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Journalsts and media in Serbia – atacks and protection

Short history of Serbian pluralism in media is strongly remarked and could be situated in two periods:

War, inflation and disintegration of state, during the last decade of previous century under the regime well known to his characteristics around Europe, so well that I believe it is not so worthy to spend a lot of our time in picturing taxonomy of it. Unless you have affection for black humor, spiced with some (in nowadays) pathetic stories, perfectly understandable only to people who lived and worked behind the iron curtain. In the big book of world journalism (if there is one), that period will be described as “constant struggle for media freedom and freedom of expression”. I could only attach that battle was sometimes interesting, sometimes clumsy, but also honest, thanks to personal dramas of some actors in it. Of course, to make it by-the-rules, with results that influenced today’s events and relations between media-players, political structures, business and interest-groups on Serbian political, social and cultural stage.

Second period is, of course after 2000, after the big turn-over in October 2000. Concerning media, following positive changes happened pretty soon. Public information law, made in 1998 for the purposes of war with NATO, was suspended. Banished journalists and media started to come back into their offices and premises, and to take back the equipment that was confiscated during the worst period of relations between ex-regime and independent media, in years of 1998, 1999 and 2000. Of course, this process was not easy, simple and totally fair. Including of experts from NGOs and media professionals in preparation of new media-law set was also positive. Most of those laws followed European good practice and modern solutions.

But, like after every revolution, there were also disappointments, with effects on today constellation and results. During parliamentary procedures, propositions of media-laws were, in some cases, changed in the aim of serving to certain media, financial, political and/or security centers of powers.

All this years after democratic changes in Serbia, we were witnesses of unwilling, worst criminal forms of attacks and pressures on journalists, their work, stations, even on families of journalists. The most drastic example is murder of Milan Pantic, journalist from Jagodina (Central Serbia, 100 km from Belgrade), who was correspondent of one nation-wide daily newspaper. He was killed in front of the building where he lived with family in June 2001. Case is still not solved. From circumstances is clear that this was a message to those who work in investigative journalism. This form of journalism in transition of Balkan country means sometimes, ladies and gentlemen that you have to say some unpleasant truths. Sometimes those truths are about heroes or beauties of the day.

Phenomenon, much more widely spread is making of harassment atmosphere against journalists, editorial-offices, media houses, prominent public figures who appears in your media…. Serbia now has significant number of tabloids, so this print media are now launching platforms for language and pictures of hate, scandals, underestimations, defamations..even curses and damnations. In such cases, proper and accurate reaction of authorities and judicial system was often late, tepid, or even stayed away.

Things changed for worse and then little bit better in first part of this year. We had firs in January presidential elections, then in February decision about independency of Kosovo. In riots after protest rally on that decision, some embassies were attacked, there were massive robberies. Journalists were not exempted. Colleagues from Netherlands and Czech Republic were attacked. Same thing happened in protests after arresting of Radovan Karadzic. Colleagues from Ukraine and Spain were attacked on rally against arresting – a nonsense, if we know that those governments do not recognizing government of Kosovo. Also, domestic journalists and cameramen from B92, Beta news agency and some others were also attacked seriously in July. In case of attack where leg of cameraman was broken, police and public attorney reacted promptly and efficiently – attackers were found and sentenced. But, in September, during the continuous protests of right-wing, ultra-orthodox, nationalistic and even pro-Nazi organizations, members of those were entering the premises of Beta agency to “worn them”.

All those things happened in Belgrade. But, attacks on journalists outside of Belgrade could be even worst, and they are. Cases of privatizations, merging, buying (in business area), then public auctions, tenders and procurements in local institutions and public enterprises happened sometimes under suspicious, shady and illegal circumstances. Media covering of these topics, far away of big lights capital, NGOs, foreign embassies and benevolent politicians could be more dangerous, hopeless and bitter, due to anonymity. In 2008 we had two examples of those provincial arrogance and ruggedness created by local tycoons. In Zrenjanin, Vojvodina, correspondent of Beta, female, was warned and she received hard threats about her life and life of her daughter. This woman reported about illegal building in this municipality. Physical attack and severe threats were also applied on addresses of journalist and cameraman of regional TV in Novi Pazar, region known also as Sandzak. Their reporting was also about illegal building and threats were referred on interviewed person, too. They were attacked on-site, during interview. In both of the cases, police have found the persons who provoked incidents and they are under police and judicial procedures. This is better part of the story. The better part is also decision of government about recommendation to courts to treat attacks on journalist like attacks on official person.

After all, I would like to leave you with some questions: 1. Is there a certain and efficient way to protect journalists? 2. Is there a way to make a distinction between professional, responsible journalism and launching platforms for some private or destructive political, economical, national, cultural ideas and plans? 3. Does EU, CoE, OESCE have to find new ways to fight and to stop attacks on journalists? 4. As colleagues and professionals, as people and as AEJ, how could we take responsible and efficient part in this ruthless and unfair situation?


Nebojsa Ristic,
president of AEJ’s Serbian section

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