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01. 07. 2002


BELGRADE, July 1, 2002 - The Serbian Government today withdrew draft broadcasting legislation scheduled to be tabled in the Parliament tomorrow.

In its note to the Parliament, the Government claimed that the bill was being withdrawn because of the large number of amendments proposed, adding that it would table the legislation for urgent adoption once these had been reviewed.

ANEM regards this as one of the most serious blows to the democratisation of the media sector since the government was established. The bill, which was prepared by independent experts and then revised by the government itself, was the first legislation to make a clean break with the totalitarian past, paving the way for the establishment of democratic standards in the socially vital sector of electronic media.

The government has misinformed the public by justifying the withdrawal of the legislation with the claim that as many as a thousand amendments to the bill have been proposed.

The total number of amendments submitted is, in fact, one hundred and eighty.

It is obvious that the government has withdrawn the draft legislation because it is not prepared to rigorously democratise the media in line with European standards.

Of particular concern is the fact that one member of the government coalition, New Democracy, has proposed amendments aimed at maintaining direct state control of the electronic media by giving the state power of appointment to the Broadcasting Agency Council.

The same party has already distinguished itself by opposing the principle of an independent regulatory body and the transformation of the state radio and television network into a public broadcasting service.

This opposition shows the government's intention of retaining the weapon of influence on the electronic media fashioned by the Milosevic regime, with only minor cosmetic changes.

The amendments proposed by New Democracy also bear a close resemblance to those proposed by the Serbian Radical Party.

This gives rise to the fear that this government, like the Marjanovic Government in 1998 whose information minister was a member of the Radical Party, will transform this Europe-ready legislation into a law which will maintain the level of influence on the state media exercised by the former regime, while trumpeting its adoption as the pinnacle of democratic achievement.

In 1998, the Marjanovic Government filleted model information legislation drafted by the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights to produce the notorious Public Information Act, which it then shamelessly touted as being in line with European standards.

ANEM hopes that the present Serbian Government will not make the same mistake, but nevertheless warns of the real possibility that the final form of the Broadcast Bill could be the very opposite of the legislation which has been withdrawn today.

Democratisation of the electronic media and the introduction of European standards in a way appropriate to this country are both extremely important for the overall development of democratic processes in Serbia.

The withdrawal of the Broadcast Bill will, to say the least, prolong the transitional situation in this sector which has endured since October 5, 2000.

The adoption of legislation which again allows the state to directly influence electronic media would be a severe blow to the democratisation of Serbia and one with far-reaching ramifications.

it is very difficult to understand this move by the Serbian Government, giving as it does the lie to the country's positive image in Europe at a time when Yugoslavia is standing cap in hand on the doorstep of the Council of Europe, waiting for the OSCE to submit a report on the development of democratic processes in the country.

The democratisation process has already been struck a blow this month when the Government secured a majority in the Parliament by expelling MPs who opposed its policies.

This was done with the explanation that members hindering the democratisation process had been expelled from the Parliament in order to expedite democratisation.

The delay in adopting this legislation will also delay the extremely important and essential reform of Radio Television Serbia, just as a detailed analysis of the status quo has been completed. The basis for that reform is to ensure that political forces be barred from exerting any influence on the editorial policy of the public broadcaster.

ANEM therefore demands that the Serbian Parliament urgently resubmit the Broadcast Bill to the Parliament and also demands that the bill submitted not differ significantly from that withdrawn today.

Should this not happen, ANEM will be forced to consider its position with regard to the policy of a government which is not prepared to relinquish its direct influence on the electronic media.

Veran Matic

Chairman ANEM

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