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May 4, 2001
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 489
In Expectation of June 1st

Campaign for TV Program, Influence and Cash

by Dusan Radulovic

The majority of radio and TV stations in Serbia enjoy no legally regulated status. Some of them have been working illegally, since the former regime had declined their right to obtain frequencies as a matter of course, while others would just grab frequencies for themselves under the auspices of the then authorities. There have been some comical situations in the last decade, but there have also been some tragic scenes, such as the beat-ups of journalists and technicians, the sequestering of equipment –the actions in which police had an active part; but there were also questions (many of which remained unanswered) such as those how come some radio and TV stations enjoyed enormous privileges and possessed enormous capital for promoting their ideas and broadcasting their program. Some rumours also had it that many electronic media houses served for money laundry, especially when people from the shadow zone entered that profession, and when some ‘businessmen’, who were involved in that commerce, like Nikcevic and Arkan, paid the luxury with their lives.

Although the state was devoid of a considerable amount of money, since no radio or TV station was paying the tax for the use of frequencies, and those that were paying something, paid a symbolical amount, though the broadcasting on certain frequencies even interfered with military and police communication, as well as that of civil air force. The regime did not bother about it; the only thing that mattered was to disseminate the official ‘patriotic journalism’, ‘mass culture’ of turbo folk and the upside-down ‘value system’.

The new regime happened upon chaos in the air; the affairs started following one another, beginning with those concerning the business construction permissions of TV Pink and the sale of RTV Kosava, and ending with the conditions under which the Radicals in Zemun ‘co-operated’ with TV Palma, not to mention the circumstances in other media houses within Serbia. Some other issues were also re-opened, such as those about the equipment that RTS (the Radio Television of Serbia) had ‘lent to the media magnates’, the regime protégés, which greatly reduced the budget of that media house, and where the equipment confiscated from other radio and TV stations (which were closed down or simply deprived of legal permissions just because they did not take part in the then state propaganda), had its end.

Since there has to be a beginning in order to ‘establish an order’ in the area of radio-diffusion, a group of experts accepted to take up the task that is just about to be completed these days – the draft of the Law on Radio-Diffusion.

‘It is a completely new law, regardless of the fact that the previous Law on Radio-Television (dating to June 31st, 1991), there existed ten members who in fact represented the common decrees concerning the radio diffusion, while the rest belonged to the establishing statute of the Radio Television of Serbia’, says for VREME Rade Veljanovski. ‘Even at that time, a group of people, some of which worked on this decree, thought that those two things should be separated. The then law contained the decrees on the way in which frequencies should be distributed, but it was just a mask before cunning manipulations of the Milosevic regime. The Republic Government used to confer concessions for obtaining radio and TV frequencies, which was of course in collision with the law, since there was no legal act which prescribed the transferal of authorities from the Federal Government to the governments of the two republics. In fact, the former regime did not hesitate to make use of any kind of manipulation at any time; when necessary, it would transfer everything to the federal level, otherwise, the Republic Government would sort the problem out.

The crucial thing in the draft of the new law is the foundation of an independent controlling body, the Radio-Diffusion Council of Serbia, which is supposed to have the broadest authority. Its foundation directly stems from recommendations that the mentioned expert team obtained from the European Union, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the OSCE and UNESCO, and it pertains to one major condition – the authority over the distribution of frequencies must be deprived of any political, economic or other influences, or some other centres of power. The council should be organised as an independent body authorised for the distribution of radio and TV frequencies to all interested editors, no matter whether they belong to the private or public sector, or to some local or regional communities. It can, however, be easily deduced that the Parliament would impede the whole thing, if the proposed list were not adopted. ‘We hope that those who hold the power in their hands will realise that it is not only in the interest of the whole country, but in their own interest too, if they intend to maintain their positions’, says Veljanovski. ‘It is one of the prescribed democratic standards of the civilised world and it must not be violated. One day, if we wish to join the Council of Europe or some other organisation, we will be censured if we do not accept what is generally accepted.’

In the current political situation (DOS – the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, consisting of 18 parties and the opposition, which is better not to be mentioned), especially if we are aware that sort of games are being played these days concerning the election of a new boss of the RTS, no effort is needed to foretell that the foundation of Council will not be an easy job. The lawmakers, however, believe that many things are much easier to be sorted out if they are previously precisely determined by the competent officials, the group of which include the Conference of Vice-Chancellors, SANU (the Serbian Academy of Science and Art), all societies of journalists, all societies of the employed in the sector of culture, various syndicates, religious communities and non-governmental organisations. The aim is that the Council includes the people who will confer this body with such authority, which must be greater than the Ministry of Public Information has ever enjoyed over it. It is obvious that the experts who constructed the draft of the law were well aware that they were on the slippery ground, so they will most probably have to wait for the final resolution.

