The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) strongly condemns the excessive fine handed down 30 March 2009 by the Court in Nis, Serbia, in a defamation case against Dragana Kocic and Timosenko Milosavljevic, journalist and editor-in-chief, respectively, for the Serbian daily newspaper, Narodnih Novina. Together, the journalist and editor-in-chief must pay a fine of 1,000,000 Serbian dinars (approx. 10,760 EUR) for publishing an article that used quotes from official documents. Both defendants have appealed to the High Court.
According to SEEMO's sources, Kocic and Milosavljevic were charged with defamation after publishing an article in April 2008 that used some quotes from official documents they had received. SEEMO condemns the fact that Kocic and Milosavljevic were fined because Kocic had quoted parts of an official document to which she had access as a journalist. Moreover, SEEMO condemns the fact that journalists in Serbia often have to pay fines that are manifestly out of proportion to their salaries, resulting in self-censorship and a decline in investigative journalism.
Commenting on the case, SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic said:
SEEMO considers this a serious attack on press freedom in general and the ability to carry out investigative reporting in particular. Vujovic continued, For Serbia to continue its domestic reforms and international integration, it is important that the Serbian authorities understand that journalists, especially in smaller communities where journalists are often the only voice of the public, must be able to report freely on matters of public concern. SEEMO would welcome a decision by the High Court to withdraw the penalty.