The Public Information Act (2003) stipulates that all print media in Serbia including Politika should be privatized by 2006. During the course of ownership transformation, 50% of Politika’s capital was purchased by WAZ, a German media group, whereas the remaining 50% is controlled by Politika a.d, a joint stock company where government-owned capital in different forms is involved.
Politika daily is therefore made subject of analysis not because it represents what is colloquially called a “pro-government newspaper” — since it is every newspaper’s legitimate right to pursue editorial policies of its own choice — but because it represents a government newspaper due to possible government’s involvement in its ownership through various forms. Politika’s position is specific, because its editorial policy has depended — and still does — on the political will of those in power. It is for this reason that Politika’s reporting should be closely monitored until its privatization has been completed as prescribed by law.
The analysis presented in this issue of the EWS Newsletter argues that writing about Politika does not mean writing about a newspaper, but about the misuse of a newspaper on the part of the government which exercises decisive influence on the choice and intonation of information communicated by means of the daily. Each message sent through Politika therefore carries special weight and deserves additional attention.
– A Government-Owned Daily in a Transition Society
Despite numerous zigzags and ups and downs in domestic and international politics, Belgrade daily newspaper Politika has established itself as an important opinion maker — both a powerful instrument and an influential player — at the Serbian political scene, respected by the public and feared by many a politician. In a nutshell: Politika is considered to be a national institution par excellence, second only to the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU) and the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC). It is therefore no wonder that all power politicians from Tito to Milošević — yesterday’s Koštunica and today’s Tadić are no exceptions to that rule -– have considered full control over Politika to be their top priority as a matter of course. This was especially visible during the Milošević rule: along with the state-controlled Radio Television of Serbia (RTS), Politika played a key role in the propaganda machinery that dutifully advocated, supported, defended and further fuelled the policies of war against almost all ex-YU „sister Republics“ and indeed much of the free world. Countless observers and analysts at home and abroad consider Politika’s role of an enthusiastic mouthpiece in propagating Serbia’s expansionist crusade during the 1990s to be one of the most remarkable features of the Milošević regime.
The overthrow of Milošević brought about negligible changes in Politika: whereas only few top editors and managers were removed and replaced by more moderate „professionals“, the entire team of editors and journalists „inherited“ from Milošević remained in place and adapted to the new political and business climate. The extent to which these changes were cosmetic was to be recognized only after the assassination of Prime Minister Djindjić in March 2003 and the restoration of much of the Milošević value system under Prime Minister Koštunica (2004-2007 and 2007-2008), assisted by President Tadić’s Democratic Party (DS) : Koštunica gained control over key ministries and other pillars of the system – Politika included. After Koštunica’s departure from power, Serbian part of the Management, as well as Chief Editor Ljiljana Smajlović and some members of her team were replaced in October and a new team installed in November 2008. The „hard core“ of Politika-„professionals“ stayed on.
Almost half a year after the change at its helm, Politika continues to adapt its editorial policies and reporting on burning problems of contemporary Serbia and indeed the world to the liking, expectations or interests of the dominant ideological and political elites. Following is a description of views held by journalists and other authors represented in Politika on some of the most topical issues of domestic and international affairs.
WESTERN WORLD, EUROPE AND THE EUROPEAN UNION
Little has changed in Politika’s reporting on developments in the Western world after Milošević and the xenophobic attitude subsequently cherished by journalists, editors and columnists subscribing to Koštunica’s world outlook: the West is often depicted as a nest of materialism, moral decay, corruption and selfish insensitivity to the plight of the needy, jobless and weak. Reading Politika, one can learn very little about the setup and functioning of the European Union as a value-based community fostering socially responsible market economy, rule of law, human and minority rights and functioning democratic institutions. According to Politika, the EU is an over-bureaucratized mastodon that serves its own purpose and wastes money, time and energy on endless debates on how long a cucumber dare be instead of addressing the burning issues of the modern world. Brussels bureaucracy’s allegedly arrogant and indeed discriminatory attitude towards new EU members represents one of Politika’s favorite topics – the message sent is clear: Serbia has no reasons to expect a better treatment, once a member.
COLUMNISTS AND GUEST AUTHORS
Politika’s openness for advocates of traditionalist and patriarchal values and staunch opponents of Serbian society’s modernization and inclusion into contemporary world trends has become commonplace in Serbia’s media environment. Pogledi (Viewpoints), a section featuring editorials and commentary contributed by outside authors, often turns into a tribune open to hate speech tirades abundant with xenophobia, fierce attacks on all those who stand for European values, and harangues on human rights activists and nongovernmental organizations. It is with the (November 2008) change of Politika’s top editors that Pogledi has become more accessible to the latter to answer to those attacks and defend their views, but the fact remains that advocates of a regressive, xenophobic, anti-European Serbia continue to be present in Politika as a proof of a rather naïve (mis)conception of “letting a thousand flowers blossom”.
