Friedensförderung durch Brücken der Verständigung
Peace Building through Bridges of Communication




RFE/RL Balkan Report Vol. 8, No. 10, 12 March 2004



The key factor in Serbia is that a new coalition government headed by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica of the conservative nationalist Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) took office on 3 March. The government also consists of the reformist G-17 Plus party and a coalition of the conservative nationalist Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) of Vuk Draskovic and Velimir Ilic's New Serbia party.

It is a minority government that relies on the legislative support of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). It is obvious that there will be many forces and personalities fighting for influence, power, and money in the new political landscape, which could make itself reflected in the media scene.

For example, among those seen at the DSS party offices during the coalition talks on 19 January was prominent and controversial businessman Bogoljub Karic, whose many interests include the private broadcaster BK TV. Karic financially supports numerous conservative or nationalist causes but is believed to be primarily motivated by a desire to create the best climate for his extensive business interests, rather than by any specific ideology.

The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 24 December that Karic was among those well-heeled individuals who allegedly bought influence in the previous Serbian legislature. The reported buying and selling of legislative votes ultimately led to the downfall of the previous government, which tottered ever since the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic of the Democratic Party on 12 March 2003.

But while Karic and others may be active behind the scenes, two factors are visible in the public domain. First is the new Minister of Culture Dragan Kojadinovic (SPO), who is a former editor at Studio B Television. He is well known as a Draskovic loyalist.

That leads to the second factor, which is the legal framework. On 19 July 2002, the Serbian parliament adopted the Broadcasting Act, but enforcement has been patchy, according to the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM). In any event, the new government will have to fill vacancies on administrative and oversight boards.

For now, Kostunica's first priority is to draft a new constitution. He has spoken of holding new elections once that is done, but it is not clear if some of his coalition partners will agree. In any event, any drafting and enacting of new media legislation will most likely have to wait until the new constitution is finished.

In addition to the influence of moneyed interests and problems with the legal framework, the Serbian media landscape suffers from clutter. Besides BK TV and the other main private television broadcaster, TV Pink, there is the old socialist-era dinosaur of Radio-Television Serbia.

Furthermore, perhaps well over 1,000 private radio stations can be found scattered throughout one of Europe's poorest countries. Some experts say that the optimal number for a country Serbia's size would be about 300.

Moreover, Belgrade, like many other capitals in this part of the world, has more daily newspapers than it would seem the market can support. The mass-circulation "Glas Javnosti," "Vecernje novosti," and "Blic" are perhaps the most influential, if not necessarily the most serious.

The oldest and traditionally most prestigious is "Politika," which marks its 100th birthday this year. The paper was the flagship of serious Yugoslav journalism before the collapse of communism, but Milosevic turned it into a propaganda mouthpiece. Following his ouster, "Politika" drew close to Kostunica, but that did not stop Djindjic from giving his New Year 2003 interview to it. "Politika" is currently owned by the German WAZ group, and its future is anybody's guess.

As to the newsweeklies, the most serious remain "Vreme," whose future is in jeopardy because of low circulation figures, and "NIN," which is due for privatization.

Use of computers and the Internet is considered cool and trendy, but it remains largely limited to those who have access to them at their school or place of work, or those who can afford to have a computer at home or regularly visit an Internet cafe.

Politically motivated lawsuits were no stranger to the outgoing government that followed Milosevic's ouster in October 2000, including charges filed by one member of the governing coalition against another, or by an official against a journalist.

In the second category, Vladimir Popovic "Beba," who headed the Serbian government's Communications Department, filed charges in Belgrade on 27 June 2003 against "Vreme" and its well-known journalist Milos Vasic for some of "Vreme's" articles during the state of emergency declared after Djindjic was killed. Beba wanted $33,000 for "mental anguish and damage to his reputation." He had previously filed similar charges against several other news organizations, including "NIN," Radio B92, and the "Novosti" publishing house, and also against dozens of individual journalists.

Nonetheless, then-Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said publicly that Beba's many lawsuits were his own private affair and not the work of the government. Lawsuits against critical media were a frequent practice under Milosevic and the late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman.

Beba's successor in charge of media affairs in the new government is Srdjan Djuric, whom Karic sacked one year ago from BK TV at a time when Karic was friendly with Djindjic. Karic is now considered close to Kostunica.

An important problem that has emerged in 2004 -- following the strong showing by the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) in the 28 December parliamentary elections -- has been threats against Croatian media in Vojvodina (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 January 2004). (Patrick Moore)


source:  RFE/RL, Prague
published by: Daniela Mathis date of release on this site 16/03/04 


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