Serbia: Media Legislation

International Standards

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

Within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the:

Right to freedom of opinion and expression : Article 19 Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)

The resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966 adopted by the General Assembly came into force on the 10th of September 1978. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was ratified by Serbia on 12 March 2001 and states:

Article 19

  1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
  2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
  3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
    (a)    For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
    (b)   For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public   health or morals.

Article 20

  1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
  2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.

European Regional Agreements

Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

Section 1: Rights and Freedoms

Article 10: Freedom of Expression

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
  2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

Constitution

The Constitution of the Republic of Serbia guarantees the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of information and also specifically mentions freedom of the media.
Article 46 states that:

 “Freedom of thought and expression shall be guaranteed, as well as the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through speech, writing, art or in some other manner.

Freedom of expression may be restricted by the law if necessary to protect rights and reputation of others, to uphold the authority and objectivity of the court and to protect public health, morals of a democratic society and national security of the Republic of Serbia”.

Article 50 specifically addresses freedom of the media and it states that:

“Everyone shall have the freedom to establish newspapers and other forms of public information without prior permission and in a manner laid down by the law.
Television and radio stations shall be established in accordance with the law”.

The Article specifies that “censorship shall not be applied” but also that the dissemination of information can be prevented by the authority “when this is necessary in a democratic society to prevent inciting to violent overthrow of the system established by the Constitution or to prevent violation of territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia, to prevent propagation of war or instigation to direct violence, or to prevent advocacy of racial, ethnic or religious hatred enticing discrimination, hostility or violence”.

Article 51 addressed the right to information:

“Everyone shall have the right to be informed accurately, fully and timely about issues of public importance. The media shall have the obligation to respect this right.

Everyone shall have the right to access information kept by state bodies and organizations with delegated public powers, in accordance with the law”.

Laws

The Law on Public Information (Law n.43/03, pdf with complete text is here) is the main law related to the press sector. In general, as Article 1 states, the law governs the right to public information, the right to freedom of expression and the rights and obligations of the participants in the process of public information. The law provides a definition of "media outlets" comprising newspapers, radio and television programs, news agency services, Internet and other electronic editions.

According to Article 17, a district court can prohibit the distribution of information if it determines that it is necessary in a democratic society to prevent violent overthrow of the constitutional order, violation of territorial integrity of the Republic, propaganda for war, incitement to violence, ethnic or religious hatred.

Article 30 of the law states that public media should have an editor which is responsible in case of breaches to the law caused by the newspaper.

Article 32 of the law protects journalistic sources saying that a journalist can’t be obliged to disclose information regarding his or her sources unless the information is necessary to punish the criminal.

The Law on Broadcasting, last amended in 2009, “stipulates the conditions for and manner of conducting broadcasting activities in keeping with international conventions and standards; establishes the Republican Broadcasting Agency, as well as public broadcasting service institutions; determines terms and procedures for issuing licenses to broadcast radio and TV programmes and regulates other issues in respect of the broadcasting sector” (Article 1). Its regulation of the broadcasting sector is based on principles of “freedom, professionalism and independence of public service broadcasters”. It also prohibits any “censorship or influence on the work of the public media outlets”. The law also creates the Republic Broadcasting Agency (RBA) and its Council.

Furthermore, the Law provides for the responsibilities of the public service broadcaster, RTS, saying at Article 47 that it must ensure the reception of its radio to at least 90% of the population.
The Chapter VI of the law concerns the concentration of media ownership. Particularly, Article 97 provides a list of cases of media concentration.

The Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance (law No. 120/04, 54/07, 104/09 and 36/10, pdf here) is the law regulating access to information in the country. The purpose of the law is “the fulfillment and protection of the public interest to know and attain a free democratic order and an open society”. Requests might be made in written form but also oral requests are accepted because they can be recorded by the authorities. Information must be provided by the authorities within 15 working days, except in cases of particular urgency. Limitation to the rights defined by the law can be accepted if “necessary in a democratic society in order to prevent a serious violation of an overriding interest based on the Constitution or law” (Article 8). The second chapter of the law provides more precise information about exemption and limitation of free access to information.

Citizens can appeal rejected information requests to the Commissioner for Information of Public importance and Personal Data Protection Commissioner. The law also recommends public authorities to appoint one or more official persons to respond to requests for free access to information (Article 38).

Article 7 also clarifies that authorities should not discriminate among journalists giving the preference to one or allowing only him/her or allowing him/her before other journalists.

Libel was de-penalized in 2005 (punished by fines and not with prison) and finally decriminalized in December 2012. Insult, though, remains a criminal act.

The Ministry of Justice and Public Administration also proposed the cancellation of Article 138 paragraph 3 of the Criminal Code, providing strict punishment for whoever threatens a journalist but it has not been cancelled and is thus still valid.

There are no limitations to the access to the journalists’ profession, neither is there a need to obtain a license to practice the profession. The labour relations are regulated by different provisions contained in the Labour Law but also in laws specifically related to the media. Freelance journalists work in a particularly delicate condition since according to the Labor Law they cannot form trade unions. The Labor law allows for collective agreements but it states that they cannot provide conditions less favourable than those provided by the Labor laws.

The Law on Electronic Communications (Law n.44/2010,  pdf here) was adopted in 2010. It regulates the sector of electronic communications, the powers of the authorities working in it, the fees provided for operating inside the sector. Article 3 of the Law lists the principles regulating the relations within the sector, among which there is the will of providing conditions for the development of electronic communications in the country. The law introduced new mechanisms of spectrum allocation. In accordance with the law, the Republic Agency for Electronic Communications (RATEL) proposes a frequency allocation plan and the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Society (MTIS) enacts it.

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