RTS: Vulin’s (wrong) understanding of public service

Aleksandar Vulin gave a statement recently about the current management of our public broadcasting service, RTS.

Of course, I see no problem with him expressing his dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the editorial policy of the current management. He is entitled to assess the work done by this body. The problem lies in the fact that, in his statement, he expressed astounded ignorance about the nature, role and function of public broadcasting service in a society. I don’t think that there is a public broadcasting service in the world that had a politician determine its essence. Among other things he said that “people working in the public broadcaster have stopped being accountable to their country”. Such attitude reminds us of a demand made by the former Culture Minister, Ivan Tasovac for then Director General of RTS, Aleksandar Tijanic to report to him about the work done by RTS in the previous year. If Tijanic had agreed to do that by any chance, he would have broken the Public Broadcasting Law which was good enough reason not to do it.

Vulin’s stance that the management of RTS should be accountable to their country implies that RTS is a state-run institution, hence the government is in charge of appointing and firing its management. This clearly points out to the fact that Vulin doesn’t know anything about the basics of what a public broadcasting service does because in other European countries public broadcasters are non-profit organizations that are independent from the government, and their independence is also demonstrated by the ways in which their management is appointed and which, in turn, has a task to prevent the authorities from having the main say who gets appointed. Governments provide a central institutional guarantee of independent appointment of management in public broadcasters. 

Vulin, who seems to have come from “the pre-flood Biblical times”, underlines the following: “I am a president of a political party that is a member of the ruling coalition. I am adhering to the Constitution and laws and hence, in consideration to this Constitution and laws, as well as considering the authority that has been given to me as a member of the Serbian Government, I am going to demand for the RTS management to step down”.

Based on this statement, it is quite clear that our minister thinks that RTS is a public service of the Serbian government, and that, providing most of the cabinet members agree with him, the RTS management would be replaced in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws. By advocating this approach and guided by his scandalous ignorance, Vulin is actually seriously breaching the Constitution and the relevant laws which is why he should be held accountable in a legal sense.

In order for Vulin and our citizens to properly understand the essence of the work done by our public broadcaster, I am going to cite Germany’s example. In Germany, the members of the relevant regulatory body (former RRA, now called REM), which appoints members of the managing board of their public broadcaster, are chosen in the following way – out of 40 or so members of the German regulatory body, 1/3 reflects the balance of power in the parliament and the remaining 2/3 reflect the situation in the so-called civil society associations (the Bar Association, universities, academies etc.). The regulatory body chooses its representatives at a secret voting session, and it is the only authority that can replace the chosen representatives. By the way they are appointed, the said representatives are independent from the government (because they are not appointed in the parliament), and, in accordance with the Constitution and the relevant laws, they “are not accountable to the state authorities”.

After all, they are accountable to the citizens because, by its very definition, public broadcasting service should objectively inform the population, and create an environment conducive to social criticism.

One doesn’t need to be particularly imaginative to see what an avalanche of protests would take place if Merkel, as the chancellor of the strongest EU country, said something along Vulin’s lines. Of course, Merkel, as a person who is far more educated and informed of the foundation of public broadcasting services and parliamentary democracy, has never said such nonsense because she is well aware that, by doing so, she would undermine the very authority of the German constitutional and legal system, and, in turn, her own.

Our laws regulating the public broadcasting service, which were not adopted by this but by the post-5th-October government, are such that they do allow the government, regardless of its political orientation, to appoint management of public broadcasting services. But this is a whole different ball game which touches upon the limitations of this law which I will not go into this time around. The point remains that Vulin’s statement, which is probably going to be included in the collection of nonsensical statements made by Serbian politicians, stands in radical contrast to those laws.

By Slobodan Divjak, philosopher

(Danas, 19.04.2017)



This post is also available in: Italiano

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