The reactions to Twitter's decision to label several Serbia'a pro-regime media as state-affiliated, including the country's two public broadcasters - RTS and RTV continued on Wednesday with the RTS saying it would boycott the social network as long as the decision was in place.
„Twitter’s decision to label some of RTS accounts on that platform as ‘the Government affiliated’ forces us to reassess our presence on the network or ask the (European Broadcasting Union) EBU and other organisations RTS, as the public broadcaster, is a member of, for their opinion,“ RTS said.
It added it was dangerous for media people, especially journalists, to be labelled as the allies of the authorities.
„Last time when RTS was labelled as such, it was declared a ‘legitimate target,’ and NATO killed 16 our colleagues in its 1999 bombing“ (of the then Yugoslavia over the Belgrade policy in Kosovo), RTS recalled. It added that besides that „remains an unpunished war crime, it is also dangerous precedent that many uses to attack media people around the world.“
It added it would not advertise on Twitter’s accounts marked in any way.
„It is unacceptable that a technical platform, as Twitter describes itself, adds any text to our publication without our demand or consent. In this case, it’s labelling and inadmissible pressure on media, especially an EIB’s member,“ the public broadcaster said.
It added that Twitter positioned itself as a supreme censor by such a move, echoing earlier comments by Serbia’s Ministry of Culture and Information and President Aleksandar Vucic.
In further criticising Twitter, RTS said, „it’s scandalous that Twitter has not informed RTS that their remark will be added to our account, thus disabling us to decide on further steps and presence on that network. Besides, Twitter has offered not a single serious argument on which it based its decision,“ RTS said.
In a lengthy statement, RTS denies it’s financed from the budget, arguing that 31 European public broadcasters are entirely or partly funded by the respective states’ budgets „and then deserves to be labelled as government-affiliated.“
As such, RTS mentioned Radio Free Europe (RFE), Deutsche Well (DW) and the Voice of America (VOA). However, it forgot to say that its business report for the last year, submitted to the Parliament and seen by the independent Danas daily, said the public broadcaster’s 2020 revenue was 115.5 million euros (13.5 billion dinars), of which 14.5 million euros (1.7 billion dinars) were budget subsidies.
RTS’ statement also challenged other criteria Twitter had based its decision on and said there was no suggestion on what labelled media could do to free themselves from it.
It added that led to a conclusion the decision was political, i.e., „a form of political pressure on the media for which Twitter accuses the Government of Serbia, without providing any evidence for that. “
„Regardless of the decision that under changed conditions and political pressure, RTS will not publish on any platform, we believe that the EBU must react and prevent any pressure from large companies on its members. We reiterate that RTS has never violated Twitter’s rules. The influence and importance of Twitter in the world require that decisions about the company’s influence on the content that users post there be made publicly and transparently, which is not the case here. It is an example of dangerous practice for media freedom in Europe,“ RTS said.
Later on Wednesday, the Bureau for Social Research (BIRODI) suggested to the leaderships of public broadcasters RTS and Radio-Television Vojvodina, RTV to request detailed information from Twitter about the methodology and monitoring results that led to the assessment those media cooperated with Serbia’s Government.
One of the main issues in the inter-party dialogue in Serbia on election conditions facilitated by the European Parliament (EP) is equal access for the opposition and different opinions in general to RTS and other media under the regime financial or political influence.