Journalists working for TV Avala have began a strike because they have not received their salaries for six months. We have been offered a chance to hear their side of the story only after the strikers appeared in reports aired by other television stations (not including the so-called public service broadcaster). On the one hand, we have had a chance to see the despair of a small group of TV employees, while on the other hand, the managerial and ownership side has remained behind the veil of secrecy and silence. TV Avala has three owners and a manager, who is a famous TV host. One of the owners is a foreign citizen, while the remaining two – Milan Beko and Zeljko Mitrovic – are well-known by behind-the-scenes activities in the field of neo-Barbarism that is the Serbian-style privatization. Beko and Mitrovic can be very loud and persistent when defending their own interests. As it seems, they are not interested in TV Avala any more and they want to get rid of it. They do not care about the people who are employed in the station. Beko and Mitrovic are not even slightly ashamed of the fact that they owe six months' worth of salaries to dozens of their employees, amounting in total to less than a sum that these two businessmen spend on an evening with friends. They are not even aware of the tragicomedy of the situation in which a group of young people has to chase them to get their salaries.
Who else should be ashamed because of the strike of journalists in TV Avala? First, the government, which has found itself in a bad company and listened to advice on how to improve Serbian economy from someone like Milan Beko. Zeljko Mitrovic certainly does not have a habit of remaining silent. We should remember this summer's ruckus raised by him after Croatian customs had impounded his yacht. He threatened Croatia with a media blockade, and pronounced his yacht "Serbian property". After he got back his precious toy, of course he stopped calling it "Serbian property" any more. His arrogant behavior toward another country and the abuse of frequencies that are public good have not resulted in a reaction from the Ministry of Culture and Information and the Republic Broadcasting Agency.
For more than ten years, the state has been losing ground to private owners or making compromises with them that have ruined the country. In this way, factories have been destroyed, their production stopped and hundreds of thousands of people thrown out in the street. When a media outlet is ruined, it leads to a cultural defeat and imposition of a media blackout, diminished choice and destruction of a profession. Journalists that are still lucky to have a job in other companies now wonder when their turn will come. Fear and self-censorship are growing, and the freedom of the media is disappearing. Serbia is on a self-destructive path, and the case of TV Avala is only a step further in this downward direction.
The strike in TV Avala and the humiliating behavior of its owners toward their employees again raises the issue of organizing in the form of trade unions and the influence of journalistic associations. Although in a thoroughly ruined society this issue seems a bit superfluous, it is worth considering. The mutiny on TV Avala should serve as a wake-up call to Serbian journalism before our creative and investigative silence embarrasses us all.
December 30, 2011
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