According to the data provided by Ipsos, eight daily newspapers, six weeklies and one monthly magazine account for the bulk of print media readership. Perhaps not surprisingly, most popular are tabloids, which are also among the cheapest national newspapers – some of them being sold at a hardly sustainable copy price of less than 20 cents. By their nature, these same tabloids are the ones who, almost on a daily basis, undermine or break ethical and professional media codes. Monitoring data produced by the Serbian Press Council shows that from March until December 2016 almost all the breaches of the press ethical codes were committed by the tabloids Srpski Telegraf, Kurir, Informer, Alo and Blic. Other papers may not have a high circulation but are influential in shaping public discourse. Some of them have long traditions, such as Politika, the country’s oldest newspaper, founded in 1904.
One of the main characteristics of the Serbian print media scene are pro-government tabloids which are used for attacking the political opposition, as well as any other public voices critical of the government. These same tabloids also frequently produce fake news and propaganda.
Although the formal owners of most print media are known, in practice there is considerable debate as to who is really behind these proxy owners of certain outlets. The most problematic examples in terms of transparency of ownership, are certainly the traditional daily newspapers Vecernje Novosti and Politika, which were privatized under extremely murky circumstances and where the state still has a dominant role. In other cases, while individual journalists and editors may be the formal founders and owners of certain publications, behind the scenes there are thought to be hidden links to influential businessmen or politicians. The exceptions are two big media groups - Ringier Axel Springer and Adria Media Group – where ownership is relatively clear. Ringier owns Blic, NIN and until recently Alo, while Adria Media Group owns Kurir and Newsweek Serbia.
A weak economy and a large public sector creates a situation in which the state is a big advertiser in the Serbian media world, especially in the printed press. This creates a perfect ground for exercising leverage and control over the media, which are faced with the constant threat of the loss of state advertising if they criticise the ruling political elite. The problem of government use of advertising to control the media was present during the Democratic Party’s (DS) rule from 2008-2012, when much of the media advertising was controlled by companies close to the party, including those of former Belgrade Mayor Dragan Djilas. After 2012, following the coming to power of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), the situation didn’t change, with Goran Veselinovic – an individual close to Serbian President and SNS leader Aleksandar Vucic – becoming a key actor in controlling the allocation of advertising.
Most print media also have online platforms. The ones of five national newspapers - Blic, Kurir, Alo, Informer and Vecernje Novosti - are among the top ten most visited websites in Serbia based on Gemius data.