New Law on Funding Regulators Alarms Serbian Media

As the government drafts a new law, changing the way electronic communications operators are funded, journalists’ union warns it may jeopardize their independence.Serbian media unions have criticised a new proposed law on “Fees for the Use of Public Goods” that places the sources of funding for regulatory bodies in electronic communications under government control.

According to the draft law, which Balkan Insight has obtained, all licence fees, including subscriptions, will in future go straight into the state budget.

Until now, the public has paid public service broadcasters through subscriptions included in electricity bills, which the electricity company then forwards to the public services.

According to the recommendations of the Council of Europe, which Serbia is obliged to respect as a member of the Council since 2003, public service broadcasters should not be directly financed by the state as this may open the door to undue influence.

The draft law also introduces “fees for usage of electronic communications networks” instead of the fees that operators pay to the Agency for Electronic Communications, RATEL.

The government is to decide the amount of these fees, which will be paid into the state budget, the draft law adds.

Instead of the broadcasting fee that commercial broadcasters pay to the broadcasting agency RRA, the draft law envisions “fees for the use of broadcasting space” being collected by the state.

Neither of the two electronic communications operators, the Agency for Electronic Communications, RATEL, and the Broadcasting Agency, RRA, nor media experts were informed or consulted on the draft law.

The government insists that the aim of the changes in the funding of regulatory bodies is to facilitate their work. All relevant authorities will be consulted on the draft, they say.

But Serbia’s independent journalists association, NUNS, says that the proposed changes are “neither good nor acceptable.”

“Such a form of control will enable the authorities to directly influence the work and decision-making of independent regulatory bodies, which basically leads to making their existence useless, considering that independence of sources of funding is critical for the functioning of any independent body,” NUNS said in a statement.

NUNS has called for broader consultations on the law, noting that the operations of RATEL and RRA fall under the issue of the freedom of media.

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