Extended version of the statement made by Milos Ciric (Pescanik.net, Serbia) at Pan‐European Forum on Media Pluralism and New Media, June 27th 2012, European Parliament, Brussels First of all, I would like to underline one, let’s say problem that we’re facing in our mutual communication. As you know, I’m coming from Serbia and this communicational problem is repeting itself every time when I speak to anyone who is not coming from the Balkans. The thing is ‐ we use the same words, same terminology, but by these words we mean different things. For example, when someone from European Union talks about freedom of expression, and many of panelists did that today, the point of view is so much different when you compare it with one that addresses actual problems that many Balkan countries face everyday. Maybe you already know that vivid example, but I think is good to mention it: it’s a story about antropologist who was visiting african tribes in order to conduct a research about it’s way of life. Its a short story and it goes like this ‐ antropologist came to Africa, searching for native tribes. She saw some people who very clearly natives. She was excited when she approached the members of the tribe and pleased by their warm welcome. They even invited her to participate in their gathering that evening and spend the night with them. So, she gratefully accepted invitation, expecting to participate in some exotic dance around the fire or similar. When she came to the village, she was stunned by the scene that she witnessed. Members of the tribe where sitting in circle in front of television set watching movie Basic instinct with Sheron Stone on DVD player, way before the movie had it’s premiere in London. You can imagine how schocked she was. So, that’s basically difference between serbian media sphere and yours and, more importantly, between our state of media freedoms and yours. The gap is huge but we in Serbia try to bridge it with use of the internet and new media. Internet and new media allows us freedom that we are not experiencing or practising in everyday life or more importantly for our topic today in our mainstream media. We have basic problems with freedom of expression and media freedoms, and I think you should know that. During this Forum I heard a lot of concerned and well explained statements about state of media freedoms in countries from the European Union and many useful suggestions for their improvement. But you have to understand that for us, these problems are dream from the future. We are, I’m afraid, still talking about basics, we’re still fighting for free media and freedom of expression. I will ilustrate. Serbia is a media controlled country. That statement may sound bold, but it’s true. All of our biggest and most infulential media outlets are controlled or in the best cases severy influenced by political parties or individuals who are close to some political options. In May this year, just before general election, a group of experts in Serbia published a report based
Extended version of the statement made by Milos Ciric (Pescanik.net, Serbia) at Pan‐European Forum on Media Pluralism and New Media, June 27th 2012, European Parliament, Brussels on standards proclaimed by the Council of Europe about media freedoms. Report stated that only 4 out of 27 basic european standards regarding media freedoms are fullfilled in Serbia and that only 2% out of 240 editors in chief ‐ who were interviewed for the report ‐ said that media freedoms in Serbia are granted and fully developed. Thats only five editors in chief out of 240 questioned. South East Europe Media Organization stated that autocensoship in journalism in Serbia became a rule in everyday media life. Thats the consequence of our restricitve Law on Media which was writen, adopted and supported by ruling parties, the Democrats and their coalition. That Law was even supported by liberal opposition. That law brought even more confusion and chaos in our media sphere, and more importantly it ‐ de facto ‐ proclaimed autocensorship because of its restrictive regulation. European Commision is also concerned, Freedom House said that press freedom in Serbia is declining, and ranked Serbia as partly free country, and the list of international organizations who are concerned about media situation in Serbia goes on. I would like to mention the most important report on media in Serbia from the last year. It was issued by Anti‐Corruption Council. Most briefly ‐ report reveals that we don’t actually know who owns the vast majority of media outlets in Serbia. The light of very founded suspicion falls on politicians and the most wealthy man in Serbia who are interconnected through common mechanism of power, wealth and influence. For example, the biggest advertizing agencies, which are essential for commercials from which media outlets gain their income, are owned by group of people, including the mayor of city of Belgrade and group of people close to former Serbian president Mr. Boris Tadic. Serbia is deeply corrupted country, corruption is obvious in almost every single part of public life, and one of the most important and most dangerous circles of corruption strangles our media freedoms. Also, there is an illusion about pluralism in Serbian media sphere, because we have a lot of radio stations, huge number of TV stations and many printed editions of newspapers. Considering only that fact, it is most unusual that on daily basis we receive the exact same news for all of them. We live in media controlled country, so some of us use the internet as a tool for subversion. By using internet we see a chance to break that uniformed sound that surround us. Just few webistes are available for content which is uncensored or critical towards government or other institutions. One of them is Pescanik.net. In the same time there is a growth in popularity regarding internet usage in Serbia, unfortunaltely our people have computers but they don’t know how to use it. Around 50% of Serbian citizens have compulsory education only or are functionally illiterate. 40% of households own a computer, but only 15% use the internet, once a week.
