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Full stop - part 2 (VIDEO)

Your right is to know everything and not learn everything you should. This has long been the message of the RTS and 4 national televisions.

After the privatization of local media, the situation is the same with the media in the majority of cities in Serbia.

This is despite the fact that freedom of speech and the right to free, true, objectively and timely information is guaranteed by the Constitution.

The program of RTS is paid for by the citizens through the budget and the monthly fee.

All this should be a guarantee that we will know everything.

In this sense, the motto of RTS "Your right to know everything" would be appropriate if this television was in service of the public.

But it is not.

Furthermore, national frequencies used by broadcast media are public property and are owned by Serbian citizens.

The PSB and owners of private commercial stations Pink, Prva, B92 and Happy are enabled to generate big profits from their program and advertisements.

Local media are financed by the citizens too, through local budget allocations and project competitions.

Therefore, the disinformation and propaganda they engage in cannot be a matter of editorial policy.

Breaking the Law and other media and civil freedoms have been and will be happening for years if abuse of media and political power is not brought to a halt.

FULL STOP

Many wars for truth have been lost.

There were several attempts to win freedom in Serbia in the last 3 decades.

It never fully worked.

The right to truth was first stifled with tanks and assassinations of journalists.

After the democratic changes - with threat and financial blackmail.

Today, the system has been perfected.

Almost complete control  has been established over TV stations, which are the most influential media.

Freedom of media should not matter to the citizens in election years only.

But it has been the case for politicians for decades.

While it was in the opposition SNS claimed that the conditions for fair elections didn’t exist.

Since they are in power, in the last 8 years, they say that freedom abounds and that the media can operate freely.

RADE VELJANOVSKI, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: Unfortunately, it can hardly be said that the citizens can exercise their constitutional rights to information. As the first Director of the BBC, Sir John Reid said: "Television must not bring anything vulgar and harmful to our homes." He said that decades ago mind you. When we look at our televisions today, how much more vulgar and harmful can they become? From this point of view, news program are acting as propaganda stooges on permanent basis and accept such a role for the benefit of different governments.

ZORAN GAVRILOVIC, BIRODI: The role of the media is to control government. Not to praise it, not to criticize it without reason, but simply to present positive or negative facts, scientific views, documents to tell the situation as it is. Why? Without these media, us citizens will not know what is happening to us in society.

REM is an institution vested by the Law to control and punish electronic media for not complying with requirements related to content diversity or giving space to government views only.

REM's work should be commented by the President of the Council.

However, this has not been possible in the last 4 years, since they haven’t had a President.

He hasn’t been elected and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: There is however, a Deputy President and REM is now fully operations. We will have to wait a couple of months to get to know each other, since the 5 new members of REM were elected only a month ago. Why wasn't he elected? There was no need, because Mr. Goran Petrovic, who is the Deputy, is doing a great job.

INSIDER: There should be a president, according to the Law?

OLIERA ZEKIC, REM: Now, by Law, he has all the authority as a Deputy President he would have as President. The president's powers were transferred to Deputy Goran Petrovic, who was named in 2014, but he does not speak in public in that capacity.

Olivera Zekic, who is currently in conflict with the opposition and does not accept the criticism of REM, has been speaking on behalf of REM in the last few years.

OLIERA ZEKIC, REM: REM bothers part of opposition because they need to find someone to blame for the political failures.

INSIDER: And do you have the right as a REM representative to underestimate the opposition?

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: To underestimate them?

INSIDER: You say they are unable to win over the voters.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: Well, someone needs to take the blame. REM is not a political political actor. But part of the opposition needs a scapegoat and they are blaming REM. That was at the core of the discussions between euro MPs, the opposition and the government, they needed someone to blame.

INSIDER: But why did the EC need a culprit, when they said in their last 4 progress reports that REM is the key culprit for unbalanced media reporting and failed media monitoring and the absence of sanctions against those outlets that do not meet their programming obligations?

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: That is indeed very interesting, in various international reports. This is the European Commission. Including the EC, as you said. But every time when we sat a table with people from the EC, OSCE or ODIHR, they never told us we weren’t doing a good job, on the contrary.

INSIDER: So they tell you one thing and they write down something different? That’s what you are trying to say?

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: Yes.

INSIDER: Did you ask them about that when such a report comes out?

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: That are the procedures and the usual correspondence. You know how slow the European administration is, but we will find a common ground.

In its progress reports about Serbia about compliance with European standards, the EC has long been critical about media freedoms.

The atmosphere in Serbia is not conducive to freedom of expression, the latest reports have alleged.

Government officials have typically denied it and claimed that the whole world had joined forces against Serbia.

ANA BRNABIC, PRIME MINISTER OF SERBIA: I think that parts of the report make no sense whatsoever. I think they amount to political opinions and preference for certain political options and players.

FABRICI

In the area of media freedom, Serbia has been falling on the list of the Reporters Without Borders.

Of the 180 observed countries, Serbia ranked 66th in 2017, 76th in 2018, 90th in 2019 and 93rd in 2020.

INSIDER: After the report 2020 you said that RWB are unfair or jealous of the results of this government, that they are cynical.

But how can anything change if the response is given in such a childish manner?

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA: My statement is correct and I think it’s not fair that, at a time when the world, including Serbia, is fighting against the coronavirus, the RWB is taking a stand and criticizing us, saying that there is no objectivity in Serbia, that the media here are not free. But there is one more thing. I personally would like sit down with Freedom House and RWB people to talk about their views and how they came to these conclusions. I think that they simply omitted the positive and focused only on the shortcomings.

The European Commission has been critical of REM in the last few years.

Among other things, the last report says: The independence of REM must be reinforced in order to protect media pluralism.

Hate speech and discriminatory terminology is often heard and tolerated in the media, with REM or the prosecutor rarely reacting to that.

RADE VELJANOVSKI, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: The independent regulatory body is not independent. There are clear influences of the government and power players from the media business. I recently said that REM behaves like a business partner of private stations and a service of the government.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: Had anyone from the executive came to REM with a request, be it President Vucic himself, who recently said he would personally like a certain cable television to obtain national coverage, I would go to war against him, because we are not a fountain of wishes.

