The Law on the Press of 1870 – the first of its kind in the history of Serbia and fairly liberal for its time – established a legal framework and laid the foundations for the development of the media system. In the coming years, a new optimism would spread across rural Serbia thanks to the young and educated elite bringing progressive ideas to the country from East and West.
After being educated in France and Germany, the Ribnikar brothers returned to Belgrade and founded the daily Politika in 1904, the oldest newspaper which has continued publishing to the present day. At the time, Belgrade already had 13 daily publications, but the brothers Vladislav and Darko introduced a refined and consistent style of writing and reporting on important domestic topics and international relations. Although the youngest, the daily Politika quickly became the most influential daily newspaper, particularly among young intellectuals.
In this turbulent period, another educated Serb emigre, Nikola Tesla, experimented with the wireless transmission of energy, which led to the discovery of commercial radio. The first radio station in Serbia was established for the needs of the Army in 1915, during the First World War. Radio Belgrade, a station which is part of the public broadcaster to this day, was founded in 1924 as a shareholding company and in its early days broadcast concerts, stock exchange reports and short news. The building of Radio Belgrade was destroyed in the Nazi bombing of Belgrade in 1941. The occupation Radio Zender Belgrad continued broadcasting using the equipment and frequencies of Radio Belgrade.
After the Second World War, the Communist Party came to power and abolished private ownership in the mass media, believing that the right to communication and information was a collective, rather than individual freedom. The Socijalist media system in Yugoslavia was distinctly decentralized and every constituent Republic had a seperate network, such as RTV Beograd and RTV Zagreb. A total of 214 local radio stations, as well as 20 local television stations, 27 daily, 60 local newspapers and more than 600 factory press publications were socially owned. Towards the end of the seventies and mid-eighties, Radio-Television Belgrade (RTB) grew into an internationally renowned media house, brodcasting on several radio and televison channels, selling millions of gramophone records across the country and developing its own production of original relevision and film programming.
With the approach of Yugoslavia’s breakup, the national television stations turned into national propaganda centres. Through the Law on Electronic Media of 1991, the media houses in Novi Sad, Priština and Belgrade were merged into a united national Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) under the firm control of the regime of Slobodan Milošević. With no regulatory bodies or clearly-defined criteria for allocating frequencies, RTS had a monopoly in all domains, from the technical to the financial, human and, of course, editorial. Media tied themselves to political parties and divided into the pro-regime and pro-opposition. It is estimated that as many as 1200 radio and TV stations operated in that period. During the 1999 NATO bombing, RTV Priština and RTV Novi Sad were struck by bombs. NATO bombs also hit the main RTS building in Belgrade, with 16 employees killed in the attack.
After the democratic changes of 2000, a comprehensive transformation of the media system in Serbia did not occur, despite the establishment of a new legal framework. Laws which were adopted were not implemented in their entirety, even though international bodies required their implementation, leaving a great deal of space for uncertainty and the abuse of procedures. With a low and declining level of media freedoms and pluralism at present, the media system in Serbia will most probably remain in a transitional state for some time to come.