Journalists on Journalism

Serbia: Eyes Wide Open

This article appeared in the December 2001 World Press Review (VOL. 48, No. 12)

Accustomed to using inventive ways to get any news in the face of the shroud of censorship imposed during Slobodan Milosevic’s decade-long dictatorial rule, the people of Serbia found themselves quite confused after his ouster last October. Suddenly, all restrictions on media were lifted.

People in Serbia are still starving for the truth. Poverty prevents most Serbs from buying print publications and forces them to rely mostly on the electronic media. They are faced with a number of TV channels almost identical in news content, staffed by the same reporters and editors who had worked in Milosevic’s era.

The only exception is the newly launched TV B92, founded by the courageous journalists behind the independent radio station of the same name. Just as Radio B92 kept its independent editorial policy throughout the Milosevic era, it is now critical when needed toward the new authorities. Now TV B92 shows viewers the current reality, whether Milosevic’s successors like it or not.

Through the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM), radio and TV B92 manage to broadcast throughout the country, bringing independent news to most of the population. But old habits die hard. A significant number of people still rely on the State Radio-Television of Serbia, now trying to curry favor with the new authorities. Although state broadcasting, like all other media, have been free and open since the October events, years of censorship and self-censorship have influenced their way of covering events. Their tendency is to refrain from any critical coverage of the new government and its officials. Apparently, it will take some time before the old pro-regime media in Serbia transform themselves into truly free and open-minded journalists.

Although the governing coalition claims it does not want to control any media, it has so far failed to boost the transformation process. Apparently, the former opposition leaders have discovered that state television can be a valuable tool in their effort to solidify their position, just as it was Milosevic’s primary weapon in his propaganda campaign to discredit the opposition leaders.