20 November 2003, Volume 5, Number 37
NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of "RFE/RL South Slavic Report" will appear on 4 December 2003.
THE IMAGE OF AN IRRESPONSIBLE SOCIETY: IS THERE A PUBLIC IN SERBIA FOR SERIOUS MEDIA?
A program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) by Rade Radovanovic of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service with Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac and Grujica Spasovic, editor in chief of the daily "Danas."
RFE/RL: Those who read, listen to, and watch the media in Serbia get an impression of quite considerable irresponsibility, of an irresponsible society. Mr. Korac, do you share that impression?
Zarko Korac: Basically I do.... Right now we live in a transitional period when many of the old values have been shown to be useless but new ones have yet to emerge in their place....
I find it staggering to see how low the level of our political discourse can be. There are no principles, only intrigues, insinuations, and hearsay. It is almost unbelievable, not only to me but also to many neutral observers.
RFE/RL: Mr. Korac, do you find politicians in general responsible for this?
Korac: Yes, of course I do. But that is only what completes the circle..... What we now have are tabloids with clear political agendas. These attract an ever-wider public, which in turn adds to the degree of irresponsibility in public discourse.
RFE/RL: Mr. Spasovic, do you agree with Mr. Korac?
Grujica Spasovic: I absolutely agree with Mr. Korac and think that there is much irresponsibility. However, I would not go so far as to claim that society is totally irresponsible.
What we see is the result of a low level of political and other culture, and also the result of the fact that we have been learning about democracy for only the last three years, since [the ouster of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in October] 2000. But instead of promoting new, democratic values, politicians are often a throwback to an earlier era.... In any event, it took too long to pass the Law on Public Information....
RFE/RL: Mr. Korac, can you accept my colleague Grujica Spasovic's viewpoint?
Korac: This is one of the rare moments when I do not completely agree with him.... I consider our Law on Public Information a good one. Of course, in drafting the legislation the lawyers and the media people represented different interests....
Some restrictions are needed because the media can often permanently ruin someone's reputation if they are allowed to say or write whatever they please....
We continue to have an element that I call the "parasite media" because they live off the rumors, slander, and scandals that responsible media should not deal with.
Let me give you an example. Remember that one politician, the leader of the New Serbia party, Velimir Ilic, kicked a journalist in front of the TV cameras just because he did not like his question (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2003).
But do you know what I find unbelievable? The fact that some media continue to publish every single insulting word he says. There was no boycott of Ilic by the media, no real reaction by journalists to the kicking incident. There are even media whose business strategy is based on [exploiting] what Velimir Ilic says. One would have at least expected journalists to act in their own self-interest and not publish the words of a man who kicked their colleague in a studio.
But that did not happen. We live in a time of transition, with no clear rules of public behavior.
RFE/RL: It seems that the main rule is that there is no God and that everything is allowed. Since democracy was introduced, everybody can do, write, say, and publish whatever he wants. Some people even suggest that some of the media were responsible for the killing of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.
Korac: I have never agreed with that theory.... There are media that participated in a campaign against him, but it seems to me that the motives for the killing lie elsewhere....