On Thursday, the Serbian Parliament passed the two controversial media laws allowing the state to resume ownership of media outlets despite pledges to the contrary.
The Law on Public Information and the Media and Law on Electronic Media were passed after a heated 3-day debate.
The Law on Public Information and Media was passed with 142 votes in favour, 18 against and 15 abstentions. 144 MPs backed changes to the Law on Electronic Media; 14 were against, and 15 abstained. The Serbian parliament has 250 seats, of which opposition parties hold 86.
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, contrary to the government’s Media Strategy which specifically states that the state has to give up its ownership of the media.
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.
The 2023 European Parliament Report for Serbia highlighted that the governing majority has undermined media freedom, while at the same time, the country has become a “safe haven” for Russian companies spreading disinformation, including Russia Today.
The same report raises concerns about the state financing of Telekom Srbija, which it says “gives the company an unfair competitive advantage and contributes to the declining condition of the independent media in Serbia”.
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