The non-existent line between state and party interests, i.e. the strong engagement of the Government representatives in using state institutions as a channel to provide support to the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and build a personality cult of SNS leader and head of state Aleksandar Vucic, to which the most influential media contributed, marked the period of "campaign before the campaign," the findings of the CRTA Observation Mission said in its Pre-Election Report.
„CRTA’s observation mission conducted long-term monitoring of the period before the official start of the election campaign in Serbia, in line with international standards for independent civilian election observation. Since October 2021, a team of observers systematically gathered information on national media coverage in extended prime time. Since December 2021, a long-term field observation team has been deployed throughout Serbia and reports on key elements of the atmosphere in which elections are being called for MPs, the president and members of the Belgrade City Assembly,“ the statement said.
The report noticed that the abuse of the institutional advantages of the ruling majority was also reflected in client politics, such as one-time financial support programmes, but also sophisticated mechanisms of pressure on citizens, blackmail and ‘buying support,’ together with similar activities within the electoral corruption zone.
CRTA added that as much as a third of the recorded SNS field activities (almost 400) had a clientelistic character, not noticed in the much smaller-scale actions of non-parliamentary parties.
„An important feature of the period before the official election campaign is further polarization of the society, which escalated into physical violence at civil protests and police intimidation of people who participated in the rallies,“ CRTA said.
It added that „citizens’ distrust in the integrity of the election process has deepened with the reopening of the issue of misuse of the voter list in public, which is not accompanied by adequate reactions from the institutions.“
CRTA added that there was „a chronic lack of political pluralism in the media, which the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM) tried to blur with incomplete and inaccurate findings of its media monitoring, conducted according to a deficient and non-transparent methodology.“
The CRTA’s media monitoring shows a huge disbalance in favour of the Government, whose representatives have been given 85 percent of the air time dedicated to political players.
Inequality in the media representation of the ruling and opposition parties has increased compared to before the 2020 parliamentary elections.
„In the past four months, 40 percent of the media time allocated for political players in the extended prime time of televisions with national coverage has been dedicated to the President (Vucic). The Temporary Supervisory Body, formed as a result of the EU-mediated inter-party dialogue on election conditions, failed to compensate for the shortcomings in the work of the REM,“ CRTA’s report said.
From the beginning of the observation period until the elections were called, CRTA submitted 14 reports to the respective institutions, six to the Agency for Prevention of Corruption, seven to the REM and one to the Education Inspectorate of the southern town Leskovac municipal Administration.