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analysis 07 Jun 12

Election Wrong Calls Highlight Serbian Media Bias

Following Boris Tadic’s defeat in the presidential election, the links between his party and the media have come under closer scrutiny.

Bojana Barlovac
BIRN
Belgrade
 
  A murky image of Progressive presidential candidate Tomislav Nikolic, under the headline “Premeditated Loser”, featured on the cover page of the well-known Serbian weekly NIN on May 17.

A murky image of Progressive presidential candidate Tomislav Nikolic, under the headline “Premeditated Loser”, featured on the cover page of the well-known Serbian weekly NIN on May 17.

“Tomislav Nikolic has lost all chance of ever coming to power,” Nebojsa Spajic, NIN’s editor-in-chief, intoned in the editorial.

Embarrassingly for NIN, three days later Nikolic beat the outgoing president and leader of the Democratic Party, Boris Tadic in the presidential runoff, despite media predictions of a Tadic shoo-in.

NIN is only one of many Serbian media outlets who got their presidential predictions woefully wrong - partly as a result of their too-cosy relationship with Tadic’s Democrats.

According to a report by Serbia’s Anti-corruption council, issued last September, the Democratic Party effectively controls most of the media scene in Serbia through its patronage of advertising.

The daily newspaper Blic has been singled out as the biggest cheer-leader for the Democrats in its recent reporting.

Every front page of the newspaper since March has either praised the work of the Democrats or demonized and made fun of the opposition, more nationalistic, Progressives.

The story of Blic

The middle-market tabloid, founded in 1996, found its foothold in the market in the later 1990s with its fair coverage of events and of the protests against Slobodan Milosevic’s regime, which his tame media ignored. It is now owned by Axel Springer AG of Germany.

On April 25, under the headline “German companies will open new factories in Serbia”, Blic’s front cover featured a special report from the German car show written by none other than Tadic himself.

On the right side of the front page was an advert urging people to vote for Tadic in the May 6 presidential election in order to secure a “safe future” for Serbia.

Tucked at the the bottom of the page was a piece by the 9/11 hero and former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who visited Belgrade ahead of the elections on the invitation of Aleksandar Vucic, mayoral candidate of the Progressive Party.

The visit infuriated the city’s ruling Democrats and Blic joined in the speculation about how much the Progressives had paid for him to come and stay.

Other recent headlines on the same newspaper’s covers include: “Everybody Waits for Tadic to Say Yes,” “Tadic: I will be PM,” and “Nikolic Diploma Worth 200,000 euro” - the latter a reference to ongoing rows about whether Nikolic really obtained the college degree that he claims he obtained.

Blic's front pages on Pinterest

Blic’s cover pages have become synonymous among media-watchers for sycophantic praise of those in power.

Pinterest, a pinboard-style social photo sharing website, has a gallery of all the Blic front pages since March 3.

The highpoint was the issue of May 21, the day after the elections, when Blic ran a headline reading “Bachelor President” on its cover following Nikolic’s victory.

The issue of the university qualifications of the Progressive Party leader had by now come under the spotlight as the election campaign drew to a close.

According to the Progressives, Nikolic graduated from a private faculty in Novi Sad, which is owned by a party official, Jorgovanka Tabakovic.

After the Democrats investigated the matter, they found that Nikolic had indeed obtained an MA from Novi Sad but found no evidence of his having taken a Bachelor of Arts degree - raising questions about how he could have completed an MA course with only a high-school degree.

The day after Nikolic won the presidential runoff, Serbia’s version of the satirical Onion, Njuz.net, ran a mock version of a Blic cover, suggesting the paper would soon change its editorial line now a new man was in power.

“Blic Staff Among First to Congratulate Nikolic”, and Aleksandar Vucic [of the Progressives] for Mayor of Belgrade”, ran the ironic headlines.

An advertised series of features is named “Why the Serbian Progressive Party is a Great Party“.

Other, more serious, monitoring of the election campaign has also highlighted the cosy relationship between Tadic’s Democrats and the media.

“A majority of the media reported in favour of Tadic, except for the daily Pravda, which favoured Tomislav Nikolic,” said Ivan Godarsky of the Slovak organization MEMO 98, which monitored the press during the campaign.

Godarsky singled out Blic for what he regarded as a particularly marked bias towards Tadic.

He also criticised Serbian journalists in general for reproducing politicians’ statements without asking them difficult questions.

The same survey revealed that Tadic’s participation in a popular TV show, “Informative

Evening with Ivan Ivanovic,” shown on the national broadcaster Prva, violated a general binding instruction of the Serbian broadcasting agency, banning candidates from appearing on talk shows during the campaign.

The broadcasting agency has yet to react to this.

Nikolic also took part in the same show after the Democrats’ leader, and so also violated the same rule.

However, Tadic was also invited onto another Prva show, a day-time entertainment programme called “Women”, on which his hosts smooched him with offers of œufs à la neige (floating islands), which apparently delighted him, as he said he hadn’t had them in 30 years.

“I told my mom not to make them so I don’t gain weight,” Tadic purred.

One reporter who has highlighted the extent of the Democratic Party’s links to the media during the election campaign is Bosko Jaksic, foreign editor of Serbia’s oldest daily newspaper, Politika.

On May 27, Jaksic wrote a column saying that excessive control of the media always rebounds on those exercising it in the end.

Jaksic said the Democrats had not learned the appropriate lessons from the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.

The claim triggered a war of words in the newspaper’s comment pages between Jaksic and Nebojsa Krstic, Tadic’s media advisor.

Krstic, who was attacked in Jaksic’s column, replied on May 29, effectively suggesting that Jaksic had a drink problem. Only someone who had drunk “a morning whiskey with three ice cubes” could have made such claims, he maintained.

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