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News 11 May 16

Serbian TV Boss's Sacking 'Political', Union Says

The head of an independent journalists union says the decision to axe the program director of the TV station in the province of Vojvodina was politically motivated.

Milivoje Pantovic
BIRN
Belgrade
Nedim Sejdinovic, president of Indenpendent Journalists Association of Vojvodina | Photo: Beta

The head of an independent journalists union in Serbia has told Balkan Insight that the recent decision to sack the program director for the TV station in the country's northern proivince was politically motivated.

The replacement of Slobodan Arezina, program director for Radio Television Vojvodina, RTV, was a political move and had nothing to do with any professional criteria, Nedim Sejdinovic, president of the Independent Journalists Association of Vojvodina, NDNV, told BIRN.

Arezina was sacked last week by the board of directors of RTV. They said there had been drop in viewer numbers and they complained there was no plan for the next year.

“RTV was gradually but steadily making progress professionally, as was shown by research and by recognition of domestic and foreign organizations. So, there was no need to replace Arezina,” Sejdinovic said.

According to him, the replacement was politically driven and was made in the cabinet of the Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic.

“The replacement of Arezina was just delivered by the ... board of directors of RT Vojvodina but the political decision was made in the cabinet of the Prime Minister,” Sejdinovic added.

The decision to sack Arezina came after Vucic's Serbian Progressive Party won political control of the province following recent elections in Vojvodina as well as in Serbia.

Sejdinovic added that it was good that so many journalists and editors from RTV had showed solidarity with the axed director.

More than 40 journalist and editors from RTV have signed an open letter of support for Arezina.

“As a journalists association, we will try to help colleagues from RTV to maintain the level of professional standards that were achieved during the last five or six years. RTV is a public television and should not become just another loudspeaker for Prime Minister Vucic's authoritarian government,” the letter stated.

BIRN requested a comment from Vucic's office regarding allegations expressed by the association of journalists, but received no reply.

Sejdinovic said that the NDNV was in regular communication with international organizations in attempts to help RTV Vojvodina, which he claims is now in jeopardy.

He also claimed that members of the board of directors were appointed to their positions by the government mainly to put pressure on journalists.

“The president of the board of the directors of RTV is former official of the Milosevic regime in the Nineties. It is a pity that some people from the board, who had honorable names, have allowed themselves to become faceless tool in the hands of the government,” he said.

“It is a good thing is that NGO sector has also recognized the replacement of Arezina as a problem - but the fact is that this demonstration of force will be hard to stop,” he added.

“I am afraid this is just the beginning of disciplining the last oasis of professional journalism in Serbia... this government cannot stand criticism, so I expect further replacements”, Sejdinovic concluded.

According to the latest Freedom House report, Serbia is on a list of 19 countries where media freedom declined fastest in the course of a single year. The Serbian goverment has strongly denied putting any political pressure on journalists, however. 

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