated. However, the Press Council, as a self-regulatory body, was established in February 2010, with the aim to secure the implementation of ethical journalistic code in the press and its service to the public interest. New media are still out of the focus of regulatory authorities.

The RRA has very broad competencies, in the areas of operation, structure and development of the broadcasting sector, all of which used to belong to state bodies. It is given the authority over the strategy for the development of the broadcasting sector. It has the main role in issuing available broadcasting licences, on the basis of the technical, organisational and programming standards it defines. It also sets the rules and instructions binding broadcaster, for example, rules on behaviour during election periods or an official mourning period. In addition, the agency monitors the operations of all Serbian broadcasters and makes sure they are in accord with the Broadcasting Law provisions. It decides on complaints concerning the performance of broadcasters as well and sanctions their inadequate operations. The Agency is also in charge of the transformation of RTS into a public service broadcaster. It is given the power to appoint the managing board of RTS, which in turn chooses RTS directors.

The Telecommunications Agency (RATEL) was established in 2005, two years after its duties were prescribed by the Telecommunications Act (2003). It is in charge of defining the conditions for radio frequency spectrum usage, drafting the Radio Frequency Allocation Plan, allocation of frequencies to radio and TV stations and monitoring the usage of radio frequency spectrum.

Serbian experience with independent regulatory bodies is troublesome. The establishment of the Council of the Republic Regulatory Agency, the first of the new institutions designed to bring order into media sector without exerting political influence, turned into a big crisis which took two years to resolve. Namely, the appointment of three out of nine members of the Council in the middle of 2003, almost a year after the Broadcasting Act was adopted, was disputable because they did not follow the electoral procedures and criteria. Two Council members resigned at the first session of the Council, asking the rules to be respected in order to give the Council much needed credibility before it started making far-reaching decisions. The Council remained inoperative until the middle of 2005, when a new Council was elected, after the new government had been formed following pre-time parliamentary elections.

The delay in the establishment of the body had very serious consequences. The implementation of the Broadcasting Act was blocked, which included the process of tendering for and issuing of 467 broadcasting licences, the privatisation of broadcasting media and transformation of the national and Vojvodina province state broadcasters into a public service. This delay was a result of political decisions, in other words of the lack of political will to make institutional changes in the broadcasting sector.

The Broadcasting Agency never recovered from its 'birth crisis'. It has not managed in the meantime to achieve the respected position of an autonomous institution. Its decisions about allocation of broadcasting licences (a process which lasted two years) were met with serious doubts concerning the Agency’s impartiality.

The Broadcasting Act was amended several times and each time the possibility for political influence on the Agency was increased (the initial idea of a 15 member Council was replaced by a 9 member Council; nominees of the Parliament and government got a longer term mandate than the nominees of professional and civil society organisations; a deadline for transformation of RTS was delayed but RTS was allowed to start collecting a subscription fee, etc).

The Agency has no human or financial resources to perform well all of its tasks. Its role in developing a development strategy for the broadcasting sector is marginal. It rarely monitors the work of broadcasters and does not make these results publicly available. It admits that a majority of broadcasters violate have been violating the law on advertising and pressed charges against them for the first time in 2010. The latest event that reduced the credibility of the Broadcasting Agency is that a new Council member, a nominee of professional journalistic organisations, was not elected for 14 months after the 4-year term of the previous member terminated. The work of the Agency is not transparent enough.

Both the Republic Broadcasting Agency and the Telecommunications Agency proved inefficient in stopping illegal broadcasters, after a difficult 2-year process of bringing about order in the broadcasting field by issuing licences. More than a hundred (170-180) broadcasters continue their operation without a licence. The agencies now ask for changes of the criminal low. The Telecommunications Agency can ban the use of radio and TV transmitters, but cannot seize them and take them away, which allows the broadcasters to use these transmitters again despite a ban.

The Press Council is a self-regulatory body for the print media. It was established at the beginning of 2010, after years of planning and debating its structure, decision-making, sources of finance.

Until 2002, journalism could be studied only at one place, the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade. Today, there are nine programs of undergraduate journalism studies: eight are undergraduate academic studies, the ninth is the program of undergraduate vocational studies. The development of new study programs followed the consolidation of the economic-political situation of the society, and the liberalisation of the university education sector which enabled the foundation of private educational institutions.

Academic journalism studies are carried out at four state universities and four private universities. These are the following: Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade, Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad, Faculty of Philosophy in Nis and Faculty of Philosophy in Kosovska Mitrovica, Faculty of Humanistic Sciences in Novi Pazar, Faculty for Culture and Media (Megatrend University) in Belgrade, Faculty for Media and Communication (Singidunum University) in Belgrade, and Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade. Vocational studies of sport journalism are carried out at the state Faculty of Sport and Physical Culture in Belgrade. Most of academic study programs last for four years (240 ECTS credits), while only two last for three years (180 credits).

In 2006, 1,700 students attended journalism studies altogether, while 630 students were enrolled in the first year of academic studies. The number of students at different universities varied significantly, due to differences in the length of programs’ existence, available places, teaching staff and regional peculiarities. The oldest journalism program at the Faculty of Political Sciences was attended by the largest number of students (750), while the youngest, at the Academy of Fine Arts, had 28 students. Female students were markedly dominant at each university.

No university program of journalism education is completely free of charge. Out of the whole number of new students in 2006, 82 percent paid for their studies, and 18 percent did not. 

