A step ahead or a Potemkin reform village?

Serbia`s Media Strategy 2020 – 2025
© FNF, Illustration von Reinhard Wieczorek

Is Serbia`s new Media Strategy 2020-25, adopted a year ago, just a paper tiger or an important step towards safeguarding the threatened freedom of the press? The years of struggle for the document, and also the experience with the first Media Strategy adopted ten years ago, have confirmed above all that paper is very patient in the Balkans. And that the actual implementation of formulated goals requires not only an effective action plan and laws, but more importantly the political will to remove the media from the grasp and control of state power.

Head of Government Ana Brnabić was certainly not lacking noble words after the laborious and years-delayed birth of Serbia`s new Media Strategy in January 2020. Thanking the members of the working group, the prime minister said after the adoption of the 86-page document that aims to safeguard Serbia`s threatened press freedom and regulate the development of media markets in the Balkan state until 2025: “This is a first step. We remain dedicated to this work.”

Serbia`s media reality, however, looks rather different. A good two months after the green light from the Government for the Startegy, developed together with the professional associations, Serbia hit the headlines on 1 April 2020 as the first country in Europe where a journalist was arrested for her unpopular Corona reporting. Brnabić called the arrest of journalist Ana Lalić, who had reported on abuses at the Novi Sad hospital centre for the portal, a “stupid decision”, but expressed anger about “people who lie”. Although subsequently no charges were brought against the journalist, there was no government apology for the completely unfounded accusation of lying.

Due not least to pressure from the EU, Belgrade adopted an action plan for the implementation of the Strategy in December, which was again worked out with the professional associations. “We will not tolerate any threats against journalists, that is the red line for us”, Brnabić announced at the time.

But politicians in the EU candidate country find it difficult to accept the control function of an independent media as the fourth power in the state. Instead, dignitaries continue to practice unabated media bashing. In mid-February, for example, Brnabić once again castigated the TV station N1 as a “political opponent” and admitted that she had instructed the institution responsible for organising Corona vaccinations, E-uprava, not to provide the station with any information – according to former Data Protection Commissioner Rodoljub Šabić, a clear violation of the law on access to information. In December, her party colleague, SNS MP Biljana Pantić Pilja, took an even more drastic approach to the unpopular cable channels N1 and NovaS: the “anti-Serbian media” could only be described as “domestic traitors, foreign mercenaries”, the MP raged in parliament.

Serbia`s Media Strategy 2020 – 2025 | Download