Mass media and propaganda are inseparable. The conjunction of propaganda and mass media enabled propaganda to reach a maximum of its effectivity. The success of Russian propaganda in media derives from the fact that critical media are often under the threat of violence, and most of the media is under government control, meaning the independent media are extremely underdeveloped. Thus, the majority attitude of the population is pro-Russian, to maintain a high rating among the voters, the Serbian government tolerates or even creates pro-Russian narratives. Moreover, the independent media sector suffers from chronic underfunding. Russian media provides free content or advertising, and they do not charge any fee for republishing their content and since the independent media sector is underfunded, the free information offered by Russia gains even more importance. Local media have made use of this possibility and decided to republish the content from Russian outlets.
Prior to 2012, Russian presence in the Serbian media sector was limited. In 2012, Russia-based company East Media Group became the owner of 50% of the shares of the German media house, which was, until then, the Publisher of Politika, one of the most influential newspapers in Serbia. The owner of the remaining 50% is PJP company, owned mostly by the Serbian state. Nowadays, Russia has a very strong influence on Serbian media. However, finding direct evidence of Russian funding is complicated since most of these outlets are not even registered in the Media Registry.
Russia gained the most influence in the Serbian media sector in 2015, with the arrival of the Russian state-funded news agency Sputnik when one of its offices was opened in Belgrade. Sputnik is a news agency, internet portal and radio station operated by the Russian state news agency called RT. The chief editor of Serbia-based Sputnik, Ljubinka Milinčić claimed that the world lacks a more truthful view of reality and that it is necessary to show that Western media are not always right. Sputnik often represents the reality in a way that creates resentment towards the US, EU or NATO with headlines such as: “New official NATO strategy: Aggressive intentions against Russia and China for the sake of globalist interests“ or “About the US preparations for a confrontation with Russia in Europe“. In the future, RT wants to expand its Russian propaganda and plans to start TV broadcasts by 2024, which will cover political events from an alternative point of view, according to the statement from RT.
Indeed, the biggest source of pro-Russian narratives comes from pro-government Serbian tabloids. The reason behind this is that pro-Russian Serbs account for a large share of voters of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SPS), President Aleksandar Vučić’s party. The most prominent and notorious are Informer, Srpski Telegraf, Ruska reč, or Pečat. In general, those newspapers glorify Russian presence in the region and promote economic and military cooperation between the two countries. The daily Blic is the only pro-government media that is not pro-Russian. One of the few independent media is Danas and Nova, owned by American United Media.
What makes Russian propaganda in the Serbian media sector even more dangerous is that it is transnational. Disinformation campaigns are often outward-looking and prominent throughout the region, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina (in Republika Srpska), Montenegro, Kosovo and North Macedonia.