INSIDER: He said it ironically from what I understand.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: No, I didn’t understand it as an irony at all. I don’t have a problem to defend independence. The opposition only came to me only after their conflict with the Minister of Culture and since your are assigning labels, as to the favorite pro-government media owner, I didn’t have problem clashing him either.

The fact that went completely unnoticed is that the Government’s new Media Strategy, while it is said that REM is independent, in practice it is something in between a public administration body and an independent regulatory body.

It is acknowledged that the possibility of political influence primarily exists because of the manner of which members of the REM Council are elected and that the parliamentary committee should be excluded from naming candidates.

INSIDER: Is REM independent?

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: Absolutely.

INSIDER: There is no political influence?

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: No.

REM is an independent institution, but is accountable to the Serbian Parliament, i.e. the MPs.

And there, in fact, lies the cause of the problem.

Since the inception of RRA in 2003 and later of REM, 8 of the 9 members of the Council and elected and dismissed by the parliamentary majority.

The 8 elected members elect the 9th member, which must be from Kosovo.

RADE VELJANOVSKI, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCE: The attempt in fact is to avoid expert and independent people and to place those that will be obedient in the Council.

Since the independence of such an important institution is guaranteed by the majority, everything depends on political will.

Televisions break the Law, REM does not apply it and it’s all endorsed by the Parliament.

Hence this is a closed circle of control or the lack thereof.

That is why the media are as they are, in spite of very clear laws.

REM has long been criticized by part of the opposition and protests have taken place in front of its building.

AFS leaders have accused REM to be responsible for the media blackout and of being a “SNS committee”.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: You know what the problem is? You don’t know the Law.

DRAGAN DJILAS: Thanks you Ms. Zekic, it’s great that you came...

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: Because it is extremely... Well...

DRAGAN DJILAS: Tell the journalists about the press release, while you were in Istria? Did Vucic himself dictated it to you over the phone?

Why are you not telling that Vucic dictates to you your press releases?

(Zekic) I have press releases dictated to me?

(Djilas) Sue me and I will produce a witness.

(Zekic) I would gladly give you a law that you do not know and what you are doing is pure fascism.

You, Mr. Djilas and all the rest of you from this insignificant coalition.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: It wasn’t I who went to the headquarters of AFS, they came in front of REM.

INSIDER: Is it prohibited to protest?

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: Am I prohibited to speak my mind? They should first learn about the laws and the competences of REM, instead of lecturing us Law. Because it’s clear they don’t have a clue. But the thing is they need a usual suspect.

The Law defining the role of REM is crystal clear.

Article 28 of the Law defines the measures REM can resort to.

It may issue a media service provider a warning or temporary content ban or revoke its license for non-compliance under the articles 47-71 of that Law.

As many as 24 articles define the obligations as to the programming content of a station.

It is enough to read only it says in the first paragraph of Article 1 to conclude whether REM is doing it’s job or not in the case of non-compliance by national TV stations.

So, media service providers must:

  1. Ensure free, accurate, objective and timely news information.

ZORAN GAVRILOVIC, BIRODI: We have a code of ethics that is great, its application would allow the media to be balanced and in accordance with international standards. On the other hand, REM would just monitor the application of the Law in the part concerning broadcast media and we would therefore have a good situation. This is not happening. The government has taken advantage of the unsustainability of the media in the unfinished transition to turn them into their tool for promotion, propaganda and repression.

RTS and 4 national stations are breaking the Law and REM is not issuing the required sanctions.

While media freedom does exist, but only as a letter on paper, not in reality, those that are responsible have been saying for 20 years that they are just being the usual suspects and scapegoats.

This is exactly the attitude of all governments since the democratic changes that has resulted in the media working in the interest of the owners and the government and not the citizens.

SNJEZANA MILIVOJEVIC, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: The media and the public are natural allies. Now, sometimes the authorities are trying hard to prevent and to criminalize that alliance and hence the media working in the interest of the public suffer. That constant effort to tear this relationship apart actually shows the importance of it.

In addition to REM, which is vested with protecting freedom of expression, oversight of the application of laws in the area of public information is also the obligation of the Ministry of Culture and Media.

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA: I think that the citizens are very well informed, even better than in many EU countries.

What is pluralism? It’s about diversity. Different sources.

INSIDER: A concrete example of non-respect for pluralism is that the opposition is not given media time on national televisions, which use public property and are obligated under the Law to respect certain norms. The opposition is only mentioned in the negative context. When all that is clear and when you say that, why is the Ministry ignoring reality?

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA: As far as electronic media is concerned, they are under the purview of REM.The Ministry only deal with the public information system.

INSIDER: Well, this is the system. Don’t you think it’s the system?

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA: What does a system mean? It means adopting decisions, the strategy.

INSIDER: You just enact laws and that’s it?

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA: And following up on compliance.

INSIDER: Exactly.

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA: Yes, but if someone believes the Law is not respected, they can press charges. It is not our job.

The competences of the Ministry of State Secretary Gajevic are described in the Law.

Article 18 says: monitoring compliance with the Law in the area of public information.

SNJEZANA MILIVOJEVIC, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: A Ministry behaving as if the media were uncharted territory they are not responsible for, although they are precisely competent for that field. Nobody’s invoking political intervention here, but there are laws and standards to protect that field for the sake of all of us and not only those that are affected by that.

In 2011, the then DS and SPS government adopted the media strategy saying that thing would become much better.

However, a new strategy was adopted in 2020, in which the government admitted that nothing fundamental was achieved since 2012 in terms of media freedom.

It said the previous strategy was not conducive to freedom of expression or incentives for the media market, since state subsidies continue to have an influence on it.

Adequate financing of the PSBs is still not there and neither is impartial and independent news reporting.

MLADEN BASIC, MEDIA ADVISOR TO SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: The media strategy is a government document, but this Government has decided to be an equal partners in the media community in Serbia, precisely to change what you are referring to.

INSIDER: So, the media strategy solves everything?

MLADEN BASIC, MEDIA ADVISOR TO SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: No, I don’t think it does… No, it’s an expression to the attitude towards media and media freedoms in this country.

INSIDER: Well, why would we trust you? You didn’t change anything for years and now you say you will?

MLADEN BASIC, MEDIA ADVISOR TO SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: Let's compare how this media strategy was adopted to any other.

INSIDER: But it has been been in force since 2011 and we are in 2020? Nine years have passed.

