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November 17, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 267
Television and Democracy

Hypnotized in Bastille

by Milan Milosevic

Over the 30 minutes of the Second News Show on RTS following the Dayton Agreement, the name of the president of Serbia Slobodan Milosevic was mentioned 48 times. A year later, SPS was given ten times more space than all the other parties together in the pre-electoral campaign of October 1996. Some journalists of the state television, candidates of the ruling coalition, reported from the rallies of their own parties.

Upon hearing this information, Steven Stajnerg, former reporter of ABC News, sincerely exclaimed: "Why not sue them!" Those present spontaneously laughed. Indeed, why not? Being an experienced journalist, of course, he is familiar with the current state of the independence of courts here, but, as it seems, he believes that a lawsuit of this kind would create local and international public pressure that would force the establishment to use television in a fair manner. The scene happened at the international round table gathering on the role of electronic media in the development of democratic societies in the East European countries, that was held last week (November 8 and 9) in Belgrade.

Branislav Milanovic, the contributor of the Institute for the International Economy and Politics, has reminded the participants that in 1993 in a lawsuit against Austria in the European Court for Human Rights took the position that the state is the one to guarantee the pluralism of media.

Ratko Bozovic, the professor of the Faculty of Political Science, has noted that the propaganda has destroyed both the institution of information and public discussion and that the freedom of expressing oneself is nothing but a dead letter of the Constitution.

Bozovic said that the state media, especially TV which must offer impartial information to the public, in fact offers simulated image of reality- a flipped and artificial reality of Potemkin's villages, which is, in fact, the introduction into to the state of one-party pluralism.

Milena Sesic-Dragicevic, from Belgrade's Faculty of Drama, has skeptically pointed out the lack of civil culture - young people, for example, openly say that they understand "professionalism" as an unethical domain.

Sergije Lukac, a professor of journalism from Belgrade, has said that the method of training the devotees is not too sophisticated - after removing the talented and knowledgeable journalists with integrity, they select and keep the mediocre. Such a profile of personality does not require drastic pressure to mold. In the environments with the low level of political enlightenment, deliberately kept half-informed and drugged with fanatical affectation and meticulousness, or in other words, with hatred, such environments in the former East European countries did not need talented manipulators. The standards of journalism are brought down to primitivism and pathetic trash. Information systems of that kind keep the political consciousness in semi-darkness, in subjective consent to obedience void of criticism.

Igor Mandic, a journalist and literary critic from Zagreb, inspired and sarcastic as always, has taken the standpoint that manipulation is the essence of television. As a victim of TV intoxication, he says that in fact there is no good television; CNN is the world voyeur, their bad news which are good news are in fact our tragedy. Mandic believes that the new Archimedes like conclusion: "Give us good television and we'll insure the Paradise on Earth!" is false. The assertions: "Were the TV better, there would not be war," or "Were we to have better TV, we would have democracy!" are mistaken notions, believes Mandic.

Ljiljana Bacevic flips the theses that those who control television have power thanks to that control and says that it is highly believable that the one in control of the money, the police and the army and the power, has also the television. And vice versa.

Miroljub Radojkovic, professor of the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade, mediator in one of the sessions of the round table, sees four scenarios in the development of radio and television: the strategy of development that relies on one's own forces; the nationalization of radio and TV; the endeavors of the state to put the media under its control in order to prevent over-commercialization; the idea that the radio and television broadcast networks of East Europe should be sold out so that the market competition would enable pluralism of the media. He notices that it is currently convenient to the developed countries not to come East, but to distribute programs for the new commercial areas inhabited by 400 million people via satellites. The skies of Europe are cruised by 421 satellites, only 12 of them from the East European countries.

Rade Veljanovski, a journalist from Belgrade whose field of interest is the problem of media, states that the state control over media in Serbia and Montenegro is brought to the absurd, that according to his knowledge the situation is no better in Croatia, while in Slovenia and Macedonia the situation is incomparably better. The state control over the television houses is greater than in the period of socialism. In Serbia, the government chooses all 17 members of the Board of Executives of RTS, which chooses the president of this board. All board members belong to the ruling party except one who is from the coalition party.

The German model of public television was mentioned as the counter example, with the participation of unions and civil associations in the Board of Executives. Bogdan Tirnanic (TV Politika) said in one moment that the eleventh thesis about RTS reads: "Demolish it to its very foundations!" This witticism is based on the fact that the political parties in Macedonia and Slovenia do not rely on the sluggish mastodon, the state television, but establish small TV stations.

Branka Otasevic (from Politika) said the 40 local TV stations that exist in Serbia are only the expression of prestige of rich people (officially 46, but unofficially there are even 100 TV and 200 radio stations); all have temporary permits and all stress that they do not broadcast political shows, but only films and satellite programs.

Were the legislator to reform the area of public information, or when the necessity to get closer to the world forces it to do so, it will find useful suggestions in the recommendations of this gathering on building the procedure of the public control over the monopoly, stimulating the freedom and pluralism of the media, responsibility, reason and professional ethics.

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