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There are no good arguments for the abolition of licence fee

At the public hearing held on 16th of October in Studio M of Radio Novi Sad most comments and complaints were related to the part of the Draft of the Public Service Broadcasting Law which suggests that in the next two years Radio Television of Serbia and the Radio Television of Vojvodina will be funded by the state budget. RTS and RTV should receive from the budget annually 1.5 percent of total revenue, which is about 126 million euros. It is not yet defined whether the distribution of that money will be in proportion of 80 percent for RTS to 20 percent for RTV or 75 percent for RTS and 25 percent for RTV. The public broadcasting media should receive this money in 12 equal monthly payments on the basis of a special contract which would be signed with the relevant ministry, and could only be used for the producing, broadcasting and for the salaries of their employees.

Everyone who spoke at the public hearing, including members of the working groups which were working on the development of this Draft, expressed that they do not support this method of financing the public broadcasting media. Sasa Gajin, a member of the work group said that the decision about the government financing public broadcasting media was a political one.

He notes that the working group after sending this draft, also sent a letter to the Ministry stating that they think this method would prove to be inadequate, suggesting the reinstating of the radio and television licence fee. Gajin says the letter received no response, but they also never received any valid argument about why the licence fee was dropped in the first place.

Another major problem is that this Law directly relies on the Law on Public Information which has not been passed yet. Even though public hearings regarding this Law are over, the final version of the Law with the amendments and changes made after the consultations with the other ministries and Brussels can not be found anywhere. Gajin hopes that the public will have the opportunity to see the draft of the Law on Public Information before it goes in the government.

The Representative of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina, Dinko Gruhonjic said he did not get how is it possible for this set of media laws, the Law on Information to begin with, and then the next two Laws to be adopted before the budgets of the Republic, Province and local governments are adopted. This means that if it does not, and he fears it will not happen, we will lose another year.

If the Law doesn’t get clearly defined and adopted before the state budget gets adopted, we will find ourselves, again, in one very ungrateful situation, where the politicians in power can decide who gets how much money  – Gruhonjic told.

Vice president of the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia Jelka Jovanovic asked why the public broadcasting media should get as much as 1.5 percent of the state budget. This amount is two and a half times bigger than the current fund for culture and information. According to her, this drastically undermines the position of commercialized media and relations on the media market.

Great concern was also expressed by the legal representative of ANEM Milos Stojkovic who said that once we introduce budget financing, it will be really hard to reinstate licence fee. He said that we don’t have well-defined mechanisms which would prevent the influence of the state on public broadcasting media.

In addition, the Draft Law requires that both broadcasters in their program must include at least ten percent of the program produced by the independent production companies. Radio Belgrade Editor Djordje Vlajic said that this will be a big problem for the public broadcasting media.

– Every year in November we announce the competition for the productions made outside of our media broadcaster. From the offers we get for the radio I can not single out something that can last 52 weeks of the year – said Vlajic.

Objection for disregarding Media Strategy presented the representative of the Coalition of media personnel Jovan Petkovic. He reminded that the Strategy envisages the establishment of 6 regional public broadcasting media and that by violation of these rules the Southern and Eastern Serbia are placed in a very disadvantaged position.

Cuts in the number of employees will, with the proposed budget, probably have to be made by both RTS and RTV. Both media broadcasters will have an additional problem because the Draft Law requires that only up to six minutes of commercials can be broadcasted during one hour, as well as that the advertising and TV sales can take up only ten percent of the program. It is unlikely that this income could be enough to “clog” the holes in the management which public broadcasting media have.

The Draft Law includes a set of new rules related to the election of the directors. It is said that the director can not be a person who carries out political or public office, must have a university degree and a minimum of ten years of experience in leadership positions in the media. There are supposed to be 15 members of the Programs Council, and they too cannot be holders of political office; the executive board will be elected from among the media professionals, artists in the fields of culture, scientists and representatives of associations concerned with human rights and democracy.


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