MPs voted for a new law on public information and media and amendments to the law governing electronic media despite widespread criticism by watchdogs and media experts who claim the changes could boost government control over television.
After three days of debate, members of the Serbian parliament voted in favour of the legislation despite concerns expressed by media experts and opposition parties that some of it could allow the government to own media outlets via a partly state-owned telecoms company.
The Law on Public information and Media was passed with 142 votes in favour, 18 against and 15 abstentions. Changes to the Law on Electronic Media were backed by 144 MPs; 14 were against, and 15 abstained. The Serbian parliament has 250 seats, of which opposition parties hold 86.
During the debate, ruling party MPs emphasised the introduction of provisions banning discrimination and prohibiting anyone from exerting pressure on or using threats or blackmail against media workers.
The Law on Public information and Media says that publishers or producers of media content cannot be “established, directly or indirectly, by the republic, an autonomous province [of Serbia] or a local government unit, or an institution or a legal entity that is wholly or partly in public ownership, ie. which is wholly or partly financed from public revenues”.
It however allows exceptions in cases when the founder of the media outlet is “a capital company that carries out electronic communications activities, in accordance with the law regulating electronic media”.
This exception would, in practice, allow the state to legally own and control media through telecommunications company Telekom Serbia, in which it has a majority share.
Currently, Telekom Serbia, through a network of subsidiaries, owns the Supernova TV channel, Arena TV channel and part of Euronews Serbia.
Watchdog organisation Transparency Serbia said that despite an amendment at the parliamentary committee stage, one issue that remains unaddressed by the amendment to the Law on Electronic Media was “issues related to the promotional activities of public officials” – officials using media access given to because of their positions to campaign during elections.
“This amendment also does not prohibit official campaigning, as claimed by some members of the committee during the session,” it said.
“As Transparency Serbia emphasised before the previous elections, no provision in media laws can solve the problem of official campaigning; this must be done in the Law on the Prevention of Corruption and other regulations governing the work of public officials,” it added.
Source : Balkaninsight