Third of RTS political programme for Aleksandar Vucic
When it comes to the Serbian Broadcasting Corporation (RTS), 80 per cent of time reserved for political actors is set aside for the ruling coalition, represented in positive light. President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic alone takes up a third of time, which he usually uses to talk about foreign officials. Among the first eighteen political actors appearing in the evening news bulletin Dnevnik 2, central political programme – there are no representatives of the opposition. This is the latest information from the media monitoring by CRTA, which concerns five TV stations with national frequency in the extended prime time.
Political pressure on RTS with its programme dominated by ruling parties, is not an isolated example, in fact, it is very similar to the issues the Croatian public broadcasting company is facing, as our interviewees claim. Istinomer compared RTS and HRT, and used the BBC, the oldest public broadcasting service in the world, as an example. The BBC had set up the foundation through its principles to inform, educate and entertain. However, after the last elections in the Great Britain, there were objections to its work. Compared to Great Britain which has a developed culture of dialogue and strong institutions, Croatia and Serbia share similar “biography” – rocky road of transition, the pressure reflected in the selection of topics and the time allocated to the political actors.
RTS – Vucic and protests in “empty institutional field”
Following the petition from the academic sphere with a request for changing the editorial policy, since they believed RTS is fooling the public, a protest in Belgrade was announced for the end of this month. In their announcement to public broadcasting company they said “citizens of Serbia are guaranteed by Constitution to be informed, which you have failed to ensure by your editorial policy”.
Is this criticism well-founded? It is redundant to debate whether RTS is inclined towards the ruling parties or not, if you look at the numbers, which are clear. In the framework of the election observation, CRTA performs media monitoring by observing TV stations with national frequency, in the extended prime time from 17.30 until midnight. Regardless of the form, every content which includes presence of political actors is being monitored.
“The 80 per cent of content on RTS is related to the political actors from ruling coalition and they are represented in positive light. The parties that declared boycott take up 14 per cent of the total time. They are usually represented neutrally or in negative light. Other parties take up seven per cent of the total time. They are usually represented as neutral or positive”, as seen from the results of media monitoring in the period from mid-October last year until 2 February 2020.
The President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic takes up the majority of time and he is usually represented as positive.
Vucic is using this time to talk about foreign officials (outside of the region) most of the time, and usually in a positive manner.
Central political TV programme on RTS1 is Dnevnik 2 and it is dominated by – representatives of government. The first eighteen actors – do not include opposition. Ruling coalition is represented as very positive. In five months of monitoring – the most frequently mentioned representative of opposition is Marinika Tepic, but only as the 19th political actor in a row. She is followed by Marko Bastac and Bosko Obradovic, primarily presented in negative light.
The programme Upitnik (“Questionnaire”), formed as debate, usually includes several interviewees. The opposition usually gets its RTS time in Upitnik and programme “Sta radite, bre” (“What are you doing, for God’s sake?” which by RTS standards could be assessed as tabloid). In both programmes the representatives of government are represented as positive, and representatives of the opposition as negative or neutral. However, although Upitnik (“Questionnaire”) includes several guest most of the time, it also had only one guest per programme such as Aleksandar Vucic, Ana Brnabic and Milorad Dodik.
According to the information form this monitoring, Aleksandar Vucic alone takes up the third of RTS time.
How is this data indicative of the audiences in Serbia and is there audience in Serbia today? Zoran Gavrilovic from BIRODI says that the media turned to government and buyers of the advertising space, and the audiences became the client of their advertising, which is a problem.
“We are moving towards divided reality. On the first hand we have young, well-educated, not older than thirty, which have moved to the phase of self-informing, threatened by a risk of fake news, for example. On the other hand, we have older people, less educated, who watch Pink, RTS, Happy and the tabloids. A society with two realities, which in the perspective can create conflict in the society. Who should be the mediator? Public service. Between the particular interests, which is understandable. Instead of being proactive and deliberating, the analyser, inquirer, holding the government accountable, the public service is shying away from that and leaving that space to Pink and N1. Pink is an instrument of propaganda and N1 is trying to be what the public service should be”, says Gavrilovic.
In his own words, RTS has an ear for “Vucic’s topics”, elaborated in such a way that suits the government.
“The other side is not included. If they open a topic, let’s say, Krusik, they will invite the irrelevant guests, cover the topic with some sources, actually make “Potemkin media village” that is to withhold the situation in the society. RTS is an object rather than a subject in the media sphere. Our society is in the serious process of deideologisation and departisation. Our political parties lost their ideological aspects, and the key issue and reason for that is that parties had replaced their political advisors by PR agencies. As it was said, we are an “empty institutional field”, the institutions are not working. We debate here if RTS shall meet its legal function. Under the Constitution, the citizens have the right to be truthfully informed, which has been violated”, notes Gavrilovic.
RTS did not reply Istinomer regarding their coverage and political actors.
HRT – driving force in presidential race and “bulletin of the ruling”
Croatian ranking is much better than Serbian in the Reporters without borders ranking which demonstrates the degree of freedom. However, as referred to in their report, the real problem is the interference of the executive in the work of HRT that is “obviously under the political pressure”. It is adverse that HRT filed a complaint against their employees who complained about that problem, and the Croatian Journalists’ Association as well. As for the amount of time the political actors are given in the Croatian public broadcasting service, the situation is similar to Serbia.
HRT is monitoring the elections in accordance with the Law on HRT, and their own electoral rules under which all candidates – have the right to equal treatment in the public media service. However, in practice it appears to be different, as told to Istinomer by Croatian Journalists’ Association (HND).
