Serbia has introduced a new system of funding public broadcasting as its overhauls media regulation as part of its application to join the European Union (EU). From 1 January, each household has to pay an annual fee – set at 150 dinars (€1.22) for this year – which will be added to their electricity bill.
The collected fee will be distributed between two public broadcasters: the national RTS, which operates four TV channels – RTS1, RTS2, RTS3 and RTS HD – and regional RTV, which has two channels, RTV1 and RTV2, which are only available in the province of Vojvodna. Those exempt from the fee include the disabled and pensioners.
Prior to 2014, public broadcasting was funded by a licence fee of 500 dinars (€4.34 at the 2013 rate). Even though the fee was bundled in with electricity bills, evasion rates were high (around 65-70% in 2013). In addition, the state electricity provider EPS did not pass on the full amount to RTS and RTV and often delayed the payment.
The abandonment of the fee in favour of state funding was one of the policies which got Aleksandar Vucic elected as President of Government of Serbia in 2014.
Serbia had been trying to enter the EU since the late nineties and in 2003 Serbia was identified as a potential candidate for EU membership. Serbia was granted candidate status in March 2012 and as part of the joining process is bringing its media regulation into line with the EU.
During the period of 2014-2015, the government’s funding of the broadcasters was criticised by European Commission (EC) officials: the EC were concerned that the public broadcaster should not be directly government-owned as it may lead to biased news reporting and propaganda. Besides, the adverse economic conditions meant that the government could not afford an €70-90 million budget which was required for the two broadcasters to operate. The plan is that the reintroduced smaller licence fee will be paid by a lot more people.
Italy has introduced a similar system this year as part of budgetary reforms. The cost of the annual licence will be reduced from €112 to €100 and payment debited from household electricity bills. It is expected the reform will significantly reduce licence fee evasion from a level of around 40%.
It is important to note that other than cutting the licence fee by 70%, the Serbian government has not changed the old system of collecting the fee despite the 2015 rumours that the contributions would bypass the electricity companies and go straight to the broadcasters.Other Balkan countries with a licece fee include Albania (€5.72), Bosnia and Herzegovina (€46), Croatia (€126), Greece (€51.60) Slovenia (€153), Montenegro (€42), Macedonia (€36.75) and Romania (€10.60). In Greece and Romania, the licence fee is collected in a similar way to Serbia.