"Unite or Lose Public TV in Serbia", Warns IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists today expressed deep concern over the future of Radio Television Serbia, RTS, and in particular the continued political wrangling and interference in the work of the broadcaster.

RTS is expected to be re-launched as the new 'Public Broadcasting Institution' of Serbia in the coming weeks. Its immediate survival will depend on the readiness of the public to pay the license fee that will ensure its financial viability and independence. However, public confidence in RTS is being eroded by continued interference from politicians in programming policy and the running dispute over appointments to the Broadcasting Council.

The demand last week by politicians for the resumption of live transmissions of parliamentary sessions demonstrates the reluctance of the authorities to relinquish control. Public broadcasters have a duty to report the workings of government, but the methods of reporting are to be decided at programming level. Monitoring and review of the performance is the responsibility of the Broadcasting Council.

In April, the IFJ protested over the abuse of the appointments procedure to the Broadcasting Council when the parliament appointed two members without the required 30 days notice. The unresolved dispute is delaying the launch and causing further damage to the image of RTS.

In response, an IFJ mission to Belgrade, 12-14 May, met with politicians, management, editors and journalists' unions.

"Now is the moment for all involved in the transition of RTS, politicians, management, staff, to put aside divisions, and concentrate on a successful launch of the new 'Public Broadcasting Institution' of Serbia," said John Barsby, Co-chair of the IFJ Public Broadcasting Committee. "RTS faces enormous challenges and the next few months are likely to make or break the broadcaster. A successful launch should ensure the future of RTS, but a launch hampered by disputes and divisions could have grave consequences for the future of public broadcasting in Serbia."

"Politicians must keep their hands off the broadcaster. Meanwhile, management and unions have an unenviable task of carrying through an essential programme of restructuring that balances the need for radical reform with the fair treatment of staff and adequate provisions for redundancies."

The full mission report is to be presented on 27 June at a round-table in Belgrade on the future of RTS. The meeting will enable all parties to debate the challenges of transition.