11. 11. 2011
JOURNALISTS’ AND MEDIA ASSOCIATIONS DEMAND COMPLIANCE WITH RECENTLY ADOPTED MEDIA STRATEGY
Belgrade, November 11, 2011 - The Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM), the Journalists' Association of Serbia (UNS), the Independent Journalists' Association of Serbia (NUNS), the Independent Journalists' Association of Vojvodina (NDNV) and Local press urge the Government of the Republic of Serbia to reject the proposal made by Radio-Television Serbia (RTS) and the Republic Agency for Electronic Communications (RATEL) to write off the debt of RTS of non-paid fees for the use of radio frequencies.
Journalists' and media associations point out that, should the Serbian Government adopt such proposal, not only would it violate the Broadcasting Law and the Law on Electronic Communications that provide for the obligation to pay the said fee, but it would also act in contrary to its own commitments made in the recently adopted Media Strategy. We remind that, according to the Strategy, the Republic of Serbia is obliged to stimulate the development of the media market and to create non-discriminatory conditions for healthy competition in the media industry and its sustainable development. The Republic of Serbia is also under obligation to ensure that public broadcasting services are financed in accordance with regulations related to the control of state assistance. Journalists' and media associations emphasize that the frequency spectrum is a public resource that belongs to citizens, and that fees for frequencies constitute public revenue. Writing off of the debt related to usage of radio frequencies in this specific case would result in reduction of public revenues and allow the RTS to achieve a better position in the market in comparison with its competitors. Such an outcome would disrupt competition in the market and constitute impermissible state aid, according to the provisions of the Law on the Control of State Aid.
Journalists' and media associations point out that the Public Broadcasting Service has already been liberated of the obligation to pay the fees for the broadcasting rights, which are paid by commercial radio and TV stations. Liberation of its obligation to pay fees for using broadcasting frequencies would additionally discriminate commercial stations and jeopardize the competition in the media market. The Media Strategy stipulates that financing of the Public Broadcasting Service from the state budget requires that a range of criteria be fulfilled, the following among them: a far clearer definition of the role and obligations of the Public Broadcasting Service; monitoring of the realization of such role and fulfillment of obligations; financial control of the operations of the Public Broadcasting Service; publication of results of such control; proportionality between financing and its obligations; forbidden excessive financing of the Public Broadcasting Service, while taking into account its commercial revenue. An additional criterion stipulated by the Media Strategy relates to the behavior of RTS in the market, which must not be contrary to regulations on protection of competition. None of these criteria from the recently adopted Media Strategy has been fulfilled in this case.
Journalists' and media associations explain that the reason for writing off of the debt related to the use of radio frequencies stated by RATEL and RTS - the alleged damage suffered by RTS because of separation of the transmission equipment section and creation of a separate public company - is completely unfounded. The truth is quite the opposite: the state and its budget have suffered losses for years because RTS has never concluded a contract with the Republic Property Directorate after the adoption of the Broadcasting Law. The contract would have regulated the use of state-owned facilities and broadcasting infrastructure. RTS has not only been using the state's broadcasting infrastructure for years without any contracts and without paying any fees, but it has also leased the infrastructure and retained the income instead of allocating it to the state budget.
Journalists' and media associations call on the Government to immediately begin implementation of all solutions provided in the Media Strategy, particularly the ones related to the new model of project financing of the public interest in the media sector, instead of deciding to write off debt of a media and thus putting it in an even more privileged position compared to other media outlets. The Government has accepted obligation to implement these solutions as of January 1, 2012.
ANEM President, Sasa Mirkovic