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IRIS 2009-9:17/27

Serbia

Amendments to Law on Public Information Adopted

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Miloš Živković

Belgrade University School of Law - Živković Samardžić Law offices

At its session held on 31 August 2009 the National Assembly adopted the Amendments to the 2003 Law on Public Information of Serbia. The Act was promulgated by the President on the same day and came into force on 8 September 2009. Compared to the Government proposal of July 2009 the adopted amendments were altered during the parliamentary debate so that a tight majority in favour of the amendments has been achieved (125 out of 249 MPs voted for the amendments).

The 2003 Law on Public Information has been altered in three points: the Registry of Media Outlets abandoned in 2003 has been re-introduced; a ban on the transfer of founders' rights over media outlets has been introduced and sanctions (fines) for potential breaches of the law have been increased.

As for the Registry of Media Outlets the competent Minister shall pass a detailed rulebook within 30 days from the day the amendments came into force. Being registered shall be a precondition for operating a media outlet. In the case where a media outlet is publicised without proper registration the fines are severe and go up to RSD 20 million (about EUR 20,000) with the possibility of an interim measure which consists in a ban from operating media outlets for the company fined. Special attention has been given to the duty to respect the presumption of innocence because severe fines are prescribed in a case where a media outlet breaches that presumption: fines of up to 100 % of the overall daily value of sold copies and marketing space may be imposed in that case.

The amendments show a clear intention to tackle various forms of fraudulent behaviour by companies who are founders of media outlets, which resulted in practical impunity for damages made by breaches of the journalists’ due diligence in reporting. But journalists’ associations and many local experts pointed out that the same goals could have been achieved by means that would have been less restrictive on freedom of expression than the current amendments. The opponents have announced they are prepared to challenge the Law before the Serbian Constitutional Court and, if need be, before the ECHR, in order to force the Government to revoke it.