Media reform stalled in the slow lane: Soft Censorship in Serbia
Soft censorship is an indirect and often highly effective media control mechanism that diminishes journalistic independence, constrains freedom of expression, and narrows democratic debate. WAN-IFRA and CIMA define soft censorship as “the array of official actions intended to influence media output, short of legal or extra-legal bans, direct censorship of specific content, or physical attacks on media outlets or media practitioners.” These indirect forms of censorship include selective media subsidies and partisan allocation of advertising, as well as biased application of regulatory and licensing powers that can influence editorial content and affect media outlets’ viability.
“Soft Censorship: Strangling Serbia’s Media", released in January 2014, described how Serbian officials were systematically obstructing urgently needed media sector reforms, especially in state funding of media outlets. Eighteen months later, these delays persist, and undemocratic practices in the media sector continue unchecked. This update finds a further and sharp decline in media freedoms in Serbia, and offers recommendations to counter this trend. Small improvements to the legal framework are noted, but even these are not yet fully implemented. Privatization of state media assets has stalled. Serbia today lacks a functional, vital, and competitive media market. Taxpayer funds are now one of the most important sources for survival of media outlets. However, public monies are deployed with partisan intent. The Serbian Government’s “soft censorship” exploits media outlets’ financial vulnerability to influence news coverage and shape the broader media landscape.
This report was prepared by Tanja Maksic in cooperation with the BIRN Serbia team. It is one of a series in the ongoing project on soft censorship around the world led by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA). Country reports on Hungary, Malaysia, Mexico and Serbia were issued in 2014, as well as a global overview, “Soft Censorship, Hard Impact”, written by Thomas R Lansner, who also edited this update and is general editor for the series.