In our second seminar, on “local democracy”, we had the pleasure to learn from the mayor of Rijeka some positive examples of municipal management for increasing transparency, for inclusion and for the participation of citizens. In our fourth seminar, we will discuss the role of non-State actors, all the more important as the executive power tends to exercise its authority, too often, without appropriate control. And we know too well that parliaments are often relegated to the role of rubber stamping governments decisions.
In this difficult transition period, freedom of expression has therefore a key role to play. It forms an integral part of the functioning of a pluralistic democracy. It belongs to the values on which the European Union is founded. In the face of weak control mechanisms of the executive, media contribute to the ‘checks and balances’, providing they are free and professional.
The economic crisis has significantly weakened media financial position. It has expanded clientelism and politicisation in media which has a direct bearing on the quality of the end product. In its 2015 report, the Serbia Ombudsman expressed his worries about ‘self- censorship and tendentious reporting’. According to the Journalists Association of Serbia, their biggest problems are: low salaries, lack of professional education, unregulated working relations, threatening and blackmailing and inaccessibility to information.
Due to the worsening economic conditions there is a real risk that editorial policies and professional ethics could be compromised for the sake of obtaining public or commercial funding. Reversing this tendency is a serious challenge for editors and media owners. First and foremost it would mean adhering to clearly defined editorial and ethical codes. However the main responsibility for media freedom lies with the executive. When government members accuse journalists of being traitors to the country or press media to withdraw documentaries from TV programmes, they affect greatly media credibility. They increase the politicisation of journalists. They impede the fundamental citizens’ right of pluralistic information.
Freedom of expression is considered as a fundamental right and an integral part of the Copenhagen criteria. Although there is little acquis at EU level, media freedom is now an integral part of chapter 23 on Judiciary and fundamental rights, and a core condition for the accession negotiations to move forward under the ‘new approach’ which we discussed in the first seminar. Let me hope that you will contribute to ensuring free expression of the media and to raising their professional standards in your professional life. I wish you a very successful seminar.