news 05 Apr 13

State Funding of Serbia's Public Broadcaster Criticized

Media experts say plan to fund Serbia's public service broadcaster from the state budget will jeopardize its editorial independence.

Beta, B92, BIRN
Belgrade

Media organisations have criticized the Serbian Culture Ministry's plan for Radio Television of Serbia, RTS, to be financed from the state budget instead of from subscription fees.

Dragan Kolarevic, Assistant Culture Minister, on Wednesday said the Ministry was finishing a Law on Electronic Media that will alter the system of funding public service broadcasters.

The journalists association, NUNS, has criticized the plan, saying “it carries a risk of the state exerting influence on the public broadcasters’ editorial policies.

"Citizens need to be told that by eliminating subscriptions they will continue to pay for a public service, but indirectly, through the budget," NUNS said in a statement.

The association urged the Ministry to reconsider the options before deciding to introduce budget funding.

The OSCE and the European Commission are also opposed to budget funding as a permanent solution. However, they say they will wait for the draft law to be released before presenting their stances.

Rade Veljanovski, media professor and member of a working group on media laws, said budget funding will diminish the independence of broadcasters. He dismissed the announcement that licence fees would be abolished as “populist”.

“This type of political statement is populist in character and is aimed at increasing some politicians' popularity,” Veljanovski told Novi Sad Hungarian language daily Magyar Szo.

Serbia's public service TVs currently earn money through broadcasting commercials and collecting subscription fees, which are included in viewers' electricity bills.

Although the fee is only 500 dinars (about four euro) a month, only about 30 per cent of the population actually pay up, according to a latest data.

The director of RTS, Aleksandar Tijanic, has requested that the broadcaster be financed from the state budget owing to the endemic problem of collecting money through  subscription fees.

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