An Unexpected TV Rerun Sends Serbia's Social Media Into Censorship Panic

Screencapture of the promotional announcement of 24 Minutes with host Zoran Kesić on

Screen capture of the promotional announcement of 24 Minutes with host Zoran Kesić on

What network representatives called a post-production issue gave Serbian television audiences a momentary scare this week that yet another show occasionally critical of the government had been taken off the air.

The show, titled 24 Minutes and independently produced and broadcast on the B92 network, is a satirical news show which has taken a cue from the likes of the popular Daily Show and Colbert Report. The pre-taped show usually premieres Sunday evenings at 11 p.m. and has grown to be one of the most popular shows on national television in Serbia, with over 54,000 fans just on Facebook and a #24minuta hashtag on Twitter.

Since its start in 2013, 24 Minutes has taken a swing at active politicians and the government on several occasions. On Sunday, April 26, the lead story of the new episode was to be the public persecution of Serbia's ombudsman Saša Janković by some government officials. The ombudsman's office is an independent institution of the government and Janković was appointed for this role twice since the inception of the office in 2007.

But B92 television aired a rerun of the previous week's episode instead, immediately stoking speculation that the show might be on the network's chopping block due to political pressure. Maja Dragić, a producer and anchor on local CNN affiliate N1 Belgrade, was among the first to comment:

Looks like it was just a matter of time. #24minuta

Twitter user Ana Veličković simply called it “too many coincidences”. As some media and anyone present online that night noticed, many social media users discussing the matter in Serbia seemed convinced that it was a new case of censorship.

Janković, who was slated to be 24 Minutes’ guest, has spoken publicly about a plethora of civic rights concerns in the country, ranging from corruption to media freedom and human rights. In January 2015, his office filed criminal charges against two members of the military police on suspicion that they attacked members of a special police unit, the Gendarmerie, while they were on duty, a case that involves the brother of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić.

Despite recent pressure — including increased media scrutiny of his past and personal life, such as the 1993 suicide of a friend in his apartment –Janković has refused to step down from his ombudsman post. A recent poll showed that more people trust Janković (36%) than the combined government in Serbia (34%).

As questions about 24 Minutes’ broadcast began pouring in on social networks, show host Zoran Kesić took to his Facebook fan page just past midnight to admit that he was just as baffled. No one from the production team could get in touch with anyone from B92 network, Kesić explained:

Voleo bih da imam vesti za vas, bilo dobre bilo loše, ali trenutno NEMAM POJMA ŠTA SE DEŠAVA. Hvala vam na brizi.

I wish I had news for you, whether good or bad, but I currently HAVE NO IDEA WHAT'S HAPPENING. Thank you for your concern.

Censorship or marketing?

Since 2013, a good number of Serbia's other popular talk shows that touched on politics and other serious topics have either been taken off the air or moved to networks and cable channels with much lower ratings. Although the reasons given by the networks for these decisions were the “low ratings” of the shows, several people who worked on them publicly claimed that the real reason was censorship.

Journalist Olja Bećković was the author of what was the longest standing political talk show in the country, spanning over 20 years from the Milošević regime through the slew of democratic coalition regimes of the 2000s to the current majority Progressive Party regime in power since 2014. She claimed that Prime Minister Vučić had called her himself on several occasions to request a change of guests on her show or edit topics.

By mid-day Monday, a B92 representative gave local news site Blic a statement saying there had been a post-production issue with the new episode, and that the new episode would be aired on Monday at 9 p.m. in the slot usually reserved for the show's rerun.

Audiences, however, remained skeptical. Avid Twitter user and BBC World journalist Dušan Mašić commented:

Tonight at 9 p.m. we'll be counted on the people meters. Vucic v Kesic. So we can see we where stand. #24minuta

— Dusan Masic (@dusanmasic) April 27, 2015

After B92 network's statement, host Kesić once again took to the show's Facebook fan page. He explained that the episode had been delivered to the network two hours past the usual practice, and given the show's length, post-production can take a while:

Ali ono što je takođe jako bitno je činjenica da nas niko sa B92 nije obavestio o izmeni u programu. Menadžment televizije je svestan propusta i lepo su nam se izvinili uz obećanje da se ovakve situacije neće ponavljati. Takođe, mi smo svesni našeg propusta, usled koga je došlo do ove situacije. Dovođenje gledalaca u nedoumicu nikome ne ide u prilog.

But what is also very important is the fact that no one from B92 informed us of the change in programming. The network's management is aware of this mistake and has apologized kindly, with the promise that this situation won't repeat itself. Also, we're aware of our mistake, which led to this situation. Bringing viewers into this predicament is of no benefit to anyone.

Although the new episode did eventually air and the scare of censorship has passed, discussion continues on social media. While some believe that this may have been a warning to the show from ruling politicians over criticism of the government, many others wonder whether the entire situation was a publicity stunt.

Either way, it seems that either one or the other are looking for higher ratings.

And maybe it wasn't #censorship, maybe it was #marketing #24minuta

— Zoon Politikon (@Zoon_Politikon0) April 27, 2015

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