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news 22 Jan 14

'Soft' Censorship Undermining Serbian Media, Report

A new report suggests that an insidious 'soft' form of censorship - translated through state subsidies and advertising - is threatening the media's hard-won freedoms.

Bojana Barlovac

Soft censorship in Serbia - facilitated by political and partisan allocation of ill-regulated and non-transparent state media assistance and advertising is having a dire effect on media freedom, undermining the development of a sustainable media market.

The warnings come in a report, entitled “Soft Censorship: Strangling Serbia’s Media”, produced by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, WAN-IFRA, and the Center for International Media Assistance, CIMA, in cooperation with BIRN.

According to the report, the influence of the Serbian state on the media is increasingly enforced by financial incentives to media outlets that are seeking greater profits or simply struggling to survive.

"The mechanisms of state media funding in Serbia are used as indirect, and usually not easily visible, soft censorship," the report said.

It added that soft censorship is used to promote positive coverage of - and to punish media outlets that criticize - officials or their actions.

The report also described state funding of the media as unregulated, unmonitored and far from transparent.

"State funding is estimated to comprise 23 to 40 per cent of the real value of Serbia’s overall advertising market," it noted.

The report concludes that direct state subsidies to state-owned media are undermining free competition in the media and hindering the development of a free, independent, and pluralistic media.

State advertising placements are also made on a non-transparent and arbitrary basis, which can easily be used to exert pressure on media outlets to publish only positive information about state bodies and officials, the report suggests.

The report also expresses alarm that the implementation of media laws and regulations proposed in the government's 2011 Media Strategy, which would curb "soft" censorship, has been delayed.

It calls for immediate implementation of the laws in question, on electronic media, public information and public service broadcasters.

“Adopting the Media Strategy and related proposals will ensure that Serbia’s media serves society as a whole, not only partisan and special interests,” the report concluded.

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