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Distinct media domination of the ruling party and candidates through a functionary campaign and paid advertising

Citizens who are interested in the amount and sources of the party spending on the election campaign have been denied this information this year. Despite the newly introduced obligation to submit preliminary reports less than 12 hours before the "election silence", these reports have not yet been published for nine submitters of electoral lists and five presidential candidates, including the ruling SNS, which had the highest expenses. It is not known whether the missing reports were not submitted within the legal deadline (seven days before election day) or whether they have not yet been published on the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption website.

According to Transparency Serbia's estimates, the SNS party has invested about four million euros in its presidential and parliamentary campaigns on television stations alone, not counting the last four days. It is a threefold higher amount than all other election participants combined. The situation is similar when it comes to other types of advertising.

Paid advertising, along with numerous guest appearances, most often in the capacity of the current president of the state, along with activities with a promotional effect, enabled the presidential candidate Aleksandar Vucic complete media domination. As of March 30, Vučić had 15 promotional activities and 18 other activities with a similar effect, four public addresses on live broadcasts of most TV stations, 16 guest appearances or primary television interviews. In addition, some media reported on his party activities and his statements on these occasions as if it were regular news and not an election chronicle. Thanks to all that, Vučić's media presence remained intact even in the period in which he refrained from promotional activities after he declared "the end of his functionary campaign".

Aleksandar Vucic also dominated the cover pages of dailies. He appeared 308 times in 45 days, of which 85% (263) were in a positive context. Zdravko Ponos, another presidential candidate, came second in terms of the number of appearances with 30, of which 37% were in a positive tone. All others individually have less than 10 appearances, and almost all were positive.

When looking at candidates and lists collectively, Vucic, public officials and candidates from his party and his list were 468 times on the cover pages, 86% in a positive tone, of which 125 times as the main topic. Ponos and everyone else from the list "United for the Victory of Serbia" had 112 appearances, of which more than two-thirds were in a negative tone. They were the main topic 35 times, the vast majority (30) portrayed as villains. Of the others, the list "Ajmo, ljudi" had a total of 21 appearances (86% positive), the list "Moramo" 20 (95% positive) and the coalition SPS-JS-ZS - 19 (79% positive). All other lists and candidates were on the cover pages less than 10 times.

As for the functionary campaign, as of March 27, for the sample of 26 officials, there were 75% more promotional activities than in the same period in the previous non-election year. If we look at the ten most active officials, the growth is 119%. Individual record-holders are Goran Vesic with 48 and Vanja Udovicic with 42 promotional activities. From the organizers' point of view, the functionary campaign was very successful since functionaries' activities got an enviable space in the news programs.

All this shows that the changes in the laws taken before these elections did not solve the fundamental problems, neither when it comes to the transparency of campaign financing nor in terms of equality of participants in the elections. Instead of providing access to campaign finance accounts, as proposed by the TS, preliminary reports were introduced 15 days before the election, which remained unavailable until the election silence. And instead of restricting the public officials' activities in the campaign, only a partial restriction on reporting on individual activities was introduced. Also, our proposal to limit the allowed total election costs, as in most democratic countries, was not accepted. Thus, the citizens will pay 15.7 million euros from the budget to be convinced by the parties and candidates that they should vote for them.