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Great expectations from the Media Strategy

In December 2018, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic and the Government of Serbia were handed a draft media strategy, a long awaited document (the previous strategy expired in 2016) which was to outline solutions to accumulated problems in the media sector, as well as to suggest further directions for development in this dynamic industry.

Representatives of all the main journalists’ and media associations took part in the drafting of this strategy, following the dismissal of the previous working group which had been formed by the Ministry of Culture and Information in 2017 and which ceased its work after four members of the working group resigned and the media community rejected the offered strategic document.

In the very comprehensive document spanning 70 pages, which was available to the public until March 2019 as part of the public debates, the central goals of the Strategy were laid down – restoring order to the media scene and improving the quality of information available to citizens. The draft itself was divided into 5 sections, addressing issues such as the problem of the safety of journalists, the development of the media market, strengthening institutions tasked with implementing laws, the quality and diversity of media content, media literacy and the future development of media in a new technological environment.

Through this draft, several measures which would contribute to increasing the transparency of media ownership as well as controlling for illegal concentration of ownership, which would affect the diversity and pluralism of media content, were proposed.

In the first instance, several measures which would improve the work of the Media Registry (measure 2.1) were proposed, including: a precise definition of the scope of information which is to be entered into the relevant registries – relating to the media themselves; the ownership structure of the media publisher; all monetary and other transfers from public budgets of all kinds and other information of significance for achieving influence over the media (e.g. information on those granting loans at favourable rates, information on legal entities accounting for a publishers revenues over and above a certain percentage, information regarding donations, gifts and sponsorships which account for financing over and above a certain percentage of revenue, etc.).

The Draft Media Strategy also gives some guidelines for improving existing measures for controlling concentration in the media market. Firstly, this draft recognizes the deficiencies in the existing system of control which relied exclusively on data about viewership/listenership/readership, which are in and of themselves questionable due to their lack of reliability, nor are they accurately measurable, but also the fact that existing measures did not take into account the quality and diversity of content. Because of this, measure 2.2 of the draft foresees the following: determining the criteria and dynamics of monitoring different elements of the diversity of media content (particularly when it comes to informative programs and pre-election reporting); carrying out an analysis of the relevant media market on a national, regional and local level. Aside from this, the measure also includes determining the competencies of REM in controlling for illegal concentration.

At the time of the publication of the MOM database, the media strategy was still in draft form, awaiting the government’s final decision. It is still not known whether the measures and goals proposed in the draft will remain in the final version, despite the fact that the deadline for it was the second half of April 2019.

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