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20. 06. 2011

ANEM, NUNS AND LOCAL PRESS COMMENT ON THE RECOMMENDATIONS TO LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENTS FOR ALLOCATION OF BUDGET FUNDS INTENDED FOR THE PUBLIC INFORMATION SYSTEM

Belgrade, June 20, 2011 - The Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM), the Independent Journalists' Association of Serbia (NUNS) and the Association of Independent Local Media (Local Press) welcome the publication of recommendations issued by the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights, Public Administration and Local Self-Government and the Ministry of Culture, Media and Information Society. The recommendations are intended for local self-governments and are related to allocation of budget funds dedicated to the public information system. However, these associations have some serious reservations about the content of the document.

ANEM, NUNS and Local Press remind that during the last year they had several meetings held with representatives of the two Ministries, aimed at discussing the regulation of financing of media from local self-government budgets. The associations had insisted on clear criteria and transparent procedures for allocation of these funds that would ensure non-discriminatory funding without favoring any local public media companies. On the other hand, the Ministries considered that the issuance of non-obligatory recommendations was the best solution that could be done at the moment.

Although mostly based on drafts proposed by the associations and seen as a step in the right direction since they have occurred at all and objectively the first attempt to regulate project-based media financing from the budget funds in accordance with the recently published Draft Media Strategy, the published document is, in the opinion of these associations, still an insufficient and modest step. The main problem with the published recommendations to local self-governments for allocation of budget funds intended for the local public information system is the fact that the recommendations, even though they are non-obligatory, have been additionally devalued by not being applied to all local budget funds for public information but only to their undetermined part. In this way, it would still be possible to continue financing media regardless of any public contests or any clearly-set criteria, using non-transparent procedures that are detrimental to free market competition and which favor obedient media and those owned or controlled by local self-governments.

As evidenced by the previous practice, this manner of media financing has resulted in reduced freedom of expression and closure of mostly private media (which are ineligible for these funds) that were exposed to unfair competition by state media - the non-transparent recipients of this money. On the other hand, this form of media financing has led to further strengthening of mechanisms of control and influence of local oligarchies over the non-privatized media companies, especially if we take into account the fact that the recommendations - contrary to the associations' proposals - envision that members of the Commissions that decide on allocation of the funds have to be representatives of local self-governments as well, which seriously jeopardizes independence and autonomy of the Commissions themselves.

ANEM, NUNS and Local Press will continue their activities aimed at adoption of the Media Strategy and regulation of the system of state aid to the media sector in a way that would not hinder free market competition and that would stimulate development of local media instead of allowing their further disappearance, while at the same time ensuring clear criteria for allocation of the funds and transparency of spending. With regard to the published recommendations, the associations will insist that the Ministries monitor their implementation and regularly inform the public about thus achieved results.

ANEM President, Sasa Mirkovic

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