MLADEN BASIC, MEDIA ADVISOR TO SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: What is completely different than before is that the same working group for the media strategy will also be making the action plan and all the media laws that will have to be amended as a result of that media strategy.

SASA MIRKOVIC,  STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA IN 2013-2016: This is one of the most critical document, where the Government is calling out and criticizing itself for any omissions or accomplishments in the previous period. But if such critique or analysis is not the basis for a healthy start, then it's all futile.

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA: As the State Secretary, I'm not obligated to agree with that assessment.

INSIDER: But that is not an assessment. That is an official government document.

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA:But it does not obligate me to agree with it completely. The analysis is totally critical… It states certain facts and then it says what needs to be changed.

The strategy is merely the first step after which the action plan should be adopted and the laws amended.

However, the strategy itself acknowledges that the previous laws weren’t respected.

INSIDER: But why aren’t they good enough? The laws are good now but they are not respected They're simply not respected.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: I know, but controls must be stricter and the laws must in that sense also be stronger, to avoid violations of media laws.  That would be the only way to improve the media situation in Serbia.

The state’s withdrawal from the media has been planned since the democratic changes. Privatization was postponed several times. It was implemented in 2015 only.

RADE VELJANOVSKI, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: In the absence of political will, the process was delayed, because some local media still had the status of public companies established by the local government, inhabited by the people who came to power in 1996. The government back then didn’t mind to have these people, from their political parties, controlling local media. But the thing is that the media should not be under the control of any government at any level. It is intolerable to have the editors and editorials policies change every time when the local government changes after elections. It has nothing to do with media independence.

Sasa Mirkovic, former secretary of the Ministry of Culture and Media, says that in 2015, the state did an important thing when it had the local media privatized. He says it was a long-awaited move since the democratic changes.

SASA MIRKOVIC,  STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA IN 2013-2016: There was a consensus in this country between the opposition parties and those that were in power. They all agreed that the state must step out of the media's ownership structure.

The other important thing is that, in parallel, project-based co-financing needed to be adopted, which promotes the public interest.

Public interest was defined for the first time in a new legal framework, so there was no dilemma whatsoever.

Tanja Maksic of BIRN was a member of the working group for the new media strategy. She has also dealt with the past attempts and effects of the privatization of 2015.

TANJA MAKSIC, BIRN: Since 2003, there was a political will to keep the media in check through that ownership model. Different governments tried to sabotage that privatization on several occasions. With the change of power in 2012 and amended legislation in 2014/15, the government was decided to finally finish that whole endeavor. However, it seems that the ruling party SNS was much better prepared for that type of privatization than the media. That privatization has ultimately shown that the new owners are very much to the liking of the ruling party.

INSIDER: Local privatization amounted to these local bosses close to the government becoming media owners once again.

MLADEN BASIC, MEDIA ADVISOR TO SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's your assessment of as to what the privatization process looked like.

INSIDER: Well, there are many questionable things related to these local privatizations, namely the complete opposite happened. Formally the state has stepped out, but the new owners now are businessmen close to various government people at the local level.

MLADEN BASIC, MEDIA ADVISOR TO SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: But I’m repeating to you - this is the privatization of media. We have to understand that it also involves some freedom. When something is privatized, be it a factory or a media outlet, there is a certain procedure.  Nobody can decide who will be buying these media.

In 2015, 50 local media were put on auction and they would be acquired by the highest bidder.

Thirty-four media were sold.

The majority, and the most influential ones, were acquired by people directly linked to the political parties in power.

Radojica Milosavljevic, a businessman from Krusevac who never dealt with the media before, who up until 2012 was a SPS official and was later tied to SNS, acquired 8 media outlets in the privatization of 2015.

Radojica Milosavljevic refused to talk to Insider.

His participation in the privatization was questioned due to his criminal record.

Due to the 10-year statute of limitations in the Penal Code, he now his deemed without criminal record.

He was the Director of the Sports Center in Krusevac, President of the local football club and the Sports Association of the City.

He owns the plastic packaging company Sloga and the Sloga Medik Clinic, which was in the meantime deleted from the business register.

Milosavljevic also said that he co-owns several management schools, but there are no data about it in the official registers.

RADOICA MILOSAVLJEVIC: I am a retired technology engineer. I own plastic packaging factory, the Faculty of Industrial Management and the Sloga Medik health center in Krusevac. Of course, I now also own media companies.

He was tied to SNS since we has part of the consortium that acquired business premises and later donated it to SNS in 2016, including the party headquarters in Belgrade.

The SNS itself released information about the consortium after CINS questioned the legality of this donation.

As to media allegations of his ties with Bratislav Gasic, SNS leader in Krusevac and later Director of BIA in 2017, Milosavljevic says they only happen to be from the same village and that he went to school with Gasic’s mother.

RADOICA MILOSAVLJEVIC: I only buy televisions for my own interest and with my own money and not that of SNS or Bata Gasic. I know him, but we have no business ties.

The Gasic family has also been linked to the privatization of the television in Nis.

In 2015, it was acquired by the consortium of Sladjana Ostojic and Narodne novine.

Slađana Ostojic is the Director of TV Zona Plus, which has been owned by Gasic's family for years.

Another local media buyer during the privatization was Kopernikus Cable Network, owned by Zvezdan Milovanovic, the SNS Commissioner for Nis.

They bought Radio Sid, Radio Raska and the company Novi put Jagodina, which owns a radio station, television and weekly newspaper.

Zvezdan Milovanovic is also the owner of the Kopernikus cable channels.

The same-named cable operator was also part of the Kopernikus system until 2017, when it as bought for 195 m euros by the state Telekom.

At the  time of the sale, it was owned by the Polish fund Abris with 51%, and the brother of Zvezdan Milovanovic, Srdjan with 49%.

Immediately after the sale, Srdjan bought two stations with national coverage - TV Prva and O2.

In Novi Pazar too the privatization was political, where the local television was bought by a consortium led by the Director of that television, Denis Mavric.

The consortium also includes senior city officials, members of Rasim Ljajic's party, Muzafer Dragolovcanin, Deputy Mayor of Novi Pazar, Nihat Bicsevac, Director of the NES branch in that town and now Mayor and businessmen Mulaz Dacic and Emil Hadzic, Chairman of the board of FK Novi Pazar.

