Political and business elites in the countries that are the subject of this report have acquired control over a large number of public and private media, mostly through non-transparent privatization, advertising and/or budgetary support to loyal media. Consequently, media freedoms and freedom of expression in these countries are seriously impaired, as evidenced by the declining trend in the indexes of media sustainability and press freedom.
The legal framework in these countries is not fully reformed and compliant with the EU requirements and good practice, which is one of the principal reasons why they still do not have a functioning free media market. Precise criteria for awarding budgetary support to the media have yet to be defined, while the principles for advertising in the media by state institutions, the largest advertisers in these countries, remain unclear.
Following the withdrawal of Western donors, some of the media known for professional reporting in the public interest are now under the direct control of ruling elites and large businesses. This also applies, unfortunately, for part of the legacy media from the 1990s. The role that Serbian B92 or BH Dani once played in these countries—offering research, independent analysis and a plurality of views—can now be found only in small alternative NGO media, Web portals, and investigative journalism centers. These are often under pressure from the government and rely mainly on foreign donors, primarily from the European Union and the United States.
Due to the slow pace of reforms, it would not be realistic to expect that a free media market will soon be established in these countries. Therefore, to reduce the influence of political elites, it is important to institutionalize a legal and transparent system of awarding funds to media from state budgets, establish clear rules of advertising by state institutions, and ensure transparency of media ownership. Since all these countries have EU membership aspirations, it would be of fundamental importance for the EU to insist on reforming the legal framework and on implementation of such reforms as key pre-conditions for creating the enabling climate for free and independent media.