From the right of national minorities to information to the improvement of professional standards – Media strategy of the republic of Serbia and the Internal media code of ethics

автор Jan Braathu, photo: OSCE/Milan Obradovic 6. октобер 2021

Интервю зоз Амбасадором Яном Брату, шефом мисиї ОЕБС-а у Републики Сербиї з нагоди конференциї “Информованє на язикох националних меншинох у шветлє запровадзованя Медийней стратеґиї” (6. октобра прейґ зум платформи), котру орґанизовали НВУ „Руске слово” и Орґанизация за европску безпечносц и сотруднїцтво (ОЕБС).

Ambassador Jan Braathu, Head of the OSCE Mission to Serbia for Ruske slovo weekly on the occasion of the Conference on public information in minority languages in the light of Media Strategy implementation (6 October 2021, Zoom)

RS  The OSCE Mission to Serbia has been continuously engaged in the area of enhancing of minority rights through co-operation with national minority councils, relevant state institutions and the civil sector. To what extent is this activity important for the development of a democratic society in the Republic of Serbia?

Open dialogue, based on an inclusive approach, is crucial for any democratic system that delivers for and is accountable to its citizens. Working in partnership with the Serbian Government, independent institutions, civil society, national minority representatives, media outlets, journalists’ associations and other relevant partners, the OSCE Mission to Serbia strives to support a safe and enabling environment where differences of opinion areopenly discussed and resolved through civil dialogue. Dialogue is a core principle of the OSCE and we fully support platformswhere all voices can be heard.

Serbia’s multi-ethnic societyand cultural diversity is a strength, and the Constitution and subsequent laws support representation, freedom of expression and exercise of minority rights. All citizens, and not the least minorities, need to continue to feel empowered to participate in public life and fully exercise their rights, while engaging in a constructive interaction with institutions. The National Minority Councils provide an important institutional mechanism for the advancement of minority rights in the areas of information, culture, language and education. The OSCE Mission to Serbia supports these councils through a variety of capacity building programs, in addition to advocacy initiatives.

 

RS  The current Serbian government includes the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue. Is that seen as a confirmation that these three areas of public life are unavoidable and equally important when it comes to building civil society?

Institutional mechanisms that aim at the protection of human and minority rights, and improving citizens’ lives across ethnic lines, are welcome in any country. Institutions with a specific mandate regarding human rights can provide additional impetus for civic or institutional initiatives.

It is however, the very fabric of Serbia’s diverse society – and I see this diversity asits strength – that renders discussing and addressing the topic of minority and human rights as unavoidable as it is beneficial. Creating a specific Ministry is a strong sign that these issues are taken seriously. Apart from setting up specific institutions, however, it is necessary to pay close attention to the actual exercise of human rights and implementation of all relevant laws, international obligations and OSCE commitments in practice. Various institutions therefore have a specific responsibility in this regard, in order to develop and maintain a cohesive and resilient society. As for dialogue, I consider it as an integral part of any democratic process in European societies.

RS  In particular, the Mission supports the joint media project of the Ruskeslovo (Ruthenian Letter) “From the right of national minorities to information to the improvement of professional standards – Media Strategy of the Republic of Serbia and the Internal Media Code of Ethics.” What is the significance of this project from the OSCE point of view?

Public information in languages of national minorities isan important area of interest for the OSCE Mission. Citizens belonging to national minorities should enjoy all rights as citizens of the Republic of Serbia, guaranteed to them by the Constitution. In addition, they have guaranteed rights as persons belonging to national minorities. In accordance with Serbia’s progressive legislation, national minorities are enjoying the right to be informed and to exercise freedom of expression in their mother tongue. The Mission promotes political and media pluralism as values in Serbia’s multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society.

Furthermore, the Government of Serbia’s Media Strategy Action Plan encourages the creation and implementation of internal codes of ethics in media indirectly founded by National Minority Councils, in line with the NUNS and UNS Code of Ethics and public service principles.

According to the Media Strategy, national councils of national minorities have significant competencies concerning the promotion of public-interest related information. It is important that the National Minority Councils make the ethical standards their strategic priority when it comes to pluralism and editorial independence of media. Independence of media applies also within the national minority communities of Serbia.

This is where the OSCE Mission sees a very important function of internal Codes of Ethics that regulate the relationship between outlets for minority languages and National Minority Councils, to provide specific media content to promote an informed citizenry.

Our Mission promotes self-regulatory mechanisms and genuine democratic efforts when it comes to exercise of rights and freedoms. This is why we hope that the Code of Conduct as adopted by Ruske slovo will be consistently implemented, and hopefully replicated by other media addressing other national minorities.

RS  A solid number of national minority councils and the media have expressed their willingness to participate in this project. What does that tell you about the character of the minority community in Serbia, has its democratic capacity been insufficiently recognized so far?

I am glad to note that minority communities in Serbia have demonstrated a significant level of engagement in many areas of public life, one of them being freedom of expression and media. The constructive role and valuable contributions from experts belonging to national minorities were a crucial element in drafting the Media Strategy, which we hope will continue in the implementation phase.

The fact that several national minority councils are interested in developing internal codes of ethics to maintain high levels of ethical standards and to ensurethe respect of editorial independence of media they publish, is highly commendable. Our Mission stands ready to support further efforts in this direction.

RS  Although you have not been the head of the OSCE Mission in the Republic of Serbia for a long time, what is your impression, are we on the right track when it comes to the intention to become a member of the EU one day? What are our advantages, and what are the possible disadvantages in the process?

Sustainablere forms are in the best interest of Serbian citizens and of Serbia’s society, irrespective of EU membership. The OSCE Mission to Serbia supports the authorities in its priority reform areas in line with OSCE commitments and principles, to which Serbia, together with the other 56 participating States, have already and freely committed themselves. Our focus based on our mandate remains on strengthening democratic institutions; promoting the rule of law; advancing media freedom, ethics and professionalism; and fostering accountability and professionalism in the security sector. All these areas are in full support of the country’s strategic objectives, working in partnership with Serbia’s institutions by drafting legislation and policy, providing international best practices and advice, and conducting capacity-building activities and trainings.

In my view, Serbia is demonstrating commitment to implementing a range of complex reforms, the pace of which we hope will continue in inclusive, transparent processes in the interest of all citizens of the Republic of Serbia.

 

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