Extended version of the statement made by Milos Ciric (Pescanik.net, Serbia) at Pan‐European Forum on Media Pluralism and New Media, June 27th 2012, European Parliament, Brussels Our government doesn’t want to change that. Our educational system isn’t internet friendly, most of our kids learn how to use modern tools of comunnication on their own. Maybe it will sound as funny fact – but for example we are still waiting our government to enable us internet shopping and sign all necessary contracts, we in Serbia don’t even have Pay Pal. Just like in Russia, our political class is aware what kind of danger is ahead if everyone is litterate enough to use internet and make educated decisions. When people become more educated, more informed and more politically aware of their situation ‐ the next step is, naturally, change in opinions towards government and political class in general. We can all assume where’s that leading – to more free, more educated, more demanding citizens with lots of questions and attitudes. I have no illusions, none of the world’s governments like that, but ours is especially sensitive to that ‐ as they see it – threat to their positions and power. During elections held last month, political class didin’t count on informatically self‐taught citizens who, during election campaign made huge difference informing themselves and connecting with each other through the internet, using social networking and new media. For the first time, we gathered online, not in the streets. I’m sure that you know how many times we in Serbia were gathering on the streets during the ninties, so we broke that tradition. I think that’s good. As a result, for the first time in serbian political history, we had significant number of blank votes on presidential elections and elections for parliament. Institute of blank voting is totally unknown in our political culture. This year, we managed to spill the initiative for blank vote from internet to mainstream media, showing it’s power. Blank voters, and I’m one of them, are mostly people who decided to send a message that they don’t approve unjust laws and political bargain, that they don’t approve this unjust political system that is undermining and perverting our democracy in every imaginable way. We were, ofcourse, marked as enemies and destructive individuals, unloyal to our young democracy, whatever that means. They now have a nicer term for us – they call us, irrisponsible intellectuals. So, blank voting showed how we can use internet and new media to bring some actual change and break that uniformed sound from all around the place. It is not much, it is not enough, bt I think it’s a beggining, and it’s a good one. Question from the moderator: How does all of this you said affect investigative and indenpendent journalism in Serbia? Journalist in Serbia have major problem when they want to investigate some social or political issues ‐ to cut the long story short ‐ investigative journalism in Serbia is practically
Extended version of the statement made by Milos Ciric (Pescanik.net, Serbia) at Pan‐European Forum on Media Pluralism and New Media, June 27th 2012, European Parliament, Brussels impossible. It’s well known, if you want to do investigative journalism, you need information that is vital for public interest. We have appropriate institution for that purpose, the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection who could provide information necessary for any serious investigative report. Commissioner’s authority is claimed by the Law. Interesting thing is that Serbian law about Commissioner and this particular field was rated as the best in 89 countries. This ranking was made in joined research made by organizations Acces Info Europe from Madrid and Canadian Centre for Law and Democracy. We have the world’s best law, but we can not use it. Again, there are many problems in practice, when you actually ask for information. There are a lot of obstruction from the government and other institutions. When you request information, Commissioner wants to help you and he is doing excellent job, but other Institutions are simply not answering to his requests. So, again, we have serious problems in practice; on paper, we could be the best in the world, but in reality you can’t make a simple step. Allow me one more example – our Ombudsman informed us earlier this month that state security agencies are illegaly monitoring canals of communication of undetermened number of people in Serbia. In other words, state security agencies are eavesdroping us without warrent of the court, which is an unconstitutional act. Ombudsman said that he is not certain how many people are under the surveliance, but he said that that number is certainly huge, over several thousands, and that we shouldn’t be supprised if it’s even bigger. They’re tracking our e‐mail communication, our cell phones, you name it, and we can’t do anything about that. Constitutional Court didn’t say anything about this matter, and the conspiracy