The development of an independent and professional public broadcaster for Serbia's ethnically diverse northern province of Vojvodina in place of the former state-controlled service is the goal of a project by the OSCE Mission to Serbia.
The Mission's Media Department has been working on the project for Radio Television Vojvodina (RTV) since December 2006. In line with the demography of the region, RTV broadcasts in ten minority languages (including Hungarian, Slovakian, Romanian and Roma) via one TV channel and two radio channels devoted entirely to minority language broadcasting.
"The project focuses on the relaunch of TV news programmes and the improvement of channel presentation, promotion and scheduling," says Dragana Nikolic Solomon, the Mission's Media Department Head.
The first phase of the RTV project, which was co-funded by the British Embassy in Belgrade, was successfully completed in December 2007. The project will continue throughout 2008 with a longer-term programme of development for RTV.
"The aim is to ensure a permanent improvement in working methods and journalism practices among RTV employees," adds Nikolic Solomon.
To this end, the Media Department works in close collaboration with Rick Thompson and Roy Saatchi, both formerly of the BBC and now of T-Media, a consultancy specialising in the development of broadcast journalism.
Thompson, Director of T-Media, has extensive experience of media transformation in former communist countries. Following discussions with the staff of the Media Department, with whom he has long-standing connections, Thompson was persuaded to visit RTV headquarters in Novi Sad. "Once I witnessed first-hand the poor state of the station I felt I should become involved," he says.
Roy Saatchi explains that they wanted to give something back to the industry that had given them so much, while freely acknowledging that - aside from altruistic motives - he also wanted to return to the environment of the newsroom, where he began his media career.
However, such a project requires a long-term commitment. "We can't just light the blue touch paper and then leave," says Saatchi. The training and education have to be maintained, especially so since, as Thompson explains, the older generation don't always appreciate advice from outsiders following years of state control.
Signs of improvement
The OSCE project, which is now in the early stages of phase two, has been largely well received by the RTV employees. Snezana Pijetlovic, Intake Editor at the station, says that the greatest contributions made by Thompson and Saatchi have been their positive energy and the introduction of an improved forward planning system.
"Before, the staff felt that money would be a prerequisite to achieving anything. The project has helped them to understand that while technical support is important, good organization and planning cost nothing," she says.
In this regard, a study visit in September 2007 to BBC and ITV regional media stations in England was, according to Pijetlovic, an eye-opener for RTV staff. During the visit, the RTV journalists saw examples of operational methods as well as how they could work as a team rather than as individuals.
The RTV team itself remains under-staffed but the fact that many students from the Novi Sad Faculty for Journalism are currently interns at RTV may help to alleviate the situation.
Specific improvements that have been made include different packaging, fresh pictures and more camera crews who are able to stay out for longer. RTV news programmes now pay more attention to the human dimension throughout the region of Vojvodina and not just to local politicians.
According to independent figures from media research firm AGB Nielsen, RTV's audience share has gone up and the station has received positive reactions from viewers.
"Through the partnership with the OSCE, the RTV journalists learn new skills every time T-Media and the OSCE visit the station," says Pijetlovic. She hopes for continued collaboration, including every section of RTV - not just the news operation.
Looking to the future
"The Mission has made a long-term commitment to the transformation of RTV and the project is of particular importance in the work of the Media Department. Although the process of applying for further financial support is still ongoing, we are hopeful of enhanced co-operation with the international community," says Dragana Nikolic Solomon.