SERBIA: Pressure on media outlets, investigative journalism, and freedom of speech in Serbia

SERBIA, 03/03/2009

The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) is concerned about recent developments in Serbia, where constant pressure is exerted on media outlets, investigative journalism, and freedom of speech.

Political and police pressure were exerted on the staff of the daily newspaper Borba after it published allegedly confidential information about the decision of the Serbian Government to pay one million dollars in the case of Miladin Kovacevic, a Serbian student who fled the United States with the help of a Serbian diplomat in New York after beating up a fellow U.S. college student. SEEMO condemns the pressure exerted on Borba as a violation of editorial independence, and refers to the Law on Public Information, under which the media in Serbia are allowed to publish information of public importance regardless of the manner in which such information was discovered. The same Law ensures that journalists are not obligated to reveal the source of their information.

SEEMO also condemns the decision of the management of the Sava Congress Centre in Belgrade to prohibit a press conference of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in February. Local media organisations and the GSA, which was forced to hold its news conference elsewhere, accused the directors of the Sava Congress Centre of homophobia and discrimination against the gay and lesbian community, and demanded a public apology. After receiving severe criticism from the public media both Director of Sava Congress Centar, Dragan Vucicevic, and Dragan Djilas, the mayor of Belgrade, apologised for their behaviour according to the Serbian media. However, Boris Milicevic, the President of the GSA insists the authority should take responsibility for its actions as all citizens should be treated equal. Marko Karadzic, State Secretary of the Ministry for Human Rights, agrees with Milicevic and adds the administrative authority should be replaced or should just resign themselves and step down. It would be a moral thing to do.

SEEMO is also concerned over the threats and attacks made against Vladimir Vjestic, editor-in-chief of Radio BUS in Kovin, Serbia. On 21 February, Vjestic was threatened by a private entrepreneur from Kovin, who accused the station of biased reporting. After Vjestic warned the entrepreneur that he was going to report the threats to the police, the entrepreneur attempted to physically attack the journalist, but was prevented from doing so by the owner and a guest of the restaurant where the incident took place.

SEEMO is alarmed over these cases, all of which involve exerting direct pressure on journalists or limiting freedom of expression. It is vital for journalists and media executives to be able to report freely on current affairs and to carry out their work in safety, Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General, said. Any attempts to restrict freedom of expression, whether by way of verbal or physical harassment, or sexual discrimination, are unacceptable in a democratic society.

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