The democratic transformation of Serbia started as late as year 2000, after an entire decade of rule by Slobodan Milosevic and wars that followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia. The transformation of the media system in the last 17 years has been slow, incoherent, and incomplete. Its pace and range have depended greatly on the political will of the political elites. Democratisation of the media system has failed to become a factor in the democratisation of society as a whole, which was a widespread hope in 2000 based on the achievements of the decade-long struggle against media repression during the Milosevic regime.

In recent years, the media environment shows signs of new decline, particularly in the fields of media freedom, security of journalists, and financial sustainability of many media outlets.

Systematic problems present in Serbian media include a weak media market, media ownership which is often hidden, and regulations that are sometimes adopted with delays and followed inconsistently. A major shift in media ownership occurred in 2015 when the State withdrew from direct ownership over media through a privatisation process.

The new Law on Public Information adopted in 2014 stipulated that the state should dismantle its ownership in the media sector. The process of privatisation was often controversial and some privatisation contracts were broken only a year later. Through the latest wave of privatisation, particularly at a local level, large media groups were created around specific economic and political interests.

In the Serbian media system, pressure on media is exerted by political and economic parallelism. Pressure on media usually comes from the authorities and political parties, editors, and advertisers. Public broadcaster Radio Televizija Srbije (Radio Television of Serbia - RTS) remains subject to significant government influence. There have been dire examples of political bias, politically orchestrated campaigns in political tabloids aimed against political opponents of the ruling party and against independent media outlets and journalists. There is a noted deterioration in the quality of reporting, especially of informative programs: serious talk shows have been cancelled, critical voices regarding government performance can hardly be heard in traditional media. The EU has reminded prospective member Serbia several times that freedom of expression is an important value of the Union – and that Serbia's respect for it will be examined closely during its accession process.

Due to all the constraints and pressures, coming from politics, finance, or directly from newsrooms, and advertisers, the journalistic professionalism is, with some bright exceptions, at an unsatisfactory level. As media expert Jovanka Matic (2014) wrote: ”Journalists in Serbia are still occupied with finding solutions for problems typical of the 20th, not the 21st century.” In a survey she carried, the majority of journalists pointed to “poor economic position and weak (or no) social protection as the key factor limiting performance of their societal roles.” According to a 2016 survey, around 40 percent of journalists wanted to leave the profession, while 75 percent of them believed there was self-censorship in the profession (Mihailovic, 2016). A survey published at the beginning of 2018 showed that of all the journalists polled, 69 percent said they encountered at least one form of pressure from the authorities. Over half of them – 56 percent – encountered pressure from political party representatives (BIRN, NUNS, SCF, 2018).

For years, the state has been the biggest advertiser in the country. Public money has been spent through different state institutions on national and local level in an untransparent way. In addition, under every government so far, owners of media buying agencies had close ties with the ruling party and politics. These connections have helped accentuate growing economic and editorial pressure on Serbian media. Attacks on journalists by governmental officials at different levels worsen the situation both of individual media professionals and their newsrooms. Pressures include: harassment, different forms of pressures exerted by state officials, politicians and other persons in positions of power, cases of restricting attendance or selective invitations of journalists to various public events, as well as pressures from the pro-government media on journalists and media outlets seen as critical of the authorities.

The total number of registered media outlets is high - at the beginning of 2018 it is 2,034, according to the data from Registar medija (Media Register) of Agencija za privredne registre (Serbian Business Registers Agency - APR). There are 863 print media – daily and periodic papers, 309 radio stations, 211 TV stations, 432 Internet portals, and 57 “editor-formatted websites.” In the Register there are 23 services of news agencies (while the number of news agencies is three, each of their specific services is listed as a separate media outlet due to the requirements of the Media Register format). There are 123 media outlets which are registered as “undefined” and 16 under the category “other.”

A small and impoverished media advertising market, worth approximately 160m euro annually, is not capable of sustaining such a large number of media outlets. Intense competition for limited advertising pushes media towards government funding, making them an easy target for various forms of pressure and even censorship. Nontransparent and partisan allocation of public money is used as an effective means to favour or punish media through subsidies to supportive media outlets, selective government advertising, public enterprises contracting directly with media outlets without competition or monitoring, and preferential treatment of tax obligations, loan repayments and debts of media close to government.