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Serbia: “Face to Face With Digitalization”

(An audio version of this post read by Vera Serkovic is also available. Please scroll down to the bottom of the page to access the audio player)

The Parliament of the Republic of Serbia elected a new government a few days ago. The basic goals now are for the new Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic to strive for European integration, defend Kosovo, strengthen the economy and social responsibility, step up the struggle against corruption and crime, and fulfill Serbia’s international commitments.

Bloggers paid attention to this event. However, one of them was also thinking about a very important issue for the government, something the new Prime Minister has so far failed to address.

Miroslav Jankovic, a B92's blogger, wrote this in his post titled “Face to face with digitalization”:

As time goes by, the significance of Internet as a source of information is growing. Just in Serbia the number of users has increased from 6% of the total population in 2003 to 16% in 2008. Because of that, governments are more and more interested in the information available on the web. Unfortunately, as an unavoidable consequence of this growth, there appears to be a desire of the governments to filter Internet content as well.

Some other countries around the world have already adopted laws that regulate freedom of expression on the Internet. In Serbia, this idea sounds like science fiction. Although the first impression of this statement is negative, maybe after all our position is not very bad at the moment. Maybe this can be an opportunity for us to put in order the behavior on the Internet which will not endanger the freedom of expression and media freedom, and human rights in general. Surely, not like in Saudi Arabia, or China, or Turkey, where there is, for example, censorship of YouTube and WordPress.

When legislators engage in this issue, they sometime intend to do a good thing. But, until they don't understand completely the whole complexity of Internet, their efforts can be unintentionally turned into a limitation of freedom of expression (at best), leading to excessive filtering and blocking of the web.

For example, blocking of some of the content that seems undesirable to them could lead to blocking of an entire web site or even an entire domain. However, “filtering” is the most frequent result in combination with excessive blocking, when more information gets blocked than planned initially. It has little effect, too, as such measures can be easily overcome by the average educated users of Internet. It is true that freedom of expression on the Internet cannot be unlimited: there is, obviously, some “illegal” content out there. I'll just mention child pornography or hate speech that appears most often on neo-Nazi organizations’ sites. Because of all that, it's quite a challenge to identify the difference between content that is illegal everywhere and always (such as child pornography) and content that is undesirable from the viewpoint of authorities and may be banned for political reasons.

There is one more dimension of the future of the Internet that attracts attention. Today, the Internet is considered as a kind of a supplement to the mainstream media. This situation will change soon. Digitalization of the media will decrease the influence of the national electronic media. The term “local media” will not be precise and correct anymore because of the immediacy that the Internet offers. Actual frequency distribution will be seriously shaken by alternative forms of distribution of information, such as the Internet. Also, it seems that blogs now have the power to transform the traditional ideas about ways of forming the public opinion. It forces on a question about a potential monopoly of Internet because of its lucrative feature. […]

In the comments section, dracena looked back at the following sentence from Miroslav Jankovic's post: “Digitalization of the media will decrease the influence of the national electronic media.”

She replied:

It is not clear to me what you mean by digitalization and about which media you are talking, but I have two absolutely different anticipations. More and more, there is a complementary relationship between the electronic media and the Internet. Developed countries are already using interactive TV, which, in other words, is a combination of TV and the Internet. And this medium right here – B92 – as you can see, it is going in the same direction. It is true that it will be very difficult for traditional TV stations to survive, but their competitors are modern TV stations, not the Internet. However, if you think about big national TV and radio stations, then you are probably right, because production and broadcast with modern technology is becoming cheaper and is available to many creative people.

Miroslav Jankovic believes that modern technologies, such as Internet, seriously endanger the traditional media. He explains what he meant when he used the term “digitalization”:

I’m thinking about a shift from the analog to digital media. That is something that all European countries should be finished with by 2015 and members of the EU by 2012, according to recommendation of the European Commission.

He adds:

I think that the new media, Internet, web presentations, multimedia, virtual reality will be pushing the traditional media (TV, radio, press) backstage more and more. So there will be a decreased influence of big national TV and radio stations, as you've guessed very well, and there will be increased influence of local (traditional) media. I think that will be a consequence of the transfer from the analog to digital system.

I don't read newspapers anymore. I exclusively use Internet as a source of information. Many of my acquaintances do the same…

Dracena, however, believes in compatibility of the mainstream media and Internet:

[…] If the print media are dynamic and inventive, they will not have damage from the Internet. They can also have an additional electronic form. […]

She also identified some issues that concern the Internet in Serbia:

[…] I think that the biggest obstacle to popularization of Internet in our country is the desire of many that everything published online should be lucrative, even those texts that have public importance, such as laws. Because of that many of them are not available online. Government should publish all laws and they should be free. Also, spelling and grammar of the Serbian language should be available online, because there are 33% of functionally illiterate people in Serbia. Generally speaking, the government should consider which content its institutions should be publishing on the Internet.

[…]

If we want to increase the use of Internet in Serbia, then “our Internet” will have to be useful to ordinary citizens. “Our Internet” is still empty now. Apart from companies whose sites are full of advertising, there is almost no other content, at least without subscription. When will we start to make the base of Serbian language? All European languages have already got software for translation. We are moving at a snail's pace because we have no electronic base of knowledge of the language. Internet is excellent, fast and useful, but it has to be “fed” smartly and healthily. […]

Miroslav Jankovic replies:

[…] Establishing the electronic form of the media instead of the print form will, above all, be important to the local media. Today local press is available in local areas. If they would be published on the Internet, they would be available all over the world. It is true, for now their topics have local character, but the Internet might be inspiration for them to engage in topics that are important beyond local areas. In this way, a strong competition will be created. That will be a challenge for the big media.

Jankovic is skeptical about law regulation. He says:

Law regulation requires too much effort and understanding of the complexity and I ask myself who will do this job if many of the mayors in Serbia have not got computers in their offices. […]

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2 comments

  • Thank you Sinisa and Vera for taking this initiative on board. It was inspiring meeting you both in Budapest.

  • Lucie Marie Dorion

    Sinisa and Vera you’ve done a really good job with this. Congratulations. I hope more Lingua groops willfollow and I’m ready to volunteer to read, and then I’ll make sure my language students listen to them.

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