Monitoring of Serbian Parliamentary Elections
The Beacon Project conducts regular online media monitoring using its >versus< media-monitoring tool which is free to its network of researchers (interested in joining?) to gain a deeper understanding of Balkan society and identify the gaps in democratic governance and societal vulnerabilities exploited by domestic and foreign influence campaigns. For more a detailed background on the Serbian Election and our monitoring see our Introduction Page.
The elections, originally slated for April 2020, were postponed to late June due to the spread of COVID-19, which also dominated the news. IRI adjusted its monitoring methodology to the new circumstances adding two new topics - Healthcare and Economy, which were dominating public discourse.To see the adjusted dashboard and findings, head over here.
Initial Insights (Sep-Dec Data)
After completing the coding of approximately 5,500 articles published between September and December 2019, we present the first in our series of data dashboards. These dashboards are designed to provide an overview of coverage relevant to the Serbian parliamentary elections which were due to take place on April 26, 2020, but have since been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We will continue coding the data up to March 2020 and then pick up the topic again once the new election date is known. Accompanying the dashboard are short points of interest for casual watchers of Serbian politics and experts alike. Further analysis and insights will come over the course of the next few months, including data focused on the media coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Explore the two dashboards by clicking on different elements and filtering the data to discover your own interesting insights. For further information see the instructions on page 2 of the report at the bottom of the dashboard.
- Media coverage is dominated by President Aleksander Vučić (Serbian Progressive Party). He was directly discussed in over 51% of monitored articles. Prime Minister and fellow SNS party member, Ana Brnabić, received the second highest coverage at 11%. In comparison, one of the leading oppositions actors, Dragan Đilas of the Democratic Party received less than 8% of coverage.
- While it is expected that Vučić would receive more coverage given that he is the current President, when compared to other political actors in an analogous situation the coverage still appears lopsided. For example, the six monitored media outlets published 40,585 total articles between September and December and 9% of them covered President Vučić; meanwhile, a quick search in the Czech Republic's six major online news portals finds that 7% of articles refer to Czech President Miloš Zeman.
Vučić in positive light
- Despite our monitors finding that a majority of the online content is generally neutral in its coverage of the candidates (56.58%), being composed of descriptive and informative articles rather than opinion pieces. However, the actor with the largest share of the positive coverage is President Vučić.
*See the results for yourself by clicking on the positive pie slice and take note of Vučić's proportion (>70% of the positive coverage)*
- Moreover, our monitors noticed that a sizeable amount of the coverage for Vučić can be described as covering PR photo-ops by the president rather than content of significance. Such examples include articles covering Vučić’s dinner with garbage men or eating hot peppers during his visit to the village of Kalna.
- Additionally, by selecting all (ctl+click) the government supporting political actors (Vučić, Brnabić, Vulin, Dačić, Đurić, Šešelj) on the pie chart compared to those from the opposition (Đilas, Č.Jovanović, M.Jovanović, Jeremić, Trifunović, Lutovac, Obradović) you can see a dramatic distinction in the coverage they are receiving.
Neutral reporting about monitored topics
The monitors focused on four major topics: Relationships with Russia and NATO, the status of Kosovo, and the fairness of election conditions. Additionally, other contextual topics which have the potential to shape the elections such as (election) boycott, youth, corruption, EU, US, and China; were also noted. Online media have largely been careful to express a biased opinion on these topics with most of the content based on quotes and limited to short descriptions of meetings between official representatives.
One aspect worthy of note is that the vast majority (87%) of the articles that describe 'support for NATO' are also linked to the Government: President Vučić, Minister of Defence Vulin, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Dačić.
State of independent media in Serbia
Based on IRI polls 22% of Serbian citizens use online media as their main source of information. TV versions of monitored media are among the most watched Serbian channels. Despite 61% of respondents saying they get their news from public and commercial broadcasts, trust in their reporting is low with 63% having doubts about the impartiality of major media. These beliefs seem to be in line with international reports such as the OSCE report on the 2017 presidential elections which spoke about disproportionate reporting and general reluctance of media to report critically on the governing authorities. Finally, public concern about freedom of the press further increased after a number of documented attacks against journalists. The state and safety of media was also a reason why the opposition asked to postpone elections until laws were strengthened and updated to further protect the free press.
When people lose trust in mainstream media, the risk of fringe media taking over their readership increases. Our initial observations suggest that monitored media are very careful in their reporting and hesitate to provide analysis of political events. Vučić clearly dominates the media space, where he and other government supporting actors tend to get more positive coverage than the opposition. Our initial results don’t necessarily signal limitations to the freedom of press; but confirm the need for closer monitoring of the situation, especially taking into consideration the distrust in media that already exists in Serbian society.