Two-thirds of the money received by the media in Serbia, especially local ones, comes from the state. Although this should not be the case, this means that the media do not criticize the government. For the state or local self-government institutions, this is especially important in the pre-election period, which is why this year’s competitions for the media were announced earlier, Branko Cecen warned.
In the latest episode of the media literacy campaign “OpisMEDIJavanje”, the director of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS), Branko Cecen spoke about the reason why citizens need to know who finances the media they follow, how much donors influence the editorial policy and how to obtain finances that will not affect the independence of the media.
Whether the local media outlets report about a hole in the main square or not, unfortunately, it depends on the source of funding of that media, Cecen said, adding that the media should criticize the authorities because, in that way, citizens are provided with conditions for a normal life. The government, however, is rarely criticized by the state-funded media – which represents the majority of media outlets.
„This year, in more than 90 municipalities and towns in Serbia, competitions for media co-financing were announced in January. What’s so strange about that? It is strange as in January last year less than a third of that number announced a competition, bearing in mind that they usually announce it in the spring, and some even later,“ said Cecen.
The answer should be sought in the fact that 2020 is an election year in Serbia.
„The difference is that elections have been called. Local authorities hurried to get the media on their side with money and thus provide themselves with a program that not only has no holes in the main square, but the hole has never even been there,“ he said, explaining why readers should know how the media outlets are financed.
Whether the media is financed by the state or by advertisements, it is neither allowed nor is it in the interest of donors to influence the editorial policy of the media. Regardless, inappropriate interference in the work of such media outlets occurs.
„Why the state shouldn’t influence (cf. the media)? If the media constantly presents an idyllic picture of our life, and that life is increasingly worsening, the difference between what viewers or citizens see on television or read in the newspapers, and their real life, will become frustrating and the government will face problems in the next elections as fewer voters would vote for it,“ Cecen explained.
The situation is similar with advertisers who, by influencing the media to cover up certain topics, can harm the competition and subsequently the Serbian economy.
„If that is the price of their profit, then it is not very smart in the long run. At the same time, it is dishonest, it is not nice and it is a bad thing to lie to the citizens, abuse them and make money on their bad fate,“ he said.
These two sources of influence can also be linked, Cecen said, warning that media that criticize the government in Serbia would not receive advertisements or the distribution of their products would be hindered.
Therefore, the only solution for the media that want to remain independent is to turn to international donor organizations for money.
„They are not donating that money because of how much they love us more than they do someone else, but because they don’t want chaos and poverty in the Balkans, because it doesn’t pay off. They cannot trade and work as they are used to, the European Union especially does not want incidents in its neighborhood. So they all donate to our country, and it pays off for us because we need a judiciary in which a lot of money has been invested. We need roads. We need a state administration that works on computers, not an abacus. In general, in this area, the interests of international donors and Serbia, especially its citizens, coincide quite nicely,“ he explained.
The funds allocated in this way will not oblige the media on how they should report because these donations come „from democratic countries where it is a well-known matter that influencing what the media will do with money is inappropriate.“
„Once upon a time, when I tried to inform a donor organization about the topic of one of the stories my organization wanted to write about because I believed it might not fit into the project, they warned me that even knowing what we intend to do would be an inappropriate influence on the media. After all, I would not allow anyone to influence the editorial decisions of the organization I work for. If that proved to be impossible, I would stop being a journalist.“
Cecen also had a piece of advice for the readers:
Think about where the media get their money from. Watch their program, then decide for yourself whether you will trust them or not.
The KoSSev portal, in cooperation with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, launched a media literacy campaign. See what other journalists have had to say in the previous episodes of “OpisMEDIJavanje”:
Preuzimanje i objavljivanje tekstova sa portala KoSSev nije dozvoljeno bez navođenja izvora. Hvala na poštovanju etike novinarske profesije.