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In 1870, the Law on print media – the first of its kind in Serbian history and quite liberal at the time - introduced the legislative framework which laid the foundations of the media system. In the years that followed, a new optimism would spread around rural Serbia with the young educated élite bringing progressive ideas both from East and West.

After being educated in France and Germany, the Ribnikar brothers returned to Belgrade and established Politika in 1904, the oldest daily newspaper still being published today. Belgrade had already thirteen dailies at the time, but Vladislav and Darko introduced a polished and steady writing style covering current affairs and international relations. Although being the youngest, Politika quickly became the most influential paper, especially among young intellectuals.

During this turbulent time another educated Serb emigré, Nikola Tesla, would experiment with wireless power leading to the discovery of commercial radio. The first radio station in Serbia was built for military purposes in 1915, during the First World War. Radio Belgrade, still being part of the public broadcasting service today, was founded in 1924 as a joint-stock company, broadcasting concerts, brokerage reports and short news at first. During the Nazi bombing of Belgrade in 1941, the building of Radio Belgrade was destroyed. Occupational Radio Zender Belgrad continued broadcasting using Radio Belgrade facilities and frequency.

After the Second World War the Communist Party came into power, abolishing private possession of mass media, considering communication rights as a collective rather than an individual freedom. The socialist media system in Yugoslavia was quite decentralized, with each republic having its individual broadcasting network, such as RTV Beograd or RTV Zagreb. There were 214 socially owned local radio stations and 20 local television transmitters, 27 dailies and 60 local newspapers, and more than 600 factory press outlets. During the late 1970’s and mid 1980’s Radio Television Belgrade (RTB) developed into a media house respected worldwide, broadcasting on several radio and TV channels, selling millions of records throughout Yugoslavia and producing original TV and movie program.

With the breakup of Yugoslavia looming, state-owned TV stations were transformed into national propaganda centers. The Broadcasting Act adopted in 1991 centralized Belgrade, Novi Sad and Pristina units into the national Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) under the strict control of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime. With no Regulatory bodies or frequency allocation policies in place, RTS had a monopoly in all domains of its operation, ranging from technical, to financial, staffing and of course editorial matters. Media became partisan, being divided into pro-government and pro-opposition outlets, with an estimated number of 1.200 radio and TV station broadcasting at the time. During the NATO bombing in 1999, RTV Priština and Novi Sad were hit by air strikes. NATO bombs also hit the main RTS building in Belgrade killing 16 workers.

Since the democratic changes in 2000, the Serbian media system was never fully transformed despite a new legislative framework being in place. Full implementation of these media laws, though endorsed by international bodies, never took place and thus, left space for uncertainty and misuse of procedures. With the low, even deteriorating levels of media freedom and pluralism at present, the Serbian media system will most probably remain transitional for some time. 

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