Bisevac became Mayor in May 2016, after which he was no longer among the owners of the station.

The privatization of 2015 was conceived so that everyone could participate, and the highest bidders became the owners.

RADE VELJANOVSKI, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: I remember participating in different debates and travelling across the country. People would say how butchers, bakers or car mechanic had become media owners.

You cannot prohibit by Law a butcher, car mechanic or hairdresser to become an owner. What it is at stake here? Ownership and the editorial concept are two different things.

In normal circumstances, an owner who is not media savvy will appoint a professional to be the director or editor-in-chief.

He will hire the rest of the staff in the same manner, but he must also let them do their job independently.

It turns out that the media were actually bought with money from the budget or by the means of receiving funds from local governments in open competitions.

One of the most drastic examples is RT Kragujevac.

Radojica Milosavljevic bought RTK for 85,500 euros.

Just a few days later, the station received 250,000 euros in subsidies from the city budget.

The city justified the post-privatization payment of subsidies saying they had prior obligations to finance the station, which pertained to the pre-sale period.

However, RTK had already received 363,000 euros, as much as the previous year.

The case of RTK shows that the new owners counted on the money from the budget and did not plan to invest their own money.

Namely, the privatization of RTK was cancelled because the new owner was counting on funds from the budget.

However, the Mayor of Kragujevac, the son of former President Tomislav Nikolic, refused to call a competition for a media-co-financing project, although he was obligated under the Law.

Milosavljevic said at the time then that RTK was a non-issue as far as he was concerned.

He declined to say why he has made the operation of his private media conditional on receiving local budget money.

RADOICA MILOSAVLJEVIC: I haven't fulfilled my obligations. I realized it was unrealistic in view of my prior debts and that this was much less of a risk. The 67 employees were not earning anything, there was no ad money and the station could not survive.

In July 2017, the city took over RTK once again, although this is prohibited under the Law.

It was done pursuant to a special ordinance of the Government, which is against the Law too.

The funds for RTK are still allocated from the budget as a subsidy, while other media cannot receive any money outside of the relevant competitions.

RADOMIR NIKOLIC: We believe that through RTK we have met citizens’ basic need for objective news. We cover both radio and television and see no problem with that and I don’t believe the citizens do either. The fact you are trying to make a fuss about it is politically motivated.

Until the 2014 Law, state media received the lion’s share in the form of subsidies, while the allocations for other media were sporadic, far less substantial and without clear criteria.

TANJA MAKSIC, BIRN: Privatization was aimed at reducing the influence of the state on the editorial policies of those media. On the other hand, the goal was to affect market competition. Secondly, of course, it was very important that the new owners to enhance the program. They were supposed to conduct editorial policies independently of who is in power and to improve public news information in general terms. Unfortunately, what was initially a good idea was completely perverted and now we practically have partisan media.

TV Pancevo is one of the few local media that managed to remain objective in its reporting even while it was owned by the city and receiving subsidies.

Nevena Simendic was the Editor-in-Chief of TVP and at the time of the previous authorities, from 2004 until the privatization in 2015.

She stayed as a producer until 2018, when she left the station.

NEVENA SIMENDIC, TV PANCEVO: Local governments have always kept the local media on short leash by always giving them 20% less money. “You earn the rest on the market” they would say. Yet, the market either does not exist or is controlled by the government. Either they give you a defective frequency and nobody can watch you and hence you end up without a market in the first place. That was one of the main problems. And there were a lot of problems. I can say that. My friends would joke how I was under threat of dismissal every 6 months. “When are they going to finally dismiss you? But we did resist.

RADE VELJANOVSKI, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: In this country, we must finally decide if we really want to apply the democratic standards. They are enshrined in the Law or not and stop fooling people. We are actually fooling ourselves. We are deceiving ourselves to our our own detriment.

VUKASIN OBRADOVIC, FORMER HEAD OF THE INDEPENDENT UNION OF JOURNALISTS (NUNS): Project co-financing itself is not bad, but in reality it has been so much misused in reality. Now we have a media system that through co-financing favors media working for political party interests, instead in the public interest.

Under this new principle of financing under the Law in 2014, everyone had the right to apply for budget funds and the highest quality projects were supposed to profit the most.

 

The best projects are selected by expert commissions, whose members are appointed by the donors, local governments or the Ministry.

It turned out that members of new or less-known journalists associations had the majority in these commissions, such as Prons or the JA of Nis, the legitimacy of which was contested by UNS and NUNS.

TANJA MAKSIC, BIRN: Suddenly we witnessed an explosion of these invisible media associations that exist only when they are supposed to delegate members to the competition commissions. We would see how they would exchange favors and allocate each other funds for projects in different cities. This is actually easy to trace because these people are actually very few.

SASA MIRKOVIC,  STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA IN 2013-2016: I fear that we can write new strategies, we can change the laws. But if there is no political will to implement these laws, then there is no bright future or realistic expectations that things will improve soon. So you can change the legal framework for project co-financing and define who is the expert and who is not. You can also define the criteria, but one can always find loopholes.

All analyses have shown that the most funds are received by the pro-government media.

This is even acknowledged in the new Media Strategy of the Serbian Government.

Individuals who have come into possession of the former pro-government state media, are favored in the distributing funds on competitions for the co-financing of content of public interest.

One of the best examples how quick was the return on investment for the new owners of media is Radojica Milosavljevic.

He bought all 8 media for a total of 281,280 euros and the same media received 530,000 euros from the budget in 2017-2018.

There are many examples of such quick return on investments.

In the first post-privatization yeart, TV Novi Pazar received as much as 1,2M euros from the local government for a 3-year project.

The station was bought by local government officials for 89,350 euros.

Studio B in Belgrade was first acquired by Maxim Media owned by the spouses Milos and Ruzica Krdzic for 530,000 euros.

In 2018 they sold it to Global Media Technology owned by Sasa Blagojevic, who had previously purchased the tabloid Alo.

Studio B receives substantial funds, primarily from the budget of the City of Belgrade, directly or via affiliated production companies.

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA: You cannot say that at the national level, the Ministry of Culture and Media has allocated any funds in the way you are implying. The problem exists at the local level, that I agree. Not here. I don’t know how things were before, but when i came, I made one thing clear. Project co-financing of media content must be as honest as possible.

