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INFO   :::  Projects > Freedom of expression, media freedoms and (self) censorship in the OSCE area - International... > Text




Pluralism in a Defective Media Market

Jovanka Matić

Belgrade, 20-21 July 2015



New media laws, adopted in 2014, brought significant changes with regard to media pluralism. They introduced the term “media pluralism” in the legislation, which is treated as one of the basic principles of media regulation. A number of protection mechanisms of media pluralism was set up, such as transparency of ownership and anti-monopoly rules, program standards for commercial media, regulation of the content of PSB programming, financial support to minority media, project financing for content in public interest, etc.

Implementation of laws is delayed. However, much more important problems of the system of protection of media pluralism are its built-in deficiencies.

The system does not deal with distribution channels. They are becoming more powerful actors of the media system than the content producers. By some dubious actions, and most likely, because of lobbying in European institutions, cable providers in Serbia are guaranteed the right to be news producers at the same time, which was not allowed in Croatia. This new phenomenon greatly changes the work of the market and gives rise to a new threat to pluralism.

The legislation defines media pluralism in both meanings of the term – as structural, or external or ownership plurality and as internal pluralism or diversity of content. However, while structural (ownership) pluralism is elaborated and sanctioned, content diversity is very much neglected. It is not clear what it really means, who should monitor it and how, and how its violations should be sanctioned. The law thus takes a stance that ownership pluralism is a sufficient guarantee of content pluralism, which is constantly refuted in practice.

The absence of these law provisions allows a constant low pluralism of news and also serious reductions of media pluralism which took part in last year or two without any reactions by the Regulatory body, which is specifically put in charge of protection media pluralism.

The most important deficiency of media legislation is that it does not tackle the structural causes of content pluralism, which are situated in the area of media economy.


Black hole of media economy

Serbian media are very rarely referred to as media industry.

This is a sign that the media system is still in the stage of transition.

It is far from being well developed and regulated but is also far from what it used to be in the communist party-state. Being somewhere in between, it combines some of the worst characteristics of both.

The main problem of the Serbian media system is the media business model.

It is a combination of not yet fully developed market-based business model and not yet fully abandoned government funding model.

For 15 years Serbia cannot decide whether state or private ownership better protects the public interest in the field of information. Each time it decides in favor of private ownership, something obstructs this orientation.

The latest obstruction happened just a month ago, with a 4-month prolongation of a deadline for mandatory privatization of the remaining less than 10% of state-owned media. The main issue, here, however, is not the form of ownership but the way the media are funded.

Serbia has a huge number of media, about 1400 in March 2015. It is not the sign of a well developed media sphere but a result of unregulated and non-transparent media market.

A majority of media are financed by advertising. The advertising market, however, is a big black hole. There is very limited knowledge about operations in the advertising market. We only know the estimations of its value, which are coming from only one, commercial source. Data on largest advertisers are based on calculations by formally listed prices, not on actual prices.

Advertiser know very little of media success with the audiences. Information is scarce, monopolistic and doubtful. The only system of circulation audit, ABC Serbia, stopped working a few months ago - allegedly because news publishers were not willing to provide reliable circulation figures.

Information on TV audiences reach comes from a single source, while about radio it is very rare.

The advertising market is poor and oversaturated. About 1.400 media are financed by 140-170 million Euro. Media business is not profitable. Even the most commercialized media make financial losses. Average salaries of media professionals are bellow the country average for all economic activities.

The advertising market is not led by economic rationale. If it were, a great number of media would have disappeared. But they survive, although they are not sustainable. Their owners and sources of finances compensate financial losses by other kinds of benefits.

This defective market leads to hyper competition, over-commercialization of media production, copying of successful media formats, copy-paste journalism, selling of PR as journalistic work, trivialization of content and tabloidization of quality media.

Important actors of the advertising market are politically-aligned media buying agencies, run by people with close ties with political parties. After every election there is a change in the list of most successful advertising agencies.

Since the market is oversaturated, poor and dysfunctional, the media have to turn to other financial sources. There are only two significant additional sources – tycoons, with their own interests, and the state, also with its own partocratic agendas and interests.

The share of public funds in media funding is not known. On partial data it is estimated to 25 to 40%. However, the state bodies fund the media in many unmonitored ways and this share is surely much greater. They provide public funds through contracted services, through public enterprises, through free loans and extraordinary budget subventions, through rescheduling of debts of media companies. Not all the media have access to these forms of funding. For government bodies, they are a fine channel for the influence on media content.

In these economic circumstances, the public interest content does not sell. It is not financially awarded by anybody. The media that are willing to practice responsible and high quality journalism can easily be punished and cut from financial flows. They are forced to enter clientelistic relations with the ruling political parties and the emerging economic elite, which have detrimental effects on content diversity.



In order to dismantle these mechanisms of endangering pluralism, there is a need to establish a functional and transparent media market that can sustain the media operating on the market. The media systems of license regimes for broadcasters have to be based on economic calculation rather than on technological possibilities. Media should be given a chance to be profitable on the market and thus gain financial independence from politically controlled funding.

Quality print media should be given tax relief, and media with substantial news, documentary and education programs should be given discount for license fees. Journalists should be given tax relief in copy rights.

Financial operations of the media should be made transparent according to specifics of media economy, and not like all other business enterprises as now is the case.

All public funds have to be regulated so that they cannot be used in an arbitrary way. The Advertising Law should specifically regulate state advertising.

The state funds for media production in public interest have to be increased. They should not be a social support given to media in order just to survive but be supportive of the audiences that need high quality content.

Media policy should aim to strengthen civil-society or non-profit media.


(Speech at the international conference “Freedom of Expression, Media Freedoms and (Self) Censorship in OSCE Area” organized by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia in Belgrade from 20 - 21 July 2015)



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