Media integrity in Serbia: Levers of media finances controlled by political lords

Media integrity in Serbia: Levers of media finances controlled by political lords
The media have no mechanisms to resist the economic captivity.

A majority of media are financially unviable and thus vulnerable to financial pressures.


The study on media integrity in Serbia analyzes a set of indicators of the qualities of the contemporary Serbian media system which are crucial for its ability to serve the public interest and democratic processes. The focus of analysis is put on five areas of media integrity: media policy, ownership structures, media finances, public service broadcasting, and journalist practices. Basing on focus group discussions, interviews and analysis of already available data, the study shows that all these areas bear specific risks for instrumentalization of media for particular interests of political and business groups.

The media policy development has been most encouraged by the EU integration process. However, even when introducing liberal forms of media legislation and regulation, all democratic governments in the last decade obstructed reforms that would eliminate structures that allow for the political influence on the major media. The process of media policy shaping is insufficiently transparent and democratic. It favours the interests of big capital, but only as long as they are aligned with those of the government.  The 2011 Media Strategy, a new effort to solve the problems which remained unsolved for the entire decade, has not yet started being implemented.

The study identifies eight ownership patterns in Serbian media: state ownership; foreign ownership; (hidden) ownership by business tycoons; (hidden) ownership by politicians; small businessman ownership; journalists’ ownership; media mogul’s ownership; and civil society ownership. None of the analyzed ownership structures clearly stands out as the most suitable one for the public interest role of media. Each displays a number of weaknesses which are aggravated by the economic non-sustainability of media and the economic crisis. Yet, rather than ownership, it is the way the media are financed that crucially determines their treatment of the public and other interests.

A majority of media are financially unviable and thus vulnerable to financial pressures. In a poor and overcrowded yet unregulated and non-transparent media market the strongest pressures come from business circles and from political centres. The levers of media finance structures, however, are in control of political lords. They keep the market dysfunctional, impose unfair competition, allow unlawful market operations and additionally act as a strong source of finances. All forms of state financial interventions in the media sector – subsidizing, state advertising and local media “information service” contracts – are vehicles for translating financial power of state bodies into political influence on media. The unregulated, uncontrolled and non-transparent budget spending in the media sector continues to be an effective source for financing media obedience. The media have no mechanisms to resist the economic captivity.

Public service broadcasting is popular and influential, but not substantially different from other media. Financially unstable from the outset, legally incomplete, non-transparent in making and implementing decisions, public service broadcasters have not managed to develop into financially viable, editorially independent (politically neutral) institutions that would provide a program substantially different from commercial stations, intensively communicate with the audience and cultivate analytical and investigative journalism and good taste in all program segments.

The analysis of structural and institutional constraints of journalistic work shows that journalists are not only the victims of the existing structures and relations that undermine free, critical and responsible journalism but are also part of these structures allowing them to persist through their own behaviour. A poor economic and social protection of journalists severely limits the performance of their important societal roles. Journalists’ self-organising, on the other hand, yields humble results as regards the protection of professional rights and building of a strong collective professional identity and solidarity. Re-arrangement of the media system, which would enable conditions for the economic sustainability of media business and regulation of financial flows to the media which could provide them some economic independence, along with a more effective self-organising, seem to be the only solutions for rescuing the profession from the current crisis.


The complete study on media integrity in Serbia can be found here.


Media Integrity