Amendments to the Law in 2014 established the Media Register in order to show who receives how much money from the budget.

The data is incomplete and funds that are channeled to certain media through production companies are formally not media.

SASA MIRKOVIC,  STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA IN 2013-2016: That Law didn’t sort this out. That’s another missed opportunity. We had a series of missed opportunities because there was no  political will to finish that process. We had to strengthen project co-financing and on the other hand, by involving other ministries try to round up that process. To have a single database where we can see with one click the allocations received by media from governments at all levels - local, provincial and national. Also how much money was made from public companie’s advertizing. How much such information do you see in the Law? I fear none or next to none.

The privatization hasn’t been completed.

Tanjug, for instance, was closed down by the Government, but continued to operate and receive funds from the budget.

The daily Politika is still owned by the government, while RTK was returned to the local government.

SASA MIRKOVIC,  STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA IN 2013-2016: I’m not defending anything bad that resulted from the privatization. I have to remind you that there were no objections whatsoever to the very process of sale of the media. Many media outlets were sold for extremely low amounts. An opportunity emerged for some other people and legal persons to acquire these media. The right question is why didn’t they?

 

The privatization was monitored by OSCE.

Everybody had the right to participate in the privatization, including the journalists.

RADE VELJANOVSKI, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: The second unpleasant experience I had is that I realized a certain number of journalists didn’t want that at all.

So it cannot be said that there is absolutely no responsibility of the journalists themselves. That’s the reality that we should recognize. Secondly, journalists are accustomed to other people organizing things for them. They were simply not prepare to become entrepreneurs.

Those that were prepared to do so were practically hampered by the new model of allocating funds.

This is illustrated by the case of the Vranjske newspaper, which were shut down in 2017 due to financial and political pressure, in the words of their founder and NUNS member Vukasin Obradovic.

Not only did they not receive funds for media projects necessary for the survival of all “non-attractive” local media, but they were also harassed by frequent tax and other controls.

After the disappearance of Vranjske, Obradovic started a hunger strike, as the last attempt to change things.

To no avail.

VUKASIN OBRADOVIC, FORMER HEAD OF THE INDEPENDENT UNION OF JOURNALISTS (NUNS): In the case of Vranjske, not receiving the funds were the nail in the coffin. However, what sealed our fate was the moment I was told by the ruling part that Vranjske are their political opponent. This is actually characteristic of our media landscape and society in general. The government sees the media as political opponents and treats them according to rules that apply for partisan battles.

After the privatization in 2015, when the state formally got out of media ownership, most of the private media were either under government control or that of groups and individuals close to the power.

SASA MIRKOVIC,  STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA IN 2013-2016: If we want to be fair, the situation in the media is the reflection of what our political life has been for years or decades. You simple cannot expect things in the media to be dramatically better or worse than in other segments. In view of the realistic state of affairs, at least when I was in the Ministry, the maximum of what was realistically possible was achieved at the time.

Mirkovic was succeeded in 2016 by Nino Brajovic from UNS, and him in turn by Sasa Gajovic, the dismissal of whom was requested several times by journalistic associations.

In addition to claiming that his Ministry of Culture and Media is not competent for media issues, he has relativized attacks and threats against journalists, instead of supporting them.

When Nedim Sejdinovic received death threats, he was that it was maybe an attempt by the journalist himself to pose as a victim, since he was “a person with bad intentions”.

As for the attack against N1’s Nikola Radisic, he wanted to hear the opinion of the other side, so the impression was the State Secretary was waiting to hear the version of the facts of the thugs.

After the home of the Zig info portal Milan Jovanovic was set on fire, he minimized it, saying that Serbia is not the only country in Europe where journalist are being targeted.

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA: I admit I had some clumsy remarks and ambiguities. That was is because I was not focused enough when answering those questions. Today I would never say that, especially since I personally know Nedim and he is not a man who would threaten himself to make a case. That's one thing. Now, there are many journalists being targeted in other countries. When I said the other party should be heard, I was not precise enough. I didn’t mean the thugs of course, I just meant “the other party”. By that I meant those that were going to prosecute the case. So, let’s see what the police investigation revealed and what the investigative judge learned. But I'm telling you, I probably wouldn't react like that today. Let’s just say I was not focused.

INSIDER: In view of all these blunders, are you aware, as the State Secretary, of the consequences of what you say publicly?

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA: Look. What I said 3 years ago and 1 year after that differs considerably. Not in terms of my views, but in terms of knowing the facts. I have never denied saying what I said. I explained to you why I said it like that. But going back over and over again to something that was not good for me...

INSIDER: No, Mr. Gajovic, it was not good for the state you represent.

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA: Another thing. I paid a high price back then. For saying that I would me at the disposal to all media. Maybe I should have taken a different stance.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: Today there are no threats against journalists that existed back then. People are not being laid off.

INSIDER: No threats? A journalist’s home was set on fire. Investigative journalists are being lynched if they uncover something.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: Who, for example? Who lynched who?

INSIDER: If that bothers you. Let me tell you. If anyone is calling for the murder of someone in this country, that must not be tolerated. If TV Pink and Informer are putting a target on the backs of people through the statements of government officials and political analysts, you have to have the same stance towards that.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: I have a completely equal stand relative to that. But you do not.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: What is appalling?

INSIDER: It is appalling to have a journalist’s home set on fire.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: I absolutely agree with you.

INSIDER: Or to have the pictures of journalists who have published something that the government dislikes on the front pages.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: REM does not deal with the press.

INSIDER: Well, national broadcasters convey these press reports, it’s commented on by government representatives, analysts… There is a witch hunt against a person.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: That is why I think that fines for lies and fake news that abound should be increased. So that nobody will ever think of printing or airing a fake news or libel against someone.

INSIDER: But who is against that?

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: Well, we are yet to see a debate about it.

The media lynching matrix is more dangerous that censorship.

It starts when the tabloids release information that is not true or partially true about an individual or a group.

Such information is then conveyed as true by commercial televisions with national coverage, often local ones too.

The picture of the targeted individual is put on the screen the whole day.

You then have the analysts commenting on it and the lynching campaign is joined by government representatives, which is the most dangerous.