of silence in media regarding this is so severe, that we only read news made out of Ombudsman’s statements. That’s not even a topic for our media. Question from the moderator: How indenpendent online media outlets like Pescanik deal with that uniformed media sound you mentioned, how do you break it? The question is: so, what do you do in a country like this? How you maintaine your freedom especially if you are an independent media like Pescanik? How do you inform your audience and analyse our reality without being politically or financially corrupted, which is, by the rule, the same thing? First of all, you have to be online. That’s the only way, because, politicians own everything else. With spreading your comments and analysis through internet with a lot of micro campaings, you become visible and percepted as trustworthy, unbiased media. It is not easy, it’s not even very visible, but in the future, it will surely be. On the other hand, in order to maintain your editorial independance ‐ and that I’ve learned working in Pescanik ‐ you can only survive if you stay away of that circle of corruption I mentioned earlier. So, if you succeed to exclude yourself from domestic rules of advertising and other traps of our corrupted democracy, you can grant your authors and contributors a
Extended version of the statement made by Milos Ciric (Pescanik.net, Serbia) at Pan‐European Forum on Media Pluralism and New Media, June 27th 2012, European Parliament, Brussels chance to write and speak freely, truthfully and without censorship. I realized that ’humanitarian help’ (as we call it) from our donors is very important for Pescanik’s success. Pescanik’s webiste doesn’t have one single banner or commercial expressed in any other form. How many websites or radio programmes in Europe do you know without a single banner or commercial? In Serbia, besides blogs, which are not influential at all, we have none. Pescanik’s activities are funded by foreigners, by American, European and Scandinavian donors, organizations for democracy and human rights. We are, how Slobodan Milosevic and most of our fellow citizens call us – foreign hacks. Every single mainstream media outlet in the country is dependent to some of political figures with most of the money and influence. If you want to survive, you have to have commericals in your programme, if you want clients who are willing to pay you for that, you have to obey their rules. And the rules are very simple – don’t ask and don’t tell. So, if you want to be independent you must ask for help from international donors and go far away from domestic so called free media market. Question from the moderator: What could EU do to imporve state of media freedoms in Serbia and to support independent initiatives? You can make pressure, political pressure, and that’s very useful in our case. EU decided to give Serbia a candidacy status in March this year. Our economy is in a catastrophic state, many of our prominent economy experts say that if new government doesn’t apply very restrictive regulation we would be having another Greece scenario, this time in Serbia, and I don’t believe anyone wants that. So, EU can do a lot, because our political elite works exclusevly on pressure from the outside. We can’t do much more from the inside, and it is obvious that our efforts aren’t simply enough. We annoy them, and that’s true, but the real power of influence is in hands of EU officials. During process of negotiation regarding Serbia’s membership to the EU, everything can change. In that process we see not only the opportunity but a real chance to bring true democracy to our country and to free our media sphere. We will countinue to do the exact same thing as so far – to protect this narrow space of freedom of expression and different voice to be heard, to bark, in other words. Because, that’s what Pescanik basically do – we bark. We’re literally watchdogs, protecting that little virtual space of freedom. That mostly lonely voice has it’s fellowship, our audience recognize that effort to serve public interest. I believe that most people in Serbia would like to live in a truly free country; and making them realize all advantages of that is one of our tasks. That’s why new communications and new media are so important in developing countries. It can bring actual change, all of that – internet itself, websites, blogs, forums, online radios, social networking ‐ that’s actually new to us and can be used in increadably smart way. We tend to educate and
Extended version of the statement made by Milos Ciric (Pescanik.net, Serbia) at Pan‐European Forum on Media Pluralism and New Media, June 27th 2012, European Parliament, Brussels inform our audience, to confront all untruthful interpretations about our past, but also about our present and our future. I think that the best way and most contemporary one to do that is using all possibilities that new media and the internet give us. Milos Ciric, pescanik.net, 27/06/2012 contact: email@example.com