European Western Balkans

Serbian National Assembly has passed two controversial media laws

Session of the National Assembly of Serbia; Photo: FoNet

BELGRADE – Members of the Serbian National Assembly today adopted the Law on Public Information and Media  (LPIM) and the Law on Electronic Media (LEM). Media associations emphasize that the new media laws legalize the existing media landscape and allow the state to return to the ownership structure in media.

Minister of Information and Telecommunication Mihailo Jovanović earlier described these laws as “revolutionary”, fully aligned with the Serbian Constitution, Media Strategy and the EU Audiovisual Directive.

Some media associations find issue with Articles 39 and 41 in the proposal of the Law on Electronic Media because they allow state-owned companies to become media owners. This, they argue, legitimizes the role that the state-owned company Telekom already holds in the Serbian media scene.

Within Telekom, operations include cable television, internet, and telephone operator Supernova, sports television Arena, and the news TV Euronews Serbia… The Independent Journalists Association of Serbia (NUNS) is concerned about the law opening the door for “further expansion” of Telekom.

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The new law introduces unclear provisions regarding the return of state ownership of media and open the possibility of legalizing and legitimizing the previous influence of the telecommunications operator on the media landscape and further expanding its operations in the media sector. That is not in line with Media Strategy (Development Strategy of the Public Information System in the Republic of Serbia 2020-2025) and is directly contrary to the goal of establishing a functional, sustainable and fair media market protected from political influence.

During the process of drafting law, government representatives claimed that some EU member states also have the same practice of telecommunication companies owning media. However, telecommunication operators in Europe are not owners of television channels, they only posses film channels or streaming platforms. Meanwhile, Telekom owns over 20 media outlets, and that number will certainly increase with the new law coming into force.

The Spokesperson of the European Commission Ana Pisonero stated on Wednesday for N1 that media ownership by state enterprises is one of the areas in Media strategy where the EU expects progress ensure fair competition and protect media pluralism.

“We expect Serbian authorities to implement the Media strategy and create an enabling environment for the free expression and freedom of the media”, Pisonero stated. She emphasized that discusssions with Serbian authorities are ongoing on how to achieve tangible results in priority areas, such as media freedom.

Serbian PM Ana Brnabić previously dismissed criticism of the laws. She stated that Telekom Serbia, a company “partly owned by the state”, can be a media owner “through other companies”. “This is not prohibited by law”, she said on 12 October responding to journalists’ questions.

Pro-European opposition parties in National Assembly has described that these laws are not in the line with democratic principles.

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