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Special regulations needed
But the adoption of special laws is a painfully long process. The Law on Cinematography was adopted on December 26 after two years of waiting. This is also how long the country has been waiting for the government to adopt the Draft Law on Publishing and the Draft Law on Archives and Archival Material.
The delays are blamed mainly on the Culture Ministry's poor communication with key institutions whose work is regulated by the laws, as well as with all other bodies that are expected to bear the burden of the costs. The various interest groups often come into conflict over the proposed solutions, while personnel changes at the top of the ministry have also slowed down the process or brought it to a halt.
Adopted laws also problematicEven when a law is adopted, as in the case of the Law on Cinematography, the problem of implementation remains, because funding solutions are unrealistic. For example, the envisaged financiers of cinematography, the Republic Broadcasting Agency, RRA, and the Republic Telecommunications Agency, RATEL, already warned they will not be able to come up with the sums of money required.
A good example of this is the freezing of the Law on Publishing, whose adoption has been delayed, partly due to conflicting interests, partly because of changes at the helm of the ministry.
The bill was drafted in 2001 when Branislav Lecic was Culture Minister, recalls Zoran Hamovic, special advisor to former minister Nebojsa Bradic. The ministry then ordered a draft bill from a non-governmental organisation, the Centre for Advanced Legal Studies.
But it was not until in 2009 that a working group was set up under Vladimir Vodinelic tasked with bringing the existing draft into conformity with the current situation and with putting it up for debate. Public debates were then held in four cities in the course of 2010 and it was announced that the bill would be adopted in a package of four laws, three of which regulate library management.
However, when the draft bill was put up for debate, the Serbian Association of Publishers and Librarians protested that it had not been consulted. A letter posted on the Association website, reads that Association representatives tried for six months in vain to meet Ministry representatives.
Vuk Vukicevic, general secretary of the Association of Publishers and Librarians, says that key people from his profession „were not consulted, either before or during the drafting of the legislation. To date, the only national association of publishers and librarians, which has 120 members and is the legitimate representative of Serbian publishing in the International Publishers' Association, knows nothing about changes to the draft law, which is to regulate precisely publishing and library management.
„Is it normal to pass a law on publishing without taking into account the publishers' opinions?” he asks.
|Zoran Hamovic, special advisor to former minister Nebojsa Bradic | Photo by: Youtube|
Hamovic, however, insists that all sides involved in the publishing business had an opportunity to react to the draft law: „The Association of Publishers and Librarians was dissatisfied because it wasn’t publicly consulted. [But] their objections were absurd and their attitude was solely aimed at drawing attention.”
Another problem that surfaced in the course of the debate was the funding of the future Book Centre through which the Serbian National Library was, among other things, to coordinate purchases of books for libraries. This role now belongs to the Culture Ministry through a committee that it set up on its own.
Two public institutions objected in connection with the Book Centre - the Institute for Textbook Publishing and Teaching Aids and the Official Gazette – as both did not want to earmark 3 per cent of their budget for this institution, claiming it would bankrupt them.
At a round table in November 2010, the Official Gazette's director, Slobodan Gavrilovic, said a mandatory tax of 3 per cent would result in the Official Gazette losing some 20 million dinars a year.
Miroljub Albijanic, director of the Institute for Textbook Publishing, also voices objections, saying he fails to understand the precise role of the Centre.
Sreten Ugricic, director of the National Library, which, under the draft law, should manage the Book Centre, proposed that the funds be raised through TV subscription fees, the lottery and similar sources, but none of these proposals was backed.
Ministry: The New Law on publishing
BIRN: The draft publishing law has still not been forwarded to the Government for adoption. What is the reason for this?
Ministry of Culture: The draft was contested in its fundamental solutions in a public debate in the course of 2010 and, in the coming period, work on drafting a new bill will begin.
However, Hamovic says many objections were accepted and that the draft law is satisfactory. He says the new Culture Ministry is responsible for the delay in the adoption process because it separated the draft law on publishing from the package of four bills on books and then sent it back for revision.
“If it was taken from the package to be improved, what haven't these changes been made yet?” he asks.
„In the process of its drafting everyone kept asking when it would be done, but now the process has been frozen, no one is asking this question any longer,” he adds.
|Zoran Kolundzija, president of the Association of Publishers and Booksellers of Serbia | Photo by: Youtube|
Publishers say that, in the absence of legislation, the market is in chaos: there are no criteria to determine the status of publishers, funds to procure books for libraries are insufficient, piracy is flourishing and the state is impoverishing publishers by introducing new taxes on books. [Materials and graphic equipment are taxed when imported, and the same standards apply when taxing both scientific and popular literature.]
Zoran Kolundzija, president of the Association of Publishers and Booksellers of Serbia, also owner of the Prometej publishing company from Novi Sad, describes the current situation as unsatisfactory:
“This is about improvising; a National Culture Council is being set up without a single publisher, lousy books are being published, sisters-in-law, sisters and invented cousins are being signed on as editors... Buyers are being cheated while swindlers or sellers of bad quality goods are taking the money from the market.”
He is not happy with the funds that Serbia allocates for the procurement of books, noting that other countries in the region with smaller populations earmark much higher figures for this purpose.
“Publishers annually pay at least 2 billion dinars [20 million euros] in VAT, while, with great reluctance, the state approves some 100 million dinars [1 million euros] for the purchase of books and a petty figure for subsidies,” he says. „By comparison, Croatia never allocates less than 5 million euros for book support.”
The biggest problem for the owner of the Belgrade Cigoja Stampa publishing company, Zarko Cigoja, is what he calls the bookselling monopoly: „If a person publishes books and that same person forms a chain of stores to sells them, he is in a position to give his books priority. And that's a monopoly.“
|Ministry: We are not representing publishers|
BIRN: Why isn’t the Culture Ministry participating jointly with the Association of Publishers and Booksellers at book fairs?
Ministry of Culture: At international book fairs the Ministry represents our writers and our culture, not our publishers.
Along with this, Cigoja is unhappy that books are taxed as well as the equipment that has to be imported because there is no supply on the local market. Until 2000, he notes, no tax existed on machines and graphic equipment, “and we also had a tradition according to which we did not pay taxes on books for 70 years, and now we pay it.”
“Another problem is that we now [have to] give five copies of each book to the National Library without compensation, while, on the other hand, we pay about 30 euros for the CIP number per book title. So, each year we give about 500 books and 3,000 euros to the state, which comes to a total of some 8,000 euros,” he adds.
Vuk Vukicevic, general secretary of this Association, believes the Culture Ministry's funds earmarked for books are erroneously and inefficiently allocated.
“Libraries do not have enough books because the funds allocated for them are insufficient while certain publications, such as scientific books and encyclopaedias, are not purchased from publishers at all,“ he says.
„Because of this, people in smaller towns often have no access to important publications. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of euros are spent on participation in international book fairs,“ Vukicevic adds.
Participation in book fairs is a sore point between the Culture Ministry and the Association of Publishers. For two years Serbia has run two separate stands at the Frankfurt Book Fair with two quarrelling camps which, in 2011, had their backs turned to each other. One stand is paid for by the Ministry and the other by the publishers.
„If a law could create the conditions for these problems to be resolved, it should be adopted as soon as possible,“ Vukicevic maintains.
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