This week the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) to sound “the alarm about two draft media laws brought forward by the Serbian government for their lack of compliance with international freedom of expression standard,” adding that “if passed they would represent a regressive step with wide-ranging implications for media freedom and pluralism” and would likely “pave the way” toward full state ownership of private media, including Telekom Srbija.
Specifically, the EFJ criticized the latest draft versions of the Law on Public Information and Media and the Law on Electronic Media, developed by the Ministry of Information and Telecommunications, which has proposed a framework that would block the reform of the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM). Likewise, there is concern that the proposed changes do not comply with international and European standards on media freedom and freedom of expression and diverge radically from the objectives of the Media Strategy adopted by the Government of Serbia in 2020.
The Serbian regulatory body, the REM, has faced both domestic and international criticism, for its lack of independence and politically-motivated decision-making processes. There has, according to the press rights group, also been widespread criticism about how members of the REM are appointed, and if the reforms are passed, this proposal would solidify political control over REM and block much needed reforms to strengthen the regulator’s independence, according to the EFJ.
The EFJ also pointed to “a loophole for print and online media outlets which have not accepted the competence of the Press Council, “meaning that they could continue to violate professional standards with impunity and still receive public funding. It also noted that he government also included in both draft laws an identical provision which would essentially facilitate the return to state co-ownership of private media in Serbia.
“This would formally legalise the ongoing ownership situation at telecommunications provider Telekom Srbija, which is majority state-owned, in violation of the current law,” the EFJ said.
The EFJ statement was co-signed by ARTICLE 19 Europe, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the International Press Institute (IPI), and the OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
Photo by Bobik at sr.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 RS <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/rs/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons.