Serbia is a country with a small and relatively open economy, undergoing transitional processes from a planned to market-based economy for more than two decades. The economic system was seriously shaken by the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the wars of the 1990s, as well as economic sanctions in the period 1992-1995. After the removal of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević in 2000, Serbia began economic reforms and a liberalisation of its market, experiencing relatively high economic growth which only slowed with the onset of the global economic crisis, corona pandemic and Russian-Ukrainian war.

The general economic trends are reflected in the media sphere as well. Data provided by the IPSOS Strategic Marketing show that advertising budgets are on the rise in the past two years, and are worth 241 million EUR in 2022 and 230 million EUR in 2021. These budgets were significantly cut during the Covid-19 pandemic – it dropped to 198 million EUR in 2020. A half of these budgets are allocated to TV advertising, and one fourth on digital. The rest is divided among print (around 10%), radio (around 15%) and outdoor advertising. The only segment of advertising that is growing over the years is digital.

Advertising budget is not large enough to support the existence of more than 2600 registered media outlets. One of the incentives for this large amount of registered media is allocation of funds by the state. The co-financing of content production projects, whose main aim is to improve how well informed citizens are, is the main mechanism which the state uses to grant budgetary funds to the media. This mechanism of financing was introduced in 2014 (with implementation beginning in 2015), after the adoption of a set of media legislation.

According to the BIRN research into co-financing state mechanisms, it shows that around 1,6 to 1,8 billion dinars of public money is spent in this way annually. After several years of reliance on this funding mechanism, numerous problems, which pave the way for corruption, have been observed. Some of these relate to problematic procedures for allocating funds, conflict of interest issues among the members of various funding commissions, and poorly defined mechanisms for evaluating and monitoring the implementation of projects. The same BIRN research shows that the biggest winners of this mechanism are TV stations, regional and local ones, which are pro-government and close to the ruling party.

A second source of revenue for the media is that which comes from state advertising. For years, state institutions and public companies have been among the biggest clients in the media advertising market in Serbia. It is estimated that through public procurements alone around half a million dinars is spent annually. There is no law regulating specifically state advertising, nor centralized data which would allow monitoring of public spending.

Allocation of state funds leads to the specific type of censorship, co called “soft censorship”, which is one of the most effective ways to gain control over media and influence editorial policies.

  • Project by
    Global Media Registry
    Funded by European Union