Readers’ comments to be found on Politika Online website represent an inseparable part of what appears to be Politika’s failure (or refusal?) to resist the misuse of freedom of expression by individuals who advocate political, ethnic, religious and other forms of intolerance, hatred and even anti-Semitist and pro-Nazi views: some of columns by authors mentioned in footnote 4 were followed by hundreds of readers’ comments reflecting or openly propagating such views. An example: European Parliament’s decision to proclaim July 11 Srebrenica Remembrance Day was reported on in Politika on Jan. 16, 2009, but Politika Online carried a total of 206 readers’ comments which included the following: “And who are those people who proclaimed [the]Srebrenica [Day]: Jews, Croats and perhaps Catholics. What kind of a history is it when it’s them who decides on our fate“. Or: „ … it is now clear that the so-called European Union [is]just a new Third Reich. One knows where Serbs belong [in a Third Reich]”.
On the other hand, several attempts to “test” Politika Online by submitting comments carrying messages critical towards this “mainstream” have failed: they were never published.
In line with the dominant “patriotic” discourse on Kosovo, which “seasons” Serbia’s political atmosphere with a mixture of pathetic lament and cocky defiance, Politika’s reporting on developments in and around “our southern Province” does not diverge from the uniformity of Serbian media approach to this issue. Duteously discharging its role of the ruling political class’ mouthpiece, Politika reports on Kosovo in a manner which has two dimensions: (1) As a result of an unprecedented international conspiracy against Serbia, Kosovo was, contrary to all principles and provisions of the international law, “snapped away from us” and unlawfully declared independent; and (2) Serbian minority in Kosovo suffers grave consequences of unbearable oppression, terror and denial of all rights and freedoms .
Not a single word can a Politika reader find about the course of events and processes that have brought the situation in Kosovo to the present stage. The 10th anniversary of the beginning of NATO air strikes against the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia represented yet another opportunity for Politika to remind (with much pathos) of the ferocity of the bombardments and magnitude of the loss of life and property, as well as to report extensively on various events and statements commemorating the anniversary. Again, there was no mention on what preceded the events of 1999 and what role Belgrade had played in them: according to Politika, the history of the last Balkan wars began and ended 1999.
A UN Security Council session on Kosovo was held on the very anniversary day, March 24. Politika carried on March 25 lengthy reports on the session, reproduced the entire speech President Tadić gave on that occasion, and informed about the President’s activities while in New York. The contents of [Kosovo Foreign Minister] Skender Hyseni’s address to the Council -– as well as the fact that he spoke -– remained a secret to Politika readers, as did the exchange of blows between the two and interventions of a number of Western ambassadors during the session. According to Politika’s report, the only speaker to address the Council besides President Tadić was Russian Ambassador V. Churkin.
By far is Russia the country most frequently mentioned, referred to or reported on in Politika. Along with frequent, extensive and extremely apologetic reports from its Moscow correspondent, there are several commentators and columnists who contribute enthusiastic odes to Russia’s renaissance under Putin (as opposed to Boris Yeltsin, frequently referred to as “the beggar”) and celebrate Russians’ support for “our just cause of retaining Kosovo”. Apart from occasional references to limitations imposed on media freedom and some other features of Putin’s “sovereign democracy”, Politika’s readers have no opportunity to inform themselves on what really goes on in that country’s economy, society, culture and arts. Instead of availing itself of the resources at hand (a Moscow-based correspondent and several experts on Russia on its staff), Politika insists on an obsequious attitude toward Russian rulers and reduces its reporting on Russian affairs either to 19th century geopolitical “analyses” of Moscow’s role in the world, or to Russian stance on Kosovo. Even when Putin’s clamp down on opposition or human rights groups becomes a topic in Politika, understanding is shown only for official policies.
However, there is a change in Politika’s reporting in the context of economic aspects of Serbia’s relations with Russia: simultaneously with odes to Russia’s -– especially Putin’s — foreign and Kosovo policies, and uncritical celebration of the neocolonialist energy deal with Serbia in its reporting on political topics, Politika’s economics section recently embarked on a more critical and analytical approach to Russia treating Serbia as a junior partner in their economic relations.
Fully in line with the attitude towards Russia, Politika’s reporting on former Soviet republics features full support for Russian views and policies on Ukraine, Chechnya and Georgia (including S. Ossetia and Abkhazia), as well as understanding for Belarus’ Lukashenko.
FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLICS, BALKAN WARS OF THE 1990S
Much of Politika’s reporting is devoted to developments in former Yugoslav republics, especially Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, and to a lesser extent to Macedonia . This section’s emphasis -– sometimes even its sole purpose — is to depict the plight of ethnic Serbs who live there: they allegedly are discriminated against, the areas they inhabit are backward and neglected, and they have problems when attempting to claim their rights, attend school, speak their language, and find jobs. The causes, actual development and consequences of the 1990s Balkan wars represent a topic in Politika only inasmuch as “additional evidence” is necessary to prove the continuity of Serbs’ position of an underdog in ex-Yugoslavia and the main — if not the sole — victim of those wars.
Here, too, the pattern applied to the Western world is recognizable: economic hardship, social backwardness, corruption, scandals and bad governance are the most outstanding features of these countries’ reality.
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Politika represents a reliable indicator of political and intellectual elites’ attitude towards issues related to human rights, democratization and modernization in present-day Serbia. Any significant advance in respecting and implementing democratic standards and values in that daily is therefore unthinkable if the Government’s involvement in its ownership and political influence on its editorial policy remain perpetuated.