New Series of Attacks Against the Independent Media in Serbia

Newspaper Media
The situation for media freedoms has been deteriorating dramatically over the last few years in Serbia. Smear campaigns targeting the independent media remains a large issue and seem to have reached a new low. Recently, the Single Weekly Magazine was shut down after 23 year’s work. The editor in-chief and former president of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, Vukasin Obradovic, responded with a hunger strike.

The Single Weekly Magazine has over the last few years received no protection from the judicial system, been under constant financial pressure, and seen a lack of support from the international community to speak out on behalf of the independent media. The magazine was eventually shut down after an intense smear campaign against editor in-chief Obradovic. In a letter to the media in Serbia, Obradovic pointed out that the situation for independent journalists has reached an untenable point.

“I do not want to be pathetic, but this is the move of the desperate one, who sees no other way to finish his journalistic career, and at the same time keep at least the minimum of personal respect and dignity to feel as a person, as a human being,” wrote Obradovic who then started a hunger strike to protest the deteriorating situation for the independent media in Serbia.

A few days later, Obradovic ended the strike. He had then been joined by more than 150 media outlets and non-governmental organisations who supported his effort to improve the situation for media freedoms in the country.

Smear campaigns against the independent media and journalists are not rare in Serbia. In particular, members of the ruling parties have used this tactic to silence voices critical of their work or when stories have been published about their sometimes unlawful activities. This is especially true when looking at the local level as smaller local media is easier to control due to the lack of commercial funding.

There is however no doubt that smear campaigns remain a large problem also at the national level. One example is when a member of the Movement of Socialists Party, led by the Minister of Defence, started spreading public rumours that the editor of the Crime and Corruption Investigative Network (KRIK), Dojcinovic, is a drug addict who hates Serbia and receives foreign funding used to attack the Minister.

“It is not a secret that Dojcinovic receives money from abroad for every article against Vulin (the Minister of Defence), and also that he is a drug addict. If he wants to deny our claims, we urge him to show all the invoices, but especially take a drug test. To tell you right away, he will not dare to. Drug addicts usually won’t. However, drugged as they are, they gladly turn their fantasies into articles,” wrote the political party led by the Minister of Defence in an official statement.

The latest campaign against KRIK came after they published an investigative story that highlights the Minister of Defence’s incapability to prove the origin of the money that he allegedly used to buy an apartment for the State Anti-Corruption Agency. KRIK reported in the story that the Anti-Corruption Agency had reported the case to the Public Prosecutor for Organised Crime, but after two years the prosecutor suspended all judicial proceedings in the case.

“Why doesn’t Dojcinovic openly say that he is, in fact, against Vulin’s loyalty and devotion to Serbia? That is something that the owner of KRIK unfortunately does not have and he cannot forgive it. Any enemy of Serbia is his friend and Dojcinovic immensely hates literally any person who loves and fights for Serbia,” continued the official statement.

The worsening situation for media freedoms in Serbia has also led to an increased number of incidents where independent journalists have been targeted and subjected to physical violence. It has reached a point where journalists’ physical security and mental health cannot be guaranteed.

Civil Rights Defenders strongly condemns the harassment, intimidation and violence against the independent media and journalists carried out by state and non-state actors. We urge the state institutions to conduct impartial investigations of the mentioned cases as well as all other cases of harassment towards journalists. Furthermore, we call on the Government to cease all acts aimed at vilifying the independent media.