SU-PRO-MEDIA | 24.07.2018 15:55 > 24.07 15:59

(Non)communication between pubic services and citizens (VIDEO)

Traditionally, the citizens’ influence on the Serbian public services’ editorial policies boils down to protesting in the streets, usually under the auspices of political parties. Of course, there are other models, prescribed by laws, but they have never been adequately utilized and the people we have talked to know little about them.
“For years the citizens have been suggesting what they would like to watch, but nothing changes,” said a student who participated in our poll.
“I don’t watch RTS [the Serbian Broadcasting Corporation], I use Internet,” says another female respondent, who belongs to a group of 30 to 40-years-old.
“Maybe, just maybe, something would change if many people reacted,” says a female representative of a 10 years older age group.
Journalist Maja Divac holds that there is almost no communication between the public services and the Serbian citizens.
“According to recommendations of the Council of Europe and the media legislation in general, such communication should be constant, open and dynamic. It is greatly needed, but we don’t have it,” says Divac.
Divac, who has conducted a survey titled “Citizens and the Public Media Services: Models of Civic Supervision of the Public Media Services,” says that without a quality communication with citizens there can be no good public media service.
“The very reason why public services exist is to serve the public, i.e. to be at the citizens’ disposal, to ensure their quality and objective informing, holding of public debates, exchange of different opinions, to provide the public with an opportunity to watch educational and culture programs. This is the primary role of the public media services recognized in the entire Europe as a model that should be supported and sustained,” Divac said.
For the time being the citizens in Serbia can communicate with the public services via e-mail and telephone, using numbers posted on their websites, but the public services are not obliged to respond to their enquiries or objections or to accept their suggestions. The citizens are generally dissatisfied with the information programs they offer.
“News programs are too rigid, inflexible, formal, following the official line and an expected lineup so that even before you hear a report you know what it will look and sound like,” says a man from a group of 50-60-year-olds.
“Monotony, lack of creativity, poor selection of staff and a general indifference of those involved [are their main characteristics]; money cannot compensate for everything,” says another, 60-year-old male respondent.
One of the key recommendations from Divac’s analysis is the establishing of a viewers’ protector, that is, the ombudsman, an institution the RTS may soon introduce.
“This will actually involve an ongoing show where people will be able to comment directly and on the specific issues, after which the ombudsman will analyze their comments and suggestions and seek the quickest and simplest mechanism to help improve the program,” says Jovanka Todorovic-Savovic from the RTS Program Council.
The ombudsman is a kind of guarantee that the media will meet their obligations to the public. Such practice already exists in Slovenia, France, Portugal, and Spain. The Croatian HRT public service has had a viewers’ trustee appointed by its Program Council since 2011. One of the biggest public services in the world – the BBC – does not have an ombudsman, but has a complaints section which communicates with the viewers around the clock, and this is the main source of the service’s quality and success.
“Every day they receive some 3,000 comments, appreciations and enquiries, and there is a service dealing with them thoroughly, making a daily report that is presented the next morning to producers and managers. The service in charge of complaints also responds to them,” Divac explains.
Citizens in Serbia can participate in public debates organized by the program councils of the RTS and RT Vojvodina TV stations. The law stipulates the holding of at least one such debate annually. Last year both public services organized four such debates each.
“The debates, unfortunately, work only one way. Public service representatives use the opportunity to present their programs and plans. This is not good, because they are the only ones heard at these gatherings, while the citizens have no opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns,” says Divac.
Program Council members are aware that public debates in their current form do not fulfill their purpose. Not only are they poorly organized, they are also poorly publicized, whereas the comments and suggestions by citizens are not taken into account.
“I cannot say whether the objections by viewers made during the debates are considered. The managing board was informed of them, but we don’t know whether they had influenced the program. The nature of our communication with the managing board can be best understood from the fact that during the past year we in the Program Council have not received even a report on show ratings, not to mention any detailed analyses of the program content,” says Milos Katic, a RTV Program Council member.
“RTS wants to hear what the ordinary viewers have to say. We have agreed that next time the debate will be in favor of the citizens, i.e. that 80 percent of the debate time will be allotted to them and 20 percent to our presentation of the program,“ says Jovanka Todorovic-Savovic.
The Program Council members also said that probably as of September a campaign will be launched to attract more participants in the debates.
“For us it is not just formally meeting our obligations. We are really doing our best to adequately organize such gatherings. If we had more participants, the recommendations for the improvement of the program content sent to the managing board would be based on a much larger sample and would thus be more relevant,” Milos Katic says.

“I must say that we had no specific acts and made no specific steps in this matter. Our conclusions from such meetings have been mostly advisory, but we plan to make everything more concrete, specifying the deadlines and appointing a person in charge of following the matter through. If you do not organize things that way, the action usually ends before it started,” says Todorovic-Savovic.
Off: The law stipulates that the public services should submit work reports to the Parliament and the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media. The Parliament, however, is yet to consider the reports, while the Regulatory Body adopted them at its session in March, not coming forth with any comments.


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