A great increase in the number of journalism programs did not bring about the improvement of the quality of journalism education. Journalism segments of study programs at all universities are very similar. The majority of universities kept the previous weaknesses of journalism studies: a small number of profession-oriented courses, low levels of practical instruction, absence of specialisation for different kinds of media, lack of technical equipment, large groups of students,  inadequate teaching staff, traditional teaching methods. All faculties prepare future journalists for working in traditional media – press, radio and television. New media – interactive and multimedia - are included in study programs in very small measure. The main novelty is that journalistic education is placed in a new theoretical background, of language studies, social and humanistic sciences, management and marketing studies, culture and art studies.

All journalism study programs are defined as reformed and as adjusted to 'Bologna' principles. However, Bologna principles are not completely implemented at any university. The reform is often just formal, and essential changes are accomplished in a very small degree.

Beside university programmes, there are many non-university educational programs for journalists and other media professionals. During the academic year of 2004/2005, 146 schools, courses and seminars were carried out, lasting from two days to two years. They were attended by about 2,100 participants. An average of 17 students attended each program, of which majority were women. Most often, the lecturers were journalists, then experts of various profiles and professional trainers. Most non-university programs were financed by foreign donors.

A majority of programmes were intended for specialisation of journalists more than for managers and technical professionals. They dealt with basic journalism rather than with special kinds of journalism in different types of media; with traditional media rather than with new, interactive media. Theoretically oriented programs of thematic specialisation for journalists were more numerous than the thematic programs which included practical training as well.

There are several journalism schools targeting beginners in journalism. All are based in Belgrade and Novi Sad. The oldest is the school established by the Journalist Association of Serbia. It is a 3-month course, combining lectures and practical work for both print and broadcasting media. Starting 1996, Novi Sad Journalism School carries a 2-semester journalism course and offers acquisition of basic skills needed for work in newspaper, radio and TV. In addition, it organises a 5-month school of TV journalism, combining lectures and practical work. A Belgrade-based TV Academia was launched in 2008 as a 3-month professional school for TV journalists. It is run by popular TV journalists gathered around independent TV producer, TV Mreza. Balkan Media Tim courses started in 2009. They include courses for journalists and also for camera work, TV editing, styling and diction. Their teachers are some prominent journalists of RTS and other print and electronic media.

Serbiaonly recently started 'second generation' media reforms, which include new ways of system regulation, decentralisation, and pluralisation of the media industry, increased commercialisation, internationalisation and professionalisation of media. Requirements for the development of a free, autonomous and democratic media system - stabilisation of a democratic regime, steady economic progress, a widespread culture of private entrepreneurship, rule of law, and democratic political culture - are still lacking. A democratic way of governing based on a wide social consensus and economic development under conditions of market economy in particular are only in the initial stage of development. 

Critics of Serbian media policy stress that in ten years of reforms, Serbia was only successful in allocating licences for analogue broadcasting, which is made obsolete by a general switch to digital broadcasting. Serbia is definitely paying the price for its delay in political, economic and technological development and therefore still struggling with issues related to traditional rather than new media and information society. 

The problems in the media sector, which were drastically enlarged with the global financial crises, pushed to the fore a need for a clear strategy of media development, and elaborated communication policy. 

At the beginning of 2010, representatives of the media industry and journalist associations came to an agreement with the Ministry of Culture in charge of media and some international organisations to design a new development strategy. It is expected that this new strategy will pay special attention to the problems of financial sustainability of commercial media outlets and to fair market competition. At the national level, the sustainability imperative has already taken its toll: in December 2009, TV Fox, one of five commercial networks owned by American News Corporation, was sold to Greek Group Antenna for one dollar, as well as the acquisitionof all of TV Fox’s debts, according to media reports. A record breaking number of broadcast licences issued, when compared to the size of the advertising market, have been seriously questioned by the media industry as well as the amount of license fees which are considered too high. The issues of a blocked privatisation of state-owned media and of a great number of illegally operating broadcasters have also been put forward by media industry as burning problems. Commercial stations consider public broadcasters as unfair competition as well, because of their double source of income.     

A working group, composed of a variety of stakeholders and academic experts, helped by the OSCE, is currently working on drafting changes in the law which would avoid current conflicts between legal provisions in regard to media privatisation and state ownership of the media. These changes should include some form of transformation of the ownership structure of the state agency Tanjug and some newspapers publishers (Politika, Novosti) where government still owns a percentage of stock shares.  Another goal of legal changes is harmonisation with EU regulation, i.e. with the Audio Visual Media Services Directive. There is strong pressure from the media industry for a reduction of the amount of commercial advertising allowed to national public broadcaster system RTS, so that commercial broadcasters can earn more and be less susceptible to pressures. On the other hand, there is an idea of establishing a number of regional and local public service broadcasters (from yet non-privatised state-financed radio and TV stations) who count on getting a part of revenues now earned by RTS.

What new solutions will be found, depends greatly on the political will for rearranging the media system and the pace of economic progress, as well as the capacity of the interested civil society actors and the media, to make the issue of the media system reconstruction and catching up with technological developments and modern regulatory practices an issue of a wide public debate.

Jovanka Matic
PhD, Research fellow
Institute of Social Sciences,
Kraljice Natalije 45, 11000 Belgrade, Serbia
Tel: +381 11 3614067
E-mail: matic@sbb.rs

Larisa Rankovic
Media analyst
Ebart/Media Documentation,
Karadjordjeva 65/II, 11000 Belgrade, Serbia
Tel: +381 11 2626 884
E-mail: larisa.rankovic@gmail.com