Media Landscape

Ever since reforms of which began in 2000 after the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević’s authoritarian regime, media sector in Serbia is still in process of transition and structural changes. Until now, the changes have been rather slow, mostly driven by EU accession agenda, but rather inconsistent and incomplete. Lack of political will for the structural changes in the media sector to be implemented in full and overall stagnation in democratic standards are key components hampering media development.

The Serbian media market is small and oversaturated, as at the moment (October 2023) there are over 2500 media registered with the Serbian Business Registers Agency (APR). APR runs Media Register, a public data base, where information about media owners, editors, amount of money received from state are available, thus contributing to transparency.

All of these media rely on advertising market or state granting schemes for their economic survival.

Because of the weak economy and constant problems with liquidity, the state still has a significant role in and influence over the media market. It continues to control the media through direct ownership and even more through different models of state financing (public tenders for media projects, public procurement of media services and direct advertising contracts).

The average annual market value of advertising over the last few years has stood at around €200 million, with the market slowly growing especially in the digital advertising segment (Source: IPSOS, AdEx, marketing agencies). Media market was seriously disrupted during COVID period and is now slowly recovering. Still, this amount of money is not enough to support the work of all registered media.

State still plays important role in securing the media survival. As BIRN data shows, some €150 million are distributed to national and local media within state-sponsored project co-financing scheme. These funds are usually distributed to the benefit of pro-government media, without clear and measurable criteria, public control or oversight.

For years the state has been the biggest advertiser in the country, through its ministries, public companies and state agencies. On the other hand, there is strong pressure from marketing agencies, whose owners maintain close ties to ruling parties.

The pressure on editorial policy is a product of financial dependence, with media which are critical of the government being deprived of advertising contracts or state assistance, along with being branded as ‘enemies of the state’.

In terms of ownership, Serbian media system combines, like majority of EU countries, public broadcaster and private media business.  

Serbia has two public broadcasters – RTS with a national frequency and RTV with a regional reach in the province of Vojvodina. Both broadcasters get money from the subscription fees paid by all households in the country, while RTV still receives significant portion of funding from the state budget, which influences their editorial policy, independence and objectivity. Aside from state funding, RTS and RTV also compete with other media houses for a part of the advertising market.

The leading media in Serbia are polarized and it is widely felt that they are divided into pro- and anti- government camps. Pro-government media act as the public voice of the ruling party, standing in the way of serious public dialogue and directly favouring the ruling party while at the same time marginalising and obstructing the opposition in every way. Independent media have a critical stance towards the government but are under constant financial and editorial pressure because of it.

Lack of conducive environment for development of independent media led to overall lowering of the quality of the content. Sensationalist and tabloid rhetoric dominates, along with reality programs which are broadcast via national TV channels. Media system is not immune to spreading mis/disinformation, most often spread in digital space.
According to the data of Reporters without Borders and the Media Freedom Index for 2023 which the organization publishes, ranks Serbia on 91st place, falling from last year’s 79th place. The report notices that Serbia has the greatest drop in rating in the region of the European Union (EU) and Balkans, one of 12 points. It also highlights that the pro-government media are spreading Russian propaganda, and award-winning, quality journalism, which investigates crime and corruption, is caught between rampant fake news and propaganda.

While the legal framework is solid, journalists are threatened by political pressures and impunity of crimes committed against them.

Since the beginning of 2023, the database of the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS) notes a total of 122 attacks against journalists – including 6 physical attacks and 85 unpermissable forms of pressure. Journalists are poorly paid and the profession enjoys a very poor reputation in society. BIRN and Share Foundation monitoring also record 19 of various forms of online attacks against journalists or media outlets in 2023, including online threats and attacks on online infrastructure.

This year, it will be more than 20 years since the murder of three journalists – Dada Vujasinović (1994), Slavko Ćuruvija (1999), Milan Pantić (2001) – yet the investigations and court proceedings into their murders have still not been concluded.

  • Project by
    Global Media Registry
    Funded by European Union