What happened on November 7-8th, 2015 would have led to the cessation of media blackmail and abuse in any democracy.

The then owner of Kurir Aleksandar Rodic faced off the government.

The reason for the conflict, as it turned out, was merely a financial one.

Rodic decided to briefly become a “repentant”.

I want to tell the truth in front of the entire public: the media in Serbia are not free and are exposed to major pressures.

I took part in a project of painting reality in pink, along with 80% of other media owners, including Zeljko Mitrovic and Dragan Vucicevic.

It all began when we all participated directly in the electoral team of Aleksandar Vucic.

We used to believe that it was good for our country.

I admit that during all these years, I felt that I was under pressure and blackmailed against publishing anything tangible against the Government and the PM.

These pressures have always been in the form of the economic weakening of my company and the threats of persecution for actions which did not involve any criminal liability on my part.

I admit I agreed to that, as well as to censorship, which then led to self-censorship.

I admit there is censorship in Serbia.

This is part of the open letter released ot the public in November 2015 by the then owner of Kurir Aleksandar Rodic.

Rodic’s admission and the resulting crackdown against him and his alleged racketeering and blackmailing practices, has been a slap in the face of all citizens, since it ultimately amounted to nothing.

The claims of neither side were investigated. In the meantime, they made peace.

They have painted things in pink for years and deceiving the public, but such services are well rewarded.

All this is long known, but apart from content analysis, there is little concrete evidence.

That is why everything that was revealed in Rodic’s open letter and the mutual accusations that ensued are now part of a parallel history that was unfolding in the background of the reality portrayed by the media.

All the editors and journalists in Serbia know the truth.

Today, when I am under direct attack and pressure on editorial policy, I stand in front of our entire profession and say, "Enough!"

This time you will not intimidate me with your threats and blackmail, regardless of the personal cost I will have to pay.

I urge everyone to save their face and start telling the truth to the people of Serbia.

You citizens of Serbia, you know very well that all the attacks by Rodic against me have 3 goals: to allow the Rodic dinasty to continue to stealing money and racketeer everyone who dares stand up to them.

The second goal is for this little man, but big racketeer, to harness support for his political activity. The third goal is to avoid being held accountable and punished for their criminal acts.

The head of all political cesspools, Aleksandar Rodic, said he worked with us in the electoral staff of Aleksandar Vucic.

Whose staff is he working for now?

Maybe the problem lies in the fact that he didn’t receive the money for Politika and Novosti from Vucic, or 4 million euros for his so-called services, as promised to him by Tadic and his cronies.

Aleksandar Rodic and Zeljko Mitrovic refused an interview, while Dragan J. Vucicevic said he would accept, but only in a live TV show.

The conflict between the then media associates appear to be caused by business transactions, which have nothing to do with reporting in the public interest.

In October 2015, Rodic announced that he intends to take ownership of the daily Politika, because he had bought out the receivables from the German company WAZ.

Politika denied it, saying that the said receivables were subject to a court dispute that started before WAZ sold its share to East Media Group in Moscow.

It turned out to be the daughter company of  Farmakom, of businessman from Sabac Miroslav Bogicevic.

We have made a separate episode about the complicated scheme around Politika.

Interestingly enough, when Rodic sided against the government and the owner of Pink, Bogicevic, who at the time was indicted of abuse of office, said in an interview that people from the former government made him  buy Politika, while the owner of Kurir racketeered him.

JOURNALIST: When did this all start? 2012?

MIROSLAV BOGICEVIC: It started in 2011. Back then, Tadic, Miki Rakic and Dusan Petrovic asked me to buy Novosti, Politika and Dnevnik and Rodic had agreed the entire arrangement. As far as I know, neither Tadic nor Miki Rakic or Dusan Petrovic wanted him to participate, but he simply made it happen.  How, why, I don't know. And I don't care.

JOURNALIST: What were you obligated to give him in return? What were you giving him as racket?

MIROSLAV BOGICEVIC: Because when it was all finished, he came to me with Dusan Petrovic and asked me to give him 1m euros on the account of a fee for making the deal happen. Of course I have it to him. What could I do?

(Vućićević) You didn't do it just because you wanted to. Someone told you to, right?

Bogicevic

At this point, it doesn't matter, but he and Dusan Petrovic came to me and demanded a million euros.

And I gave I gave it to them. But they showed up again later.

(Vućićević) Who did you give a million euros to?

Bogicevic

Aca Rodic and Dusan Petrovic.

(Vućićević) You told me 2 years ago it was 700.000.

Bogicevic

No, it was a million.

(Vućićević) But the first instalment was 700.000?

Bogicevic

There were  several instalments. I said that it was about 700,000 the first time and then another 300.000.

But it doesn't matter.

(Vućićević) How did you give them that money?

Bogicevic

What do you mean?

In cash.

Boris Tadić: I want to say that I had nothing to do with that procedure. Not just in the case of Mr. Bogicevic. I have never participated in such deals. I have never taken money from anyone, racketeered or blackmailed anyone.

Interior Minister Stefanovic said in 2015 that all claims by the Farmakom owner Bogicevic would be investigated and if true, someone will have to be hold accountable.

To this day, it is not known if any of these claims have been investigated.

Meanwhile, Bogićevic’s trial on charges of abuse of office in Farmakom started in 2016.

He was released pending trial.

Kurir responded in that media war by releasing a video of their former CEO Aleksandar Kornic, saying, in a visibly distressed state, that Vucic and his brother Andrej, as well as Dragan J. Vucicevic and Damir Dragic, had asked him to tell lies about Aleksandar Rodic for 120 euros.

Vucic took the polygraph at his own initiative. 

The Interior Minister said at a last-moment press conference that Kurir was waging a campaign against them in order to avoid paying taxes.

Meanwhile, Kornic changed his story and argued that Rodic paid him 5000 euros to publicly accuse Vucic, Mitrovic and Dragan J. Vucicevic.

Claims that the then owner of Kurir evaded taxes and racketeered people were made by the highest officials.

An investigation has never been launched.

Did the top-selling Kurir managed to blackmail government officials by starting an open war against them or did they managed to blackmail its then owner is not clear to this day, but the situation changed again suddenly just one year later.