“When it comes to presidential race, HRT is obliged to give same opportunity to all candidates who passed the control of State Electoral Commission (DIP) meaning the same conditions and same time in minutes, regardless of the real rating (by surveys and actual situation), as DIP investigates if they had delivered the required number of votes and other, yet for the parliamentary elections with various coalitions – everyone should get the opportunity to present themselves, but in programmes such as TV debates those with best chances to win get the invitation – by surveys and rating”, said interviewees from HND.
In 2015, HRT even cancelled the debate they had organised independently, since it was estimated they had too arbitrarily selected the participants which could have influenced the public opinion for the benefit of some of them.
What is stopping the public from their right to know?
“We had a very interesting presidential race behind us with HRT as one of the key figures but with clandestine background. Namely, in the dawn of the presidential elections candidacy HRT published a survey with singer Miroslav Skoro as a candidate, who had amazing position in the survey with 10 per cent of electorate. It is interesting that he did not exist in the public space until that moment so the audience, politicians and the political commentators could not overcome surprise where did he come from”, HND commented for Istinomer.
Our interviewees explained that HRT has served as a platform for him to be politically launched.
“He joined the presidential race as a favourite candidate of the far-right and won the respectable 23 per cent of votes in the first run when he almost threw President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic out of that race. Although the public wanted to know, we still have not received the answer from either TV or the branch of Croatian Journalists’ Association in Croatian television – how did Skoro really end up in the survey that launched him among the favourite candidates”, explained HND.
As for the time allocated to political actors in HRT, the dominant position belongs to – the government.
“Outside the electoral cycle, HRT, more precisely, this composition which was politically installed in 2016, gives beneficial treatment to the ruling coalition in all their programmes, i.e. the leading HDZ. Regardless of the relevance of the events both in the country and abroad, the priority is what Prime Minister has done or what ministers do and until yesterday it was President Grabar Kitarovic. Although their appearances are mostly just part of the protocol, there are being followed most of the time without exception. They get invited to TV shows where their work is uncritically reviewed, so those shows were named “bulletin of the ruling”, as said in HND.
As they say, the opposition is just a potted plant to support the statement – “we invited the other”.
“If we could put in numbers their appearances, maybe it would not be that bad, but this is helped by the fact that HRT dealt with the crisis of the leading opposition party. For days, weeks and months they invited the conflicted parties and talked about crisis in SDP. The opposition was completely marginalised when it comes to content, and only irrelevant parts of their statements are quoted”, said our interviewees.
A year ago, HND organised a protest, with several demands. Among other things, they demanded the amendment of the Law on HRT, and termination of the misuse of judicial proceedings as a form of pressure on journalists.
As explained in HND, HRT editors are running on auto-pilot, so there is no need for government to push them, and independent journalist are removed from the screen and marginalised.
Istinomer did not receive answers from HRT, the same as with RTS.
BBC – trust of the older audience and a few minutes of the younger generation’s time
British Broadcasting Service is the oldest public media service and a role model, not only for its organisation but also for values it proclaims, to all other public media services created later, including RTS.
During the last electoral campaign in Great Britain, the BBC was severely criticized in social media. At the same time, it was the main source of news on the elections. Some of the objections included a broadcast, which was assessed as fooling, and “inappropriate” tweets of their journalists.
Objections were usually made by political actors. However, the latest surveys indicated that 43 per cent of people surveyed said they had done “a good job” covering the elections, and 14 per cent said they did a bad job. BBC news app was the most used compared to competitors in the same period.
Television was extremely relevant source of information, especially among older audience. However, only the fifth of examinees watched political debates live on the BBC. It is a problem that, as referred to in Reuters Institute research, people only use three per cent of their online time – to read the news.
Pursuant to strict laws, the BBC must remain politically neutral and dedicate the same amount of time to the candidates. In the course of the election night, the BBC had four times more online traffic than Guardian which came second. BBC domination online, but also in radio and TV programme, indicates less pluralism than it was believed to exist in Great Britain, as noted by the researchers.
Aleksandra Niksic, the editor-in-chief of BBC News in Serbian, said for Istinomer that “main BBC principles apply in all situations”.
“Truth, impartiality, accuracy and independence from political influence are our values that we would never steer away from, regardless of the topic, time and circumstances of the reporting. One of the proclaimed purposes of the BBC as public broadcasting service is ‘to provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them … so that all audiences can engage fully with major local, regional, national, state and global issues and participate in the democratic process, at all levels, as the audience of active and informed citizens’, is what is written in the Royal Charter on the BBC foundation”, stated Niksic.
In her words, the BBC as the public service should be especially accountable to its audiences if there is upcoming elections or referendum.
“Political opinions and campaigns are not limited only to political parties because impartiality has to be applied for the entire set of political activities and for everyone who participates in the political debate, and, if necessary, to consult Ric Bailey, BBC Chief Advisor for Politics. For example, if someone from the government or ministries wants to impart an official message or information videos that to a certain extent include public policies or political controversies, Chief Adviser for Politics has to be informed about it in order to give opinion to the editorial team on the potential use and transmission of such messages”, explained Niksic.
There are special rules for social networks, particularly in the election period – for example, journalists should not declare who will they vote for and must refrain from publicly supporting any of the political parties, as Niksic had said, and also never express their opinion for or against a topic currently politically debated, and avoid supporting specific position on the topic related to public policy, political or industrial controversy.
“We do not have available statistics on the time dedicated to political actors, but one should bear in mind that in the United Kingdom the BBC has BBC Parliament TV channel, and also various other media formats – regional newsrooms, radio stations, digital services – which have their own programmes. However, editorial standards are relevant for everyone”, our interviewee mentioned.
The BBC daily receives about three thousand letters from its audience, which sums up to million letters a year. Almost a fourth of it includes complaints from viewers and listeners. They practice to include all comments, complaints and praises from the last 24 hours into a report that circulates their newsrooms every morning.