Professional journalism and 'the enemies of the Serbian state'

Author: Žikica Stevanović

The Serbian media scene in the last 30 years has been marked by attacks on journalists, unsolved murders of journalists and a lack of political will to improve the media environment. Frequent attacks by government officials and pro-government tabloids on independent media and the civil sector, presenting them as "the enemies of the state", reflect the current situation in Serbia.


"If something happen to our journalists because of lies told about us, government officials and pro-regime tabloids will be equally responsible", Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK) journalist Jelena Vasić says about the last week attacks on that media outlet coming from government officials and pro-government media.


Pro-government media, government officials and members of parliament accused KRIK of having close ties with recently arrested suspected criminal clan leader Veljko Belivuk, even though KRIK in the past years reported on Belivuk's clan and its relations with people in power.


"Unfortunately, this is a reality for us. Journalists in Serbia, who do their work professionally and investigate government officials, always can expect this or similar reaction", Vasić says for the Youth Newsroom and added that in the past KRIK faced wiretapping, burglary, surveillance...


Vasić stresses that state institutions, such as the police and the prosecutor's office, did not provide them with protection because the attacks are coming from government officials.


"Pro-regime media do not start this kind of smear campaign by themselves. They do that because they serve the regime and I do not expect that the state institutions will provide us with protection", she added.


The state attacks media 


Nataša Jovanović, lawyer from Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation says for the Youth Newsroom that if existing laws were applied consistently and there was a strong awareness of the importance of freedom of expression for a democratic society, existing mechanisms for the protection of journalists and freedom of expression could be both effective and efficient.


"However, in practice, there is a lack of political will to effectively resolve cases of attacks on journalists. We are witnessing that campaigns are being launched from the state leadership, for example, from the Serbian Parliament, against investigative journalists who expose irregularities in the system and in the state leadership", she says.


Attacks and targeting from the top of the state cause orchestrated attacks through tabloid media, social networks and the Internet, and it is only a matter of time before there will be physical attacks on the life, body and property of journalists, Jovanović stresses.


Editor-in-chief of "Vreme" weekly, one of the oldest private media in Serbia, Filip Švarm said for the Youth Newsroom that the media environment in Serbia is in poor state and degrading with every year.


"When we look at the amount of hate speech and threats, we see that they don't come from anonymous people from social networks, but from top of the state. Members of parliament and ministers spread hate speech and threats so journalists can't feel safe", he stressed.


Švarm assessed that the ruling majority attacked the independent media trying to make them "state enemies" and criminalize and target them.


Is there a justice for journalists in Serbia?


The largest number of cases of attacks on journalists in Serbia is not resolved by a court decision, but by the rejection of criminal charges by the prosecution, showed the research of the Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation and CEPRIS "Protection of freedom of speech in the judicial system of Serbia"


From 2017 to 2020, about 70% of reported cases were resolved by rejecting a criminal report, and about 20% by a court decision (in 17% by a conviction and 3% by an acquittal). Out of 20 identified final cases in this period, in 16 cases a conviction was passed, in two cases acquittals and 2 cases were resolved in another way (in one case the indictment was rejected and in one rejected).


When looking at convictions, it can be concluded that the criminal policy for criminal acts is to the detriment of journalists, research shows.


"In eight analyzed cases (half of the convictions), a suspended sentence was pronounced, which is determined for the perpetrator of a minor crime when it can be expected that the warning with the threat of punishment will affect him so that he no longer commits crimes. The longest sentence imposed is imprisonment for a period of one year, for which the convict is expected to serve in the premises where he lives, without electronic supervision, for three criminal offenses of endangering security committed in conjunction. Serving a sentence of six months in prison was imposed in only one case for the crime of violent behavior", stated in the research.