A protest rally was held in Novi Sad on May 23 over dismissals in public Radio Television of Vojvodina, which occurred less than two weeks after the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, led by Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, came to power in the province. Journalists’ associations believe these dismissals to be political, while Prime Minister Vučić claims that the dismissals were regular and that no politics was involved.
The EU Delegation and OSCE Mission to Serbia on May 22 stated that they were carefully monitoring the large number of staff changes in the Radio Television of Vojvodina. The EU and OSCE recalled the importance of creating a stimulative environment in Serbia with unobstructed freedom of speech.
OSCE media freedom representative Dunja Mijatović expresed concern regarding the sudden dissmissals in Radio Television of Vojvodina and the fact that new editors were named whitout proper recruitment process.
“This definitely sends a wrong signal about the indepedence of public broadcaster in Vojvodina”, Mijatović told the May 24 edition of daily Danas.
In the membership talks with the EU, Serbia is hoping to open Chapter 23 soon, which focuses on judiciary and fundamental rights and includes freedom of expression.
Changes after the Elections
Simultaneously with the general election, Serbia on April 24 also had a vote for the institutions of the autonomous province of Vojvodina, in which, the same as in the general election, the ticket headed by Prime Minister Vučić’s Serbian Progressive Party scored a landslide victory. This opened the way for the Progressive Party, which has been in power at the state level since 2012, to form a provincial government, which it has strived for over the last few years.
On the other hand, the Democratic Party will, having ruled Vojvodina with coalition partners for 16 years, have to switch to the opposition side in the province, too.
The changes brought by the elections very quickly affected the Vojvodina public broadcaster, which has over the past few years, from the standpoint of the ruling parties in the state government, reflected the positions of the provincial authorities led by the Democratic Party, which has been in the opposition in the republic since 2012.
The Radio Television of Vojvodina Managing Board already on May 4, 11 days after the elections, unanimously decided to dismiss hitherto program director Slobodan Arežina.
The decision, as the Board members explained, was made because of a decline in ratings and the lack of a Program Production and Broadcasting Plan for 2016 “as one of the major documents related to the operation of the provincial public broadcasting service.”
Arežina, however, said that this was political pressure on the broadcaster and on his editorial policy.
Soon followed the resignations of director Srdjan Mihajlović and Novi Sad TV director Marjana Jović. Fourteen other editors who had been in charge of the news program were also dismissed, and the Managing Board on May 17 decided to call a competition for the appointment of a new editor in chief of the broadcaster’s channel one.
Vučić: Everything According to Regulations
Serbian Prime Minister, however, believes that the layoffs of the Radio Television of Vojvodina editors were in accordance with regulations and that no politics was involved, rather that everything was handled by the Managing Board.
“As far as I can tell, things there are happening according to the law for the first time. Why should I be concerned if things are happening according to the law? No one is dismissing people and bringing in people from Belgrade on partisan grounds, as they did in 2008 and 2011,” Vučić told reporters on May 19.
Vučić further said he did not think anyone should have a “hereditary position” or that “monarchism” should be introduced in public enterprises, so that those appointed by Democratic Party leader Bojan Pajtić and party senior official Bojan Kostreš “could occupy a post for the rest of their lives.”
No Clear Explanation
The media public, as well as the editors and journalists of the Radio Television of Vojvodina, protested and called for the reconsideration of the decisions made. In an open letter, the broadcaster’s staff asked that the Managing Board publicly justify said decisions, while the journalists’ associations described the dismissals as politically instructed.
The Radio Television of Vojvodina Program Council said that the redistribution of duties or replacement of editors was a regular part of managing a media company in line with its program concept, but that it first had to go through “all instances of approval.”
Several thousands protesters gathered at the rally held on May 23 in Novi Sad demanding resignation of the Managing Board and annulment of all decision taken by that body.
“Those decisions provoked a wave of arbitrary dismissals at Radio Television of Vojvodina and undermined the public trust in public broadcaster as well as the objective and independent functioning”, Radio Television of Vojvodina journalist Jelena Vukmanović said at the rally.
Radio Television of Vojvodina Channel 1 acting director Nada Kalkan said that she perceived the events in the Vojvodina public broadcaster only “as the new editor’s need to pick their team,” the website Cenzolovka reported on May 19. She later said that there would be no changes in the program until the autumn but that she couldn’t say what would happen after that.
Viewers have already gotten a glimpse at the chages to the editorial concept. One of the first moves is the removal of the announcement in the 5 p.m. news broadcast of the Right Angle show, hosted by renowned Belgrade journalist Ljubica Gojgić, who joined the Radio Television of Vojvodina staff after the changes in Belgrade-based B92 TV.
The changes at Radio Television of Vojvodina resemble those that have happened in certain private and public national televisions over the last few years, when some political shows were canceled and journalists like Gojgić moved to other jobs within their media companies and later left it.
Such was the case of cult political talk show Impression of the Week on B92 TV, hosted by Olja Bećković. The show was canceled in 2014 after 20 years of broadcasting, including the time under Slobodan Milošević’s regime. Olja Bećković said at the time that her show had been “banned” and that Prime Minister Vučić was responsible.
The article was originally published by EurActiv.rs
Photo: Beta news agency