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Serbia - Footprint of Financial Crisis in the Media (2009)

Serbia - Footprint of Financial Crisis in the Media (2009)

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Published by OSFJournalism
This Open Society Institute Media Program study explores the impact of the financial crisis on media and news delivery to citizens in 18 countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The global economic downturn has affected countless businesses across the region, forcing them to slash costs, lay off employees, and reduce output. Media businesses are no exception. However, when media businesses are hit, it is not just their turnover that suffers: their primary function, the delivery of news to citizens, feels the impact too.

To explore the impact of the crisis on independent media and accountability journalism, the Media Program carried out a study in 18 post-socialist countries heavily hit by the crisis: Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.

The study looks at media performance in 2009 compared with the previous three years, explores the cost-saving measures taken by significant news carriers, and the effects of these measures on output, breadth and depth of coverage, scope of investigative reporting, and opportunities for open public debate.

Key Findings
Media across the region have lost 30 to 60 percent of their income.
Media were forced to adopt cost-saving measures, including reduced volume, staff layoffs, reduced investigative reporting, and cuts in international and provincial coverage.
Several media markets have experienced a flight of foreign investors and bankruptcies of independent outlets.
The crisis-related constraints and ownership changes have caused an overall drop in the quality of news delivery to citizens.
Media content has become shallower, more entertainment-centered, increasingly isolationist, more prone to political and business influences, and lacking in investigative bite.
This Open Society Institute Media Program study explores the impact of the financial crisis on media and news delivery to citizens in 18 countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The global economic downturn has affected countless businesses across the region, forcing them to slash costs, lay off employees, and reduce output. Media businesses are no exception. However, when media businesses are hit, it is not just their turnover that suffers: their primary function, the delivery of news to citizens, feels the impact too.

To explore the impact of the crisis on independent media and accountability journalism, the Media Program carried out a study in 18 post-socialist countries heavily hit by the crisis: Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.

The study looks at media performance in 2009 compared with the previous three years, explores the cost-saving measures taken by significant news carriers, and the effects of these measures on output, breadth and depth of coverage, scope of investigative reporting, and opportunities for open public debate.

Key Findings
Media across the region have lost 30 to 60 percent of their income.
Media were forced to adopt cost-saving measures, including reduced volume, staff layoffs, reduced investigative reporting, and cuts in international and provincial coverage.
Several media markets have experienced a flight of foreign investors and bankruptcies of independent outlets.
The crisis-related constraints and ownership changes have caused an overall drop in the quality of news delivery to citizens.
Media content has become shallower, more entertainment-centered, increasingly isolationist, more prone to political and business influences, and lacking in investigative bite.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: OSFJournalism on Jul 25, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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07/25/2012

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Footprint of Financial Crisis in the Media
SERBIA country reportCompiled by Dragan KremerCommissioned by Open Society InstituteDecember 2009
 
FOOTPRINT OF FINANCIAL CRISIS IN THE MEDIA
2
General state of the media sector
There are two depressing aspects to the global financial crisis as far as the media in Serbia areconcerned.First, in terms of the economy and business generally, it has not brought any significant newchallenges for the reason that most of the problems facing these go back much further and areendemic: long delays in paying bills; the absence of effective legal means to enforce payment; thepractice of barter; and the fact that the government is the largest debtor, with a reputation for“bloodsucking”. All this impacts on cash flow, with the result that companies go bankrupt andemployees are laid off. With the process of political and social reform at a standstill, the weaktransitional economy is left burdened by unconsolidated institutions and an oversized ruling apparatusand there is little progress towards meeting EU standards. The business environment is thereforeunfavourable for most kinds of legal, competitive enterprises, even with foreign investment, andsustainable development is nearly impossible without outside help.The particular problems of the media in Serbia are similarly of long standing. They include the failureto complete new legislation, which was further hampered in 2009 by retroactive measures imposed bythe ruling coalition; the endless stalling of privatisation; the existence of more than 500 licensedbroadcasters, tainted by piracy, which depress advertising rates through their competition; regulatorybodies that are a bureaucratic drain on the state but lack transparency and are largely inactive;copyright agencies of dubious legitimacy; and a highly privileged public-service broadcaster-in-waiting. This over-saturated media market far exceeds both the commercial potential of the countryand the consumption capacity of the public, so many outlets keep going by money-laundering, shadydeals and biased reporting. Undue competition is killing off professional and independent newscarriers, and the infrastructure offers little protection for free speech and editorial balance.But if the crisis has not introduced any new factors into the situation, what it has done is worsenmedia business performance dramatically, endangering primarily the professional news media.Secondly, there are no early solutions to the media’s problems. Even when the financial crisis is overglobally, its effects will continue to be felt in Serbia. The fall in the amount of advertising, cheapercampaigns, delays in renewing or the cancellation of annual contracts etc have shrunk the media’scash turnover by roughly half. The print media, which are the main source of in-depth reporting andanalysis, and provincial media outlets have been the hardest hit. Recently established in Serbia, theAudit Bureau of Circulation noted a fall in sales of up to 13 per cent for daily publications and as muchas 21 per cent for weeklies in May/June 2009 on the same period a year before.
 
FOOTPRINT OF FINANCIAL CRISIS IN THE MEDIA
3
Media content
The measures taken by most media owners and managers to deal with the crisis are the conventionalones, which will sooner or later prove damaging: cutting running costs; reducing promotional activity,investment, development and programme acquisitions; outsourcing activities; re-scheduling currentbank loans and taking new ones (something that gets harder all the time, because of the meagrecollateral which most outlets can offer); restructuring on-air schedules; and reducing staff or shifts.Together with general inflation and increased taxes and prices, these measures have led to shorterdaily broadcasts, less output overall, lower salaries, layoffs of part-timers, fewer productions andpoorer news content. Inevitably, jobs have been lost and some media outlets have closed.Here are some comments from media professionals interviewed for this report:
RTV B92: ”The same quantity of news is now produced by fewer staff, inevitably leavingsome gaps. We are now covering 20 per cent fewer events with our own journalists/crewsand using more agency material. No doubt some events regarded as of lower importance arenot covered at all.”
PG Mreza: ”In-depth information has been replaced by short statements from “responsiblepersons”, “those in charge” or “experts”, so coverage of even the most complex issues hasbecome superficial.”
Vreme weekly: “The whole media industry is turning towards easily digestible content,attractive to advertisers, while neglecting in-depth and essential information. Alreadyprecarious, the media have been dealt new blows by this crisis.”
RTV B92: “The number of investigative stories in the news has decreased, because there arefewer reporters available. So there may be negative social trends that have gone unnoticed.”
PG KCM: “Insufficient information leads to wrong conclusions. Among the obvious andimportant consequences of reduced funding, newsrooms do not have enough specialist journalists able to provide thorough coverage based on their own knowledge. Today that is aluxury which the media cannot afford.”
PG Mreza: “Lack of money has hampered travel, both abroad and within Serbia. Out-of-capital news has diminished in quantity, even though the audience is interested in regionalmatters.”

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