Serbia: Municipal authorities urged to include funds for public information in budget
The Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) strongly protests the decision of the Bajina Basta municipal authorities to not include funds for public information in the 2015 budget.
The President of the Bajina Basta Municipality – Radomir Filipovic, of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) – confirmed in a statement to the daily "Politika" that the municipality budget does not envisage funds for public information, but he said that the media will be able to apply to public competitions intended for non-governmental organizations, and that half a million dinars was allocated for paying direct television transmissions of the municipal council sessions.
Filipovic underlined that, according to his opinion, local television program is of low quality, local newspapers are published only once a month and are already supported by public companies, and the two local radio stations provide little coverage of political developments in the municipality.
In her statement to daily "Politika"– Biljana Djurdjic, editor at RTV Prima – did not agree with Filipovic's assessment of the program quality and said that the program is good, considering the conditions in which media in Bajina Basta operate. She stressed that RTV Prima, as a media publisher, is not a citizens' association, but a company, and is thus not eligible to compete for funds intended for non-governmental organizations.
ANEM reminds the public that the constitution of the Republic of Serbia guarantees freedom of expression to every citizen, which freedom includes the right to seek, receive and impart announcements and ideas in speech, writing, by images or in other way. It also guarantees the right to be informed on the issues on public importance in a truthful, complete and timely manner.
The Law on Local Self-Government places the care of public information of local importance and providing conditions for it under the authority of local self-governments, among which is the municipality of Bajina Basta. The Law on Public Information and Media prescribes that this care of public information and providing conditions for it is fulfilled primarily through public competitions for financing projects in the the public information sector.
ANEM points out that all the above mentioned provisions directly concern basic human rights and that they therefore must be interpreted in favor of furthering values of democratic society. None of the self-government units, including the municipality of Bajina Basta, have the right, under any excuse, to fail to perform their legal obligations pertaining to care of public information of local importance and providing conditions for it, and to thus directly violate the right to freedom of expression and the right to be informed (both rights guaranteed by the constitution) instead of furthering values of democratic society.
ANEM expresses its full solidarity with all the media in Bajina Basta – the existence of which has been brought under question mark, due to the self-will of the local authorities and their breach of regulations. At the same time, ANEM calls on the municipal authorities in Bajina Basta to refrain from violating constitutionally guaranteed rights – the right to freedom of expression and the right to be informed – and to reconsider the decision on the 2015 budget and amend it in a manner that will not constitute the evasion of the obligations of local self-governments, which are established by the constitution and laws.