At the peak of the Presidential campaign, on March 1st, 2017, at the general surprise, after all the accusations, Vucic went to visit Adria Media Group, i.e. Kurir.

VUCIC: The next time he writes an open letter, at least he should have pictures.

After that, Kurir stopped putting Vucic on its front pages completely, while continuing to write about other institutions.

However, in June 2017, the accounts of Adria Media were blocked in June 2017 over a tax debt.

Adria Media said they didn’t owe any taxes and that it was an attempt to intimidate them.

The accounts were unblocked a few months later, in October 2017.

The debt has never been established.

(Brankica) You had accused Kurir of racketeering?

You accused them of many things and then you made peace with them?

Vučić

 I have never made peace with anyone.

(Brankica) How is that you are giving an exclusive statement for Kurir?

Vučić

It was an ordinary statement, from NYC.

In the contrary case, you would accuse me of ignoring one of the biggest media.

(Brankica) Are they racketeers or not?

Vučić

No, they tried, at one point they invented a whole story about how my brother and me had given someone 130 marks for a tracksuit.

(Brankica)  It’s a pity that we don’t have the time to look at the TV package about that when the timeline of all that is shown.

Vučić

It is a pity.

Otherwise, I don't have any other relationship with that media company.

And I can't say that they have done any good to me.

(Brankica)  This whole thing about your relationship with them, Rodic’s “Apology to Serbia” and his alleged involvement in your electoral campaign is very strange?

Vučić

You should sort this out with them.

I don’t have to apologize to them about anything.

The war ended in 2017 and the mutual allegations were never investigated by the prosecutor.

In 2019, the media shortly reported that Igor Zezelj is the new owner of Adria Media Group, which includes Kurir.

Zezelj, one of the founders of Otpor in the 90s, is the owner of Wireless Media, which includes Mondo Inc, which, in turns, owns both the portal Mondo.rs and Adria Media Group.

Due to the cooperation Mondo had with Telekom, the latter was under suspicion of being behind the acquisition of Kurir.

Zezelj did not want to go on camera, but Mondo Inc. responded to two of the five questions in writing.

They said that Mondo.rs is a commercial project and Mondo Inc. was established in 2011 and that the two should not be maliciously mixed up.

In their response, they said it was no secret that Mondo.rs was a joint project of Telekom and Wireless Media, which lasted from 2004 to 2018.

The main business model behind it was sharing the mobile content revenues, which was profitable at the time, while the news on the portal were there merely to foster the then GPRS traffic.

Due to the similar names, Mondo.rs and Mondo Inc are often confused and this separation will put an end to the damage inflicted to the latter through malicious reports in the media, i.e. companies posing as media.

Apart Telekom, they said they have a commercial cooperation with many other company, including United Media, which owns N1.

The details of the acquisition of Adria Media Group, which includes Kurir, have never been officially published.

However, some media reported that the transaction amounted to 25 million euros.

According to findings of N1, Mondo Inc, which acquired Adria Media Group, had officially profited only 16.000 euros in 2018.

The financial statements show Zezelj’s company received an advance of 10M euros prior to the transaction.

The same year, Telekom gave 17M euros of short-term advances to unknown legal persons.

Asked by Insider if Telekom had paid an advance to Mondo Inc, and about the information of N1, Mondo Inc. responded:

N1’s findings and their reports about our company are biased and malicious and we have ceased responding to such questions.

The purchase of AMG was made with the funds of Mondo INC and the owner funds, with full respect for the Law.

We are 100% of a private company, whose sole owner is Igor Žeželj.

With Telekom Srbija we have a commercial and business relationship based solely on market principles.

Meanwhile, during the state of emergency, REM allowed Adria Media group, which already has a newspaper and website, to start cable television, which will be available via the state cable operator Telekom.

Of the newly-established tabloids following the democratic changes in 2001, Kurir has the longest history.

They ultimately entered into a conflict with everyone who has been in power after supporting them, although all these conflicts were dealt with outside of the public’s eye.

The war was always visible, while the arrangements remained secret.

After the changes, different collaborators of various secret services, criminal gangs and business from Milosevic’s era started investing in tabloids, which sided against the first democratic government.

SNJEZANA MILIVOJEVIC, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: After 2000, the only segment of the media landscape open for investments were the tabloids. I will remind you that all the newly established newspapers after 2000 were tabloids. That’s very interesting. Do you think we never had a new audience interested in a different news model or did the tabloid readers just grow in numbers? Why were they the only ones to find room to emerge?

During the Operation Sabre after the assassination of the PM, the government closed down the tabloids Nacional and Identitet.

They were found to be financed by the Zemun criminal gang.

Kurir, Balkan, Centar, Internacional and Nacional emerged from the ashes of the said tabloids.

All these papers but Kurir were closed after they served their purpose, but new ones appeared too.

These were Pravda, Press, which were closed in the meantime, as well as Nase novine, Srpski telegraf and Informer.

The Media Register did not exist until 2014 and such tabloids, due to the unknown origin of money, were the cheapest and soon became the highest selling ones.

They could publish what they wanted and when someone took them to court, they would just close down and established a new paper.

They never suffered any consequences or paid fines.

While today they must pay court fines, the latter are symbolic.

VUKASIN OBRADOVIC, FORMER HEAD OF THE INDEPENDENT UNION OF JOURNALISTS (NUNS): At the very beginning, the tabloids were all bark no bite. Now, they are pit bulls that tear their victims apart. We have tabloid journalism in broadcast media and that very dangerous.

Informer was established in 2012, a month prior to the elections on which SNS would beat the DS.

The first edition was printed under the name Insider, using the name of the investigative program that B92 had been airing for 8 years, revealing many affairs and scandals.

B92 had the usage of the name banned in court and Dragan J. Vucicevic continued to print it with a new name - Informer. However, the publishing company is listed under the name Insider Team in the business register.

While Informer has always overtly backed SNS, only months later, the owner Dragan J. Vucicevic was part of the management of Press, which supported the DS, which was in power at the time.

In 2008,  he wrote in Press that Boris Tadic was the only one that could save Serbia from being hijacked by the mafia once again.

In November 2012, he said: Thank God that this idiot Boris Tadic is not the President anymore.

Vucicevic quit as President of the Board of Press in December 2011.

Later it was revealed that businessman Miroslav Miskovic was the majority owner of the tabloid.