There is a separate act in the draft concerning the status of the existing RTS. ‘We are making a clear distinction between a public service – and that should be either the transformed RTS or something completely new, like public services in England, Germany and other developed countries, the commercial service and that what we consider to be appropriate media of an urbane society’, says Veljanovski. The fate of RTS was supposed to be in the hands of the government, and it is probably most realistic to assume that this media house will soon become a normal public service, with completely reorganised journalist and technical sectors. One of the aims is to decentralise this media house, for example to establish an independent TV network in the province. One of the proposals is that the new RTS should consist of two radio and two TV programs, whereas the rest of the frequencies, which cover the whole of Serbia, should be distributed by way of a public tender among the interested commercial radio and TV stations. The key problem is not whether or not Serbia needs such a public service, but rather how to delineate the matter of ownership. The lawmakers are of the opinion that the change of the houses’ name from RTS into the Radio-Diffusion of Serbia can be helpful towards a full correspondence with the existing laws. The program policy and finances would be in the hands of the Managing Board, which also elects the Radio-Diffusion Board of Serbia. He would then elect the director, after which a (painful, but essential) reorganisation of the journalists and other sectors. As far as the way of financing is concerned, it will be either the system of subscription or a tax, but calculated differently than it used to be. It would in any case amount to a lesser sum than before.

Some media houses, like BKTV (the Karic Brothers TV), enhanced their information activities, while some, all of a sudden, introduced news broadcasting, such as Pink TV and Palma TV, most probably because the draft of the law, among other things, stipulates that those TV stations which have a greater variety of programs have a greater chance to get hold of better frequencies. The system will attempt to encourage the production of higher quality programs in both technical sense and that of the contents. For example, porn movies and the ‘speech of hatred’ will no longer be tolerated.

If we assume that the draft of the law will be adopted in the Parliament, before making any further steps, the technical staff of the Federal Ministry of Telecommunications would construct a plan for the distribution of frequencies, including the list of all available radio and TV frequencies. Given that the whole procedure will be a public matter, it is to be expected that there will no longer be those ‘reserved frequencies’, which are kept for politically appropriate or commercial regime-devoted media. The telecommunication experts will surely set up some new, contemporary technical standards. In the course of the last ten years, not many media houses have been investing sufficiently in their studios and technical equipment. Many radio stations do not even have studios for broadcasting their program – they do it from their editorial offices, while many TV stations lack even the basic equipment. Independent media, afraid of disguised men or police officers that might just call in their studios and editorial premises and simply confiscate their equipment, have not been investing enough in the process of technical modernisation.

Before long (if it has not already happened), the draft of the law will be dispatched to those who are about to bring final decisions about it. There is little time for discussion; June 1st (which is also the deadline set by Minister Tadic) is around the corner. It is worth hoping that the rumours about another parallel ‘body’, which is preparing its own version of the law, are not supportable, just as it is worth expecting that the lawmakers will be responsive towards the anticipated changes. Let me paraphrase the Minister Tadic – it is high time to introduce order in the air.


Many radio and TV stations are in the state of chaos, especially the small ones within Serbia, some of which have contributed a lot towards forming the publicity that supported the ongoing democratic changes in the country. The lawmakers are of the opinion that those should be held as priorities, since ‘they have worked courageously in the circumstances of harsh repression on the part of the state’ and they will surely have some ‘credit’ when making decisions about the allocation of frequencies, while the ex-regime protégés will definitely be in ‘debit’. In any way, a period of one or two years will be allowed to all media houses to upgrade their technical basis with the soon-to-be-determined standards, or otherwise, regardless of any ‘insurgent’ credit they may hold, they will be shut down!

‘We cannot have lower standards in such an important sector than we have, for example, for car registration’, says Rade Veljanovski. ‘An idea can be great, a journalist or a radio or TV spokesperson can be very good, but if the result is technically poor, then something really has to be done about it!’.


The law writers are intending to clear up the situation before starting on the tender for the allocation of frequencies. First of all, it refers to such radio and TV stations which have used the former RTS equipment, and which they will be obliged to return unless they possess the legally binding contracts or similar evidence.

Every step must be made with permission, the financial management of all media houses (even from the earlier period) must be double-checked and concessions cannot be made to those whose conscience is not perfectly clear. Thus, it can be expected that ‘Blic’, as a new owner of Kosava TV will be obliged to submit the inventory of equipment which he paid to its former possessor Marija Milosevic, i.e. that it will have to be determined whether Miss Milosevic had got hold of that equipment thanks to RTS (which was at that time managed by Dragoljub Milanovic) or thanks to frequent equipment appropriations on the part of the Serbian police. The same refers to the Karic Brothers, Mitrovic (the owner of Pink TV), Vujovic (the owner of TV Palma), etc. The Radio-Diffusion Council of Serbia should do whatever is its part of the job, and if there is something suspicious, it should forward it to the superior authorities – from courts, to financial and ‘ordinary’ police.


The new draft on the Law on Radio-Diffusion anticipates the establishing of order in broadcasting of commercials. All channels will be allowed to spend only 20% of time available on commercials, which is not insufficient at all. The law making experts accepted the European standards, so the commercials will be excluded from the news and other informative programs and films, the duration of which is lesser than 45 minutes. The exception is any TV series, which is allowed to be interrupted each twenty minutes. Whoever does not respect that, will be warned of losing the allocated frequency. There will also be a regulation of how many commercials will be allowed within one hour of program, which will eventually put an end on the so-called ‘special shows’ on some channels, or rather the commercial terrors.

As far as political parties are concerned, not only that they will no longer be in position to appear as founders of radio or TV stations, but they will neither have ‘reserved hours’ in which they used to propagate their political standpoints. The institutional presentation of political parties will be allowed only during the pre-election campaigns, and in accordance with strictly determined and fair conditions for all.

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