It's funny how that confession actually happened.

Everything started when in October 2012, Press wrote how SNS was making deals using diplomatic and local government positions.

SNS officials repeatedly asked them why their are hiding their ownership structure.

The then PM Vucic claimed tycoons were against him because he was fighting corruption and the Miskovic wanted SNS out of the government.

It was the Government’s 100 days in office and the public expected results in the fight against corruption.

Vucic revealed that Miskovic was under several investigations.

Miskovic’s group Delta announced it supported the reforms and hence the Government, but such public expression of loyalty was to no avail.

Government officials repeatedly requested that Miskovic and Dragan Djilas, the then Mayor of Belgrade and DS official, stop hiding their shares in Press.

Miskovic issued a press release saying that he was withdrawing from Press, as the largest single shareholder of that daily newspaper.

This is my personal contribution to the Government’s efforts to establish full media freedom and responsible journalist by putting an end to opaque financing and ownership.

Press soon closed down due to financial difficulties.

Since it’s biggest single owner was an off-shore registered company with hidden owners, Miskovic’s share would have remained a secret had he not revealed it himself.

Due to media reports that Djilas was behind Press, the Anti-Corruption Agency initiated an audit and Djilas told the Agency in a letter:

Regardless of the fact that I have never heard of that company from Cyprus until you mentioned it in your memo, I hereby declare that neither I, nor any other natural or legal person, has a share in that company. None of the persons you mentioned in your memo is related to me.

Dragan Djilas told the Politika daily that his activities as a mayor make it impossible for him to own any media.

If I ever become the owner of newspaper, I will do it publicly and it will never go bankrupt, because none of my businesses have ever gone into bankruptcy.

Vucicevic held a press conference a few days after Miskovic's announcement.

Vucicevic

I have nothing to do with the editorial policy and business of Press for three years now.

While I was an employee, this was not my job.

If it’s a sin, I confess.

Is it a crime.

Convict me.

Every government had its businessmen and its media.

It turns out that until 2012, businessmen had also concealed their interest in other newspapers, such as Vecernje Novosti, which were owned by Miskovic and Milan Beko.

Or Politika, whose owners have never been identified, whereas businessman Miroslav Bogicevic once said he was the owner during one period.

However, as opposed to all previous governments, a link was established during the present one between top-selling tabloids and TV stations with national coverage, which today play the role of tabloids. Due to such a situation, the citizens in Serbia receive the amount of information somebody decides they should get.

INSIDER: At some point, due to remaining silent and approving what is happening, everybody will find themselves in the same cesspit and be held accountable in the same way.

But it will be in nobody’s interest.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: No, I do not think this is good. It’s not the way to do things. We will try to regulate the media landscape so that this will not remained unpunished. That is the only thing the state can do. I cannot prohibit anyone, not even you, to publish God knows what. The state can do it by the means of the Law, to introduce fines that will be issued for misuse or news that are...

INSIDER: The laws already exist but nobody enforces them. We do not have the competent institutions that...

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: The laws are not strict enough, there is a EU recommendation and this must be addressed.

Enforcing the existing laws would suffice to punish all those that use half-truths or lies to destroy people’s lives and do justice instead of the courts.

SASA MIRKOVIC,  STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA IN 2013-2016:

On the other hand, you have something that no law can regulate.

That is the holy trinity that was established before the economic crisis.

It’s between the advertizing agencies, the media and the political centers of power.

I believe that everybody is aware of how things work, but nobody wants to condemn this system.

From its very basic form, it has been perfected today, where this triangle defines all other rules, making the laws secondary to it, in comparison to what are the real centers of political, financial and media power.

Most of those who once supported Slobodan Milosevic and later every subsequent government, have successfully survived after all these years.

They grew their respective empires.

They become the masters of life on the public stage, because they could easily destroy everybody who stood in their way in orchestrated campaigns.

INSIDER: The mechanism that destroys anyone who disagrees with what the government says is a reality.

MLADEN BASIC, MEDIA ADVISOR TO SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: I must disagree with you on that. That is your point of view. But what I can tell you is that tabloids are often an excuse. Very often when someone appears on the cover of a tabloid it becomes an answer to all possible allegations. I an not convinced that the influence of that segment of the media stage is excessive.

INSIDER: The media had their role even before the murder of Slavko Curuvija and the assassination of Djindjic and we cannot take this lightly.

Such campaigns can be a very dangerous thing.

MLADEN BASIC, MEDIA ADVISOR TO SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: No, no, I agree that that part. I think that media on all sides often act irresponsibly.

We tend to forget in this country about some tragic experiences that we had.

The best evidence of the existence of political and financial pressure against the media is actually the very admission by the Government.

The Strategy adopted in January 2020, that lasts until 2025, specifies many problems due to which the media are not free and do not work in the public interest.

A number of media associations and organizations took part in drafting the Media Strategy.

SASA MIRKOVIC,  STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA IN 2013-2016:

We need to look ourselves in the mirror and face all our mistakes.

While we may have acted with the best of intentions, we have probably all contributed to the situation that we have today.

VUKASIN OBRADOVIC, FORMER HEAD OF THE INDEPENDENT UNION OF JOURNALISTS (NUNS):

We have to be honest and say that it is not Vucic who in 2012 invented this media system.

This current system is flawed and it has been built for years.

Vucis only fine-tuned it to perfection.

We have to face that fact and try to address it in the future.

SNJEZANA MILIVOJEVIC, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES:

The media, meanwhile, have become much more complicated, with great wealth and different interests involved.

A historical opportunity was missed to transform the media and a second chance might never come.

Restrictions to media freedom is a sure sign that democracy is being suppressed.

The purpose of democracy is to prevent power to be monopolized by one or a few persons.

With the help of controlled media, a mechanism that makes it easier to govern has been honed.

The history of relations between the government and media owners in the last two decades has shown that allegiances are switched depending to interest.

In this case too, music is where the money is.

It is precisely why we need to ask ourselves what would the media landscape look like if the ruling majority changes after the elections.

The problem is that the present system does not provide for democracy and media freedom, since everything is conditional of immediate interests and money.

The fate of freedom of opinion and expression does not only concern the media and the public, but all political actors.

It’s on all of us this